In British Columbia, any couple who lives together as a husband and a wife is treated in the same way married couples are treated. The number of people choosing to live together rather than get married increases every year. Cohabitating couples have children together, and some even buy homes together. However, the division of property in a common law breakup could be complicated.
Some say purchasing real estate is less of a commitment than marriage because it is easier to get rid of a house than it is to end a marriage. Although a common law marriage is legally accepted in certain contexts, it does not provide an automatic right to property. Married couples are considered partnerships, regardless of how they manage their finances. When a couple breaks up, all assets acquired during the marriage are divided, regardless of the individual contributions of the spouses.
This is more complicated with common law relationships that end — especially those that are acrimonious. Matters that will be considered include whether the couple had separate bank accounts and how long they cohabitated, among other issues. The manner in which the court typically determines the division of property in a common law marriage is more like an accounting exercise than an equal division of a partnership. When it comes to the house, it will be each partner’s contribution that will determine how it will be divided.
Common law spouses in British Columbia who are considering ending their relationship typically have many unanswered questions about their rights. The division of property could be an especially contentious issue if it is the end of a long relationship. The most practical step might be to consult with an experienced divorce lawyer who can provide answers and evaluate the circumstances, as well as offer ongoing support and guidance throughout the legal proceedings.
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Source: business.financialpost.com, “When the only ring is on your keys: What common-law couples should know before buying a house together“, Danielle Kubes, May 26, 2017