If a marriage breaks up, everything is split 50/50 equally. For common law, you lived 2 years together, you get 50% of assets, right? WRONG
Now that Valentine’s Day has come and gone, I would like to delve into the very unromantic subject of Cohabitation Agreements.  Buying a house or moving in together might not sound like the biggest of deals, but it’s important to know the rules going into the deal – in order to avoid finding them out the hard way later on.  In Canada, most people would assume (well, I did, anyway!) that if you live common law, you are entitled to equal property rights and division of assets the same as if you were married.  If a marriage breaks up, one generally speaking is entitled to 50% of the others’ assets under the Family Relations Act.  Everything is split 50/50 equally.  For common law, I thought that if you lived, let’s say, two years together and somehow things really just don’t work out, you would be entitled to 50% of each other’s assets, right?  WRONG.  If you’re like me, most of what you heard on this topic growing up is just fake news.

The justice system doesn’t treat it like that.

Now I’m not a family lawyer or anything, but the Canadian family law system tells us that for common law arrangements, if you don’t have documentation or a paper trail that you have contributed to rent or a mortgage (or if your name isn’t even on the title of the home), you’re really out of luck.  You’ll get none of it.  Zilch. Nada.

So when you move in together, it’s really important to either a) keep all your receipts and make sure that if you’re paying into the mortgage, that your name is on the mortgage and b) you have a good sit down talk about your assets and what you want to do with them in case you break up.

It’s also important to note that it is worthwhile to make sure that each of you has your name on various types of payments, utility bills, and credit cards throughout the relationship (or at least not have just one name on EVERYthing) because this can leave one person with no credit history if the relationship dissolves.  If you don’t know what your credit situation is, check it for free using our Borrowell free credit score promotion.

I know talking about the possibility of breaking up is about as romantic as dissecting a cow’s eyeball in Biology lab (mmm formaldehyde, anyone?), but it’s necessary to at least get a sense of what you both want to do if you are faced with a break-up.

I have an acquaintance who was living common law for about seven years with her boyfriend, and she bought an investment condo on her own and it needed fixing up.  Her boyfriend offered to help her and he voluntarily fixed up her place really nicely.  Things didn’t pan out a few years down the road (she broke up with him) and she thought everything would be simple after the break-up.  Boy, was she wrong!  In court (maybe out of spite, I don’t know), he showed each and every receipt he saved from the renovations he did on her condo, and added in the labour costs, and it added up to a nice sum of $40,000.  She did NOT have $40,000 just sitting in the bank, so she was forced to sell her investment condo to come up with the capital to pay him.  She did NOT know that he kept every single receipt and that it would bite her in the behind in the future.

So, a Cohabitation Agreement (though it can be pricey because you need a lawyer from both parties to witness it) can save you some money in the long run, should you ever break up (knock on wood).  Cohabitation Agreements can show that you want the same rights as married couples (that is, split 50/50)- though, on the flip side of the coin, you probably don’t want to be picking up their baggage, if they have any (*ahem* DEBT).  They can also help you protect any assets that you may have (e.g. inheritance, a previous property) if your angry ex-partner somehow proves that they have a claim in your assets.  They are useful tools to have BEFORE or shortly after you start living together.  Just to keep things clear.

Sorry for bursting everyone’s bubble.  I’m being a real Debbie Downer, but I think it’s some food for thought. Most people don’t get Cohabitation Agreements or even Pre-nuptials.  I guess it’s kind of taboo and unromantic.

Last Word

The prevalence of common law relationships has continued to skyrocket across Canada.  The number of folks deciding to live together in some capacity before marriage is now roughly five times what it was thirty years ago! Because of how prevalent common-law relationships are becoming, more and more experts are recommending cohabitation agreements, and many are pushing for national legislation on the topic.

Right now, places like New Brunswick, Alberta, and Ontario, unmarried spouses have very little rights to partner’s property, whereas British Columbia enacted new legislation in 2011 that guarantees property right consideration after two years of cohabitation.  As an example of how seemingly random this process can be, in the recent New Brunswick court case of Noel v. Butler, an unmarried couple that had been together 14 years split up, and it was determined one of the partners had no claim on the property of the other despite all “married rights” assumptions.

So whether it’s as simple as deciding who is going to move their toothbrush into the other’s place, or deciding whose name will go on the mortgage, make sure that you know your rights and responsibilities in your province.  No one likes to think about the worst case scenario, but given the statistics in the area of common law relationships, it’s important to put up safeguards so that a possible emotionally turbulent time isn’t compounded by a financial catastrophe.

Article comments

71 comments
Ann says:

Question, if my boyfriend and I are living together now for over a year.
I own my place and he pays me rent. Do I have to claim that as income? If so anyway of getting around it?

DR says:

So my common law partner and I just bought a house together in Sept 2019. We each put in equal amounts as down payments. He now decided to up and go to live with his parents (for free) saying he never wanted this house to begin with and has ended the relationship. He is saying we need to sell. All he wants is the money he put into the down payment back. Nothing else. I’m thinking we likely don’t have equity after only 9 months. is i just fair to sell, he takes his portion, I take mine and we move on? Issue is the penalty fee is $30k+. If I buy a condo let’s say within 90 days the penalty will be lower. But I feel that really, he should pay $15k of that penalty and for my half – if I get it lowered because I buy a condo, that’s none if his business. He wanted me to buy him out but I don’t have the amount he needs (unless I max out my credit line and savings left with $0), but even if I considered that – I would likely not get approved to maintain the house on my own, even though I know I can, the lenders don’t see it that way. It’s a mess. So the plan is I stay at the house, he said he would continue to pay me biweekly his portion into the mortgage payment (which is less than i chip in. he puts in $300, I put in $600 biweely) until we decide what to do. He understands it may take time/months given we are mid-COVID Is there anything that can go wrong in this scenario?

Elle says:

Well…..I’ve been single and on my own for fifteen+ years. I finally met someone who adores me and I him. We both own our own homes and he is wanting me to move in with him(his house). Would it be a good idea to write up an agreement before hand? He makes a lot more money that I do and I’d be giving up a lot of my hard earn independence to live in his home. What should I do to protect myself in this situation? Any specific suggestions?

Lisa Jackson says:

Hi Elle,

You would be best to seek legal advice for your situation.

Martha Fielding says:

So I have been living with a older man for over 2 yrs Nd first it was nice I went to prison got out 8 months later Nd he had some other woman staying there before I got out that older lady left him cuz she couldn’t or didn’t want to be with him anymore so this lady was his ex girlfriend at that!!! So I go to the halfway house a week later I call him so I can get all my belongings Nd he says I never kicked you out you need to come home I say okay so now he keeps on putting me Nd my son down Nd my son left the house I’m on probation for one more Te I have no where to go Nd his always threatening me with all kinds so I yell at him want to hit something Nd I just go outside cuz his a very jealous person I’m 39 Nd he is 70 so that’s says it all. Now we have been arguing so I come upstairs so I won’t fight Nd he tells me he doesn’t want me up stairs why don’t I go to sleep with him. I don’t love him anymore he has made my life miserable what can I do cuz he wants me out he says he can just kick me out like that in an instant. I live in El PasoTx anyone live here or no what I can do

Lisa Jackson says:

Hi Martha,

Please consult a lawyer about your situation. It is complicated and you need legal advice.

Jazz says:

I’ve been with my significant other for 10 years all together, we have been together for about 7 of those years, 2 of those we broke up, while we have been back together for the last 2 years!
Long story short, he owns the home and everything is in his name, I support his career and me being on the road for that etc. We both aren’t happy together anymore and he wants me out, I have no income as I have put his career ahead of mine, what rights do I have? Anyone? I live in Newfoundland, Canada

Lisa Jackson says:

Hi Jazz,

Sorry to hear about your situation. We would recommend consulting a lawyer, as this sounds complicated. If you cannot afford a lawyer, consult a legal aid centre. Here is a resource: https://www.legalaid.nl.ca/index.html

Best of luck!

JC says:

Thanks for such a great, informative and creatively written piece on such a sensitive subject!

Question if you are able to help, is it okay to be joint tenants on the title (as in the event if death both agree to transfer to the other) and then have a cohab agreement after purchasing stating the differences in investment and all that gooey lob sided separation stuff?

I mean it’s okay them both being different and title being done before cohab?

Lisa Jackson says:

Hi there,

For something like this, you would have to discuss the matter with a real estate lawyer. You don’t want to leave any room for grey areas.

Lisa

maurrie says:

i own my own home (house in my name only) my boyfriend is going to pay rent. will he ever have rights to my house if anything were to happen?

Lisa Jackson says:

Hi Maurrie,

The laws around common-law relationships vary by province. If you’re concerned, speak with a lawyer about your situation.

Stacey says:

I bought a home with my boyfriend, We don’t want to live together as I have a child and he does not so he lives in the basement suite and I live upstairs. We share all house bills and maintenance 50/50 as we co-own. Personal spending and household items are not shared. We have a seperate bedroom, kitchens, etc with separate entrances. We visit each other’s spaces but don’t cohabitate in that space. We spend time together going out like normal dating people. I don’t want to live with him we are not at the place in our relationship. How can we prove that we are not common law even though we are in a relationship?

Lisa Jackson says:

Hi Stacey,

I’m sorry, we aren’t able to advise on your personal situation. Your best bet is to speak with a tax attorney, an accountant, or a financial advisor. If you cannot afford a lawyer, try to get an appointment with Legal Aid in you province. Best of luck!

prozach says:

First off, the fact that the government passed a law that involuntarily places you in a marriage like contract just because you’re with someone for x amount of time with out any say in the matter is absolutely horrifying. Secondly, I understand the purpose of these laws but I think they should not apply to some situations an example of this would be let’s say I’m living with my girlfriend and a year or two into the relation ship I get a new job. This new job salary is roughly $50,000 a year and my girlfriend makes $30,000 we’ve agreed to keep our finances separate and split living cost accordingly, what if 3 years into the relationship she cheats on me (god forbid) why in the hell would she deserve spousal support? In this example she should move out and not receive a single penny, and move on with her life why doesn’t the law consideration the situation that caused the separation and who’s at fault. To be little clearer if both names are on the house mortgage and both me and my girlfriend buy things then 50/50 split is totally reasonable but I can not for the life of me make sense of spousal support if someone can support them self before you met them that why can’t they when they leave/cheat on you? I think as long as both party’s have a job and there’s no kids involved upon separation no one should be entitled to anything other then what was purchased together during the time of the relationship.

Kerry says:

I agree with you and that one

Jeramiah Morrissette says:

If my girlfriend stays at my place at my parents but still has a bedroom and clothes and furniture at her moms is that considering living together. She never payed monthly bills or rent.????

Ron says:

I would like my girlfriend to move in with me. She has no assets and significant debt. I own multiple paid for homes and have significant assets. I live in Manitoba. I will be getting a co-habitation agreement. My question is does the co-habitation agreement expire after 3 years? My main concern is protecting my wealth as I’m close to retiring. I don’t want to be anyone’s “lottery ticket”

Kyle says:

You definitely need to talk to a lawyer about this Ron. With that much wealth on the line I don’t want to be responsible for making a legal diagnosis!

Carol says:

I have lived in a house in Canada for 1 year. Now we do not get along so I say sell this house, split the selling price & move on. He say’s no I am staying in the house?

Kyle says:

You should see legal help immediately Carol.

dingdong says:

I am writing up a cohabitation agreement with my partner in which I will have a larger share of ownership. How should renovations be addressed if we split 50/50 all renovation expenses? In the event that we brake up and decide to sell, how would I be able to determine how much of the increase in value is related to increase in value due to improvements versus appreciation?

Thank you

Kyle says:

I am honestly not sure there Ding Dong. It would likely depend on very specific laws in each province.

Yiska says:

Hello, I have a question, if my common-law partner owns property before we got together & during our time together, I contribute a lot of my time, energy & Labor (free) into renovations & landscaping to better & increase the value of the property – wouldn’t I be entitled to a small percentage? And how would I prove that I’ve provided free labor etc? Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks

Kyle says:

Yiska, unfortunately I just don’t feel comfortable answering legal queries like this. Your best bet would be to talk to a lawyer in your specific province – as I believe the rules can differ across Canada. Sorry I wasn’t more help!

annonmousTX says:

let me let you in in a little story about my fiance and I he had taken me from my mother’s home knowing that I had two young girls him and I got together when my youngest was two months old and we moved in together now its been 4 years it was a tOugh for years of my life let me say that. everyone asked us when we were going to get married he wore a wedding band and I wore a wedding ring therefore we were not married but we were common law married he told everyone and I also did to that we were married and that my two children were his two children even though he was not the father of the girls but I have a hundred percent say so on my two girls because their fathers did not want anything to do with them. so the first two years he would kick me out moving back in kick me out move me back in an ongoing process which I should have learned from a long time ago to not come back but being in the situation that I was in I refuse to move back in with my mother. so he knew what he was getting himself into a relationship with two young ones. on several attempts I do have pre recorded videos of him verbally emotionally and mentally abusing myself and my children. that should have been a red flag for me but given the situation and that I was in I would rather today here at our residence instead of moving back home with my mom. so the next two years it’s been a up and down hill and the last year he totally shut me off did not talk to me did not communicate with me told me to leave so I left. I thought that was the end of our relationship. now me being confused and sad and depressed I had a one night stand and got caught. he wants to claim that I cheated but I did not because we were not talking or on good terms. for the first two years of our relationship I was in at home mom and he supported me and my girls in everything I did receive food stamps and child support and I did help provide anything and everything in this household making it into a livable home. all I wanted was a man that could be a daddy to my girls and live a happy life. but it doesn’t look like that now he tells me that he does not want to be a father and he wants to travel the world and yatta yatta yatta yatta he is very indecisive and the first year him and I got together he did not like my vehicle. So his mother gave me her vehicle which was almost paid off which I love by the way.and got $14,000 on a down payment for the Jeep so I got stuck with his truck. I had no say so for him doing that because he did provide a roof over our heads I remember the first two years we were together he was non-stop partying Thursday Friday Saturday and recovering on Sunday. I would let him go out and do that because I trusted him as I stayed at home with my girls until he came home. now that Sunday he was recovering from partying all weekend I could you not it was every weekend now after 4 years of being together and living together he wants to kick me out take away my vehicle that I use for my small business. the last break up when he kicked me out I moved into one of his condos. then he asked me to come back again remember I do not want to move back in with my mother so I did what I had to do so luckily iya created and started a successful cleaning service here in my hometown. now him saying that he wants me to be an at home mom again and wants me to fAil in my business. his whole family does not like me because of stupid reasons because Shane would go off and talk mad crap about me only telling his side of the story I had been honest and truthful making him breakfast lunch and dinner starting his bath doing his clothes everything because I felt like that it was my job now me having to work 24-7 to make my client happy he wants to go ahead and kick me out and take the only vehicle I have and not continue to pay on it after he took me for my mothers house for years ago and agree to her that he would take care of us forever. again I live in Texas and I need to know what rights I have to get what I need taking care of. again my two children he told everybody that they were his now I don’t know how child support goes for that matter but I am the 100% custodial parent for both my girls and just a little reminder after a year and three months my mother has been helping me with my children because I did not want them to live here with Shane and I fighting 24 7 I have done everything and anything in my power to make him happy and he cannot make up his mind. now as for common law married can anybody answer me in the state of Texas what I am entitled to because everything in this house is mine under my credit card that he had been paying on and the vehicle he wants to let repo Joe take it back and leave me with nothing is that possible? is there anything I can do to save my only vehicle that he provided me with? I do not want the house I do not want anything else besides what legally mine but I do not want to make this ugly and I’m not asking for any money he keeps on trying to take the car away but I have my own business and clients that are waiting on me to come clean their house the reason why I started a small cleaning business is because I did not know when he would kick me out again and I would be left with nothing unfortunately the car payment I will not be able to pay because it’s very expensive due to his buying a car and taking it back over and over and the vehicle that I have now there’s a $20,000 added on to the vehicle for being upside down from the previous car. the first two years that him and I were together his family and everybody called me a gold digger which I was not therefore I created a small business I do help contribute to this house I pay for groceries laundry all the necessities toilet paper or whatever you want to call it Inc for the printer I do it all but yet again he has told everybody and I have proof that we were married even though we were considered common law married for being together and living together for 4 years and now he wants to give me the boot which its fine but I just need to know what I am entitled to anybody have any suggestions again I live in Texas I do not want to get screwed over I do not want to get any money from him. but I do remember his mother saying that I would have to sign a prenup if we got married and after the first 5 years of being married then I was entitled to $25,000 then the next 10 years I would be entitled to $50,000 then the next 15 years 75,000 and So you get my drift and I asked him is your mother insinuating that you are some kind of game show because thats ridiculous I’m not asking for any money the only thing that I’m asking for is that vehicle that transfer to me and my girls and to work and that’s it again I live in Texas. now he has all his friends talking mad crap about me which is fine I have it all saved for proof but I need to know what I need to do I am packing but it’s kind of hard when I’m working for my small cleaning company but he can’t just tell me to be moved out this Monday and can anybody help me out with anything so far I am a single mom and I know I can get legal aid but what will that do does can anybody answer any of this I am lost in words. thank you for having the time to read this I know its all out of content I’m just frustrated and agitated because I spent 4 years of my life trying to make a home but he is known to be indecisive and changing his mind going back to it changing his mind acting like a little kid he’s 31 for crying out loud can someone please guide me in the right direction and let me know if there is any kind of support he can give because once I move out I have to find somewhere to live and I don’t know I’m speechless I do love him but if he is willing not to change then screw it. that little mishap where I slept with someone one time he had told me he forgave me and he would forget it and now he’s going back on his words because he’s hanging out with his friends and they’re filling his head up with BS. I understand that his family does not like me only because of what he has told them and he has told them one side of the story I treated him like a king I could do not please somebody just help me on understanding what I need to show my attorney and what do I need thank you

DG says:

“he showed each and every receipt he saved from the renovations he did on her condo, and added in the labour costs, and it added up to a nice sum of $40,000 … So, a Cohabitation Agreement (though it can be pricey because you need a lawyer from both parties to witness it) can save you some money in the long run”

How does that apply in this situation? Unless the cohabition agreement screwed him over, in which case a guy like this wouldn’t be stupid enough to sign it, she owes him. He did put it in that money and labour and there’s no two ways about it. I doubt she would have any more luck trying to screw over such a canny fellow beforehand.

sbell says:

My ‘soon to be’ ex-wife had the lawyer and realtor convince me to sign for the money in her bank account from the sale of the house, in which we had an agreement to split it 50/50 after the sale. She did not however give me a cent from it after the fact (it was only a verbal agreement as discussed many times).
She then bought a house with her new boyfriend using the entire amount as a down payment with only his name owning the house.
She has been living together with him and our kids for over a year now and I know she plans to continue filing her taxes as a single mother and claim that she’s ‘renting’. To me this is fraudulent as I know this boyfriend makes way more money than my ex wife and I combined.

I am left with nothing from our house in which I’ve worked so hard for for many years and a debt from starting over with nothing. Is there any possible loopholes to help prove this?? Please help!

Kyle says:

Sorry sbell, this is beyond our expertise, to do anything other than advise you to see a lawyer that specializes in this stuff would be very irresponsible.

Dr samoda says:

When the man I love broke up with me, my world fell apart. I had gone to several casters and I got no results or insufficient ones. I found [email protected] and gave another try to retrieve my lover and restore the passionate relationship I had with him. I

K8 says:

I can say from personal experience that it’s not so cut and dried in Canada. I was common law for 10 years and I most certainly got a ‘divorce’. I was even entitled to half of his pension if I chose to take it (for the record I didn’t, because he was also entitled to half of mine). As with any legal suit, it really is dependant on the circumstances. In short, if you feel like you’re entitled to something and you can prove you have a case, than it’s worth a shot.

jay says:

Sometimes best not to take that shot….

In Florida, common law marriages are specifically barred by statute (specifically, Florida Statute 741.211). Thus, there is no fear of cohabitation here.

heather says:

I have been living with my boyfriend for about a year with my three kids. Last night he kicked me out and said he would only give me two weeks, what rights do I have? I need a month to find and secure a place.

Teacher Man says:

Hi Heather, that is a really sad story. I’m not sure I can answer this question with the confidence that you need. I would promptly go to my local police office and address my questions there. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

Maggie says:

I was in an abusive relationship for 11 yrs I have two children from this relationship.in january he beat me so bad I had bruises on my face for five days,stupidly enough I just took what was most important to me(my children)and I moved an 1 1/2 hrs.from the home I purchased with my ex.i am first owner on the deed but he is second im the only one who has had a job for the last nine years I recently paid off the remainder of my loan for the house all the morgage payments,loan payments,car payments ive paid them all for nine years,I only want the house to sell it buy a new house so my children will end up with something when I die,thats the only reason I purchased the house to begin with in the state of iowa what r my chances

BC Mom says:

One thing you hadn’t mentioned, which was what I was specifically looking for as I stumbled across this story, was the other side of this situation…
A roommate in the TRUE sense of the word COULD apparently CLAIM common-law status in Canada, as rediculous as it sounds! In this case the landlord would have to PROVE that they were co-habitating as opposed to living as a couple.
The only way to stay safe unfortunately is to have a legal cohabitation agreement written up by a lawyer. That SUCKS!

young says:

@BC Mom- I’ve totally heard about that as well. Dangerous! You would have to make sure you sneak around pictures of your separate living spaces I guess!

BC Mom says:

The situation & issue:
My father is recently widowed & looking for companionship in the form of a roommate, friend & caregiver. He had a female friend who was wanting to move into his home to be all of those things to him & help him with his bills in the form of rent. Upon research, I found that basically he could not ever have anyone else in his life (or his home) unless he presented them with a prenup. When I informed him of this, he became even more lonely than he already was 🙁

Flitterfly says:

I’ve been (I almost put married) in a common-law relationship for 8 years, 3 children, and 3 children from my first relationship. My ex owns our family home. I never contributed to the mortgage or to the ‘house’ where repairs or renovations are concerned nor did I pay utilities …. I am a house wife with 6 children, how could I? … I left an abusive relationship. Now I am not entitled to anything. Why do we claim common-law on our taxes, if, unfortunately, the relationship ends and I am not entitled to anything ….. seems to me, house wives in this day and age are still getting screwed!

young says:

@Flitterfly- Did you clarify with your lawyer whether or not you are entitled to anything? I’m so sorry to hear about that- that is a very sad story. The most important thing is that you are safe now. I think you should be entitled because common law you get the same rights as people who are married UNLESS he and you signed a cohabitation agreement beforehand.

Firestarter says:

I’m planning to buy my own house in alberta and have my girlfriend who is a student move in with me. If things do lead to a break up is she entitled to anything, and if we Signed papers that she would be paying me rent monthly, would she be considered a roommate? I am looking to cover my ass, as I have done really well for myself and she will in school living on student loans for a fee more years.
Thank you for any advice

young says:

@Firestarter- Thanks for writing. Well, in BC at least, IF you are living with someone for 6 months and she is PAYING you rent, that could seem like she is paying for your mortgage and contributing to it. If I were you, I would get a cohabitation agreement for sure, especially if she is paying you rent. To the courts (or whoever) that can mean she is contributing to your mortgage, meaning she’ll be entitled to your house.

Tim Charles says:

Nice post on cohabitation agreements and rights. Law on cohabitation varies from one state to another in the US. You are right in saying that documentation is very important.

This is really informative, thank you very much for this. Keep it up!

Brett says:

You may want to investigate the legal concept of “matrimonial home”. I have looked into cohabitation agreements in the past with a lawyer. If I recall correctly, the primary shared residence is deemed to be a matrimonial home and you’re entitled to a 50/50 split of the increase in it’s value over the term of cohabitation, regardless of ownership so long as the requirements for a common law relationship can be established. Note that this is not 50% of the whole thing, but it could 50% of the market appreciation and the amount by which you’ve paid down the mortgage over that time. I know this because I am the owner of our condo and I also pay the lion’s share of the carrying costs. I wanted to draft the agreement such that the appreciation and principal reduction would be split more in accordance with our proportional contribution to the carrying costs but my lawyer advised me that such a clause would not be legal and overridden in court to a 50/50 split.

Everything else you own off the table and for your ex to have any claim upheld in court will have to provide documentation of an ownership interest such as receipts, credit card statements, written agreements, etc. Again, this is how I understand it after having discussed it with two separate lawyers in Toronto. Note that other provinces may have different rules, so this might only apply in Ontario. Also, I’m still not a lawyer, so you should really seek professional legal advice on these matters.

young says:

@Brett- Cool, thanks for sharing. Yes, different provinces have different legislation. Hopefully you and your partner don’t ever split, otherwise she’ll be entitled to a lot! I do know that the rules have recently changed for 2011.

Doug1 says:

Only 17 US states have common law marriages. They are mostly southern states. NY, California, all of New England (see NH below, it doesn’t do what you want girl), Illinois etc. don’t recognize them. Some of the common law marriage states like New Hampshire only apply that against the outside world while the partners are together, e.g. for inheritance, hospital decisions, taxes, insurance, but not in the case of split ups – which aren’t divorces. Most however who have common law marriages do consider them full fledged marriages including for divorce — just as much as if the couple had gotten a marriage license.

HOWEVER, unlike Canada where cohabiting couples automatically become common law married more or less after 3 or 2 years depending on the province, in the 1/3 of US states that recognize common law marriages not only is a time period of around that necessary, but also the couple have to hold themselves out to essentially everyone as literally married. Calling each other wife and husband, a ring on her finger is evidence, and so on. The idea is that they just didn’t bother to get married but BOTH considered themselves married and led other people to think that for a long time. In no US state does a couple who say they are cohabiting partners who aren’t married to most people inducted into a common law marriage.

Men of course shouldn’t get married in the US or Canada (or elsewhere in the Anglosphere) because marriage and especially divorce 2.0 (which occurs in 50% of marriages in the US and is initiated 2.5x as often by women formally, and as much as 90% of the time by women effectively according to many divorce attorneys). Why the hell should a higher earning man who’s partially or more than that supported a woman have to fork over half of his increase in wealth to her, in addition to often having to pay her attorney’s fees during an American divorce, encouraging her to unreasonably drag it out? Why should a man be in danger of alimony indentured servitude to a woman who’s no longer doing anything whatsoever for him, when women can work at all levels of the workforce, and now graduate from college at a lot higher rates than men? Yet in 2007 97% of alimony was paid by men to women.

Men shouldn’t marry, but rather cohabit, and if they want children, have them in a committed cohabiting relationship – with a cohabiting agreement that gives neither party any of the divorce rights of marriage upon a split up. Child custody and support cannot be effected by such an agreement in the US and I strongly thing as well Canada. (That’s high enough as it is, and includes a very substantial portion of stealth alimony, esp. when paid by upper middle class on up men.)

young says:

@Doug1- Thanks for this! Are you in Family Law? This is comprehensive. I am aware that certain states don’t recognize common law marriage. I didn’t know that divorces are initiated 2.5x by women vs men. Is this because men just stray and they don’t really want to rock the boat but instead lead a “double life”? I guess it goes the same (sorry my feminist side creeping up on me) for a higher paid woman who has to fork out money for her lower paid husband… I guess the rule of the story is to have an agreement beforehand to avoid this mess in the first place.

Sable211 says:

been living common-law almost 27 years , we own our home and vehicles and actually are seeing our lawyer tuesday to sign wills and power of attorneys
My name is not on the deed as yet but we are covering all the bases. I;m in Ontario by the way

young says:

@Sable211- Wow- good for you for covering the bases! Yeah the cohabitation laws seem a bit different in each province. Good luck with the lawyer next week. =)

young says:

Thanks for visiting WellHeeled! Even though it’s very unsexy to talk about finances, they are an integral part of the “teamwork” between partners.

The number 1 reason for fighting and discourse (other than Jesse James and Tiger Woods being jerks) is $$$$.

To be fair, the boyfriend DID contribute to the value of the house. And he had the documentation to prove it. But this just goes to show how important it is to be very clear on financial obligations in a relationship.

Young and Thifty,

Thanks for debunking the urban myths on this. I learned something. No longer can I freak people out with the 50-50 commonlaw split thing. Unless, of course, I want to be mischievous.
Thanks!
Andrew

young says:

@Andrew Hallam Thanks for visiting =) No problem, it was my pleasure- I believed that urban myth too (maybe it’s like some kind of Canadian urban myth?!).

eemusings says:

I definitely would want to be married before buying a house together. I’m pretty sure you only have to live together for a couple of years to get the 50/50 split here, though.
.-= eemusings

young says:

@eemusings thanks for stopping by =) Yeah, wonder how it all works in New Zealand?

Simple in France says:

Scary stuff. I have to say that I was not smart when I was younger and living with my ex boyfriend, just really lucky! When I moved out, I decided to leave the country. He looked over the stuff we’d bought together, divided the cost by two and sent me a check. Seriously, it didn’t work out, but he was a nice guy. I probably would have just ditched the stuff if he hadn’t been willing to buy me out as I was leaving the country anyhow. . .

Breaking up sucks, I’m getting depressed thinking about it even now years later and happily married. The only thing that sucks more than a breakup is a breakup plus nasty financial troubles!

young says:

Wow- your ex boyfriend did sound like a nice guy! Not nice enough to be your future husband, of course, but decent to have split it up without any issues. Yeah, breaking up already sucks AND when you add financial issues with that, it just makes breaking up 100x worse and nasty. Glad that you’re happily married now =)

American Law here in the U.S.A has it that a couple living under one roof for more than 7 years is considered married.

http://moneyhoneysf.blogspot.com/
.-= Money Honey SF

Samurai says:

Hmmm, very interesting! I coulda sworn CA would have something like this, since we are so progressive in our ways (we banned smoking in public places first I believe).

Thnx!
.-= Samurai

Samurai says:

Oops, I think I messed up my other comment. Here it goes again.

We have the same common law thing in California after 7 years. My question is: does the law kick in at the start of the 8th year for things to be split if things don’t work out, or does it go retroactive?

i.e. I buy a $1mil house cash in year 1. GF moves in yr 4, and lives with me for 7 years. Am I supposed to give her half if we break up?

That’s a brutal story you told!

Cheers,

Sam
.-= Samurai

young says:

@Samurai- I did some research and it says that California doesn’t recognize common law marriages (since 1895). These are the states that recognize common law marriages:
STATES THAT RECOGNIZE COMMON LAW MARRIAGE:
Only a few states recognize common law marriages (living together >7 years) AND you’ll need to have certain requirements to prove that you are ‘common law married’. You’ll need to INTEND to get married, call each other husband or wife/ share the same last name, or have joint accounts. AND both parties must not be minors (haha, ewww… the thought of common law with a minor!!) If you both intend to live common law and not ever get married, then in the event you break up, you will not have to go through a divorce like married people do.

Alabama
Colorado
Georgia
Idaho
Iowa
Kansas
Montana
New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only)
Ohio
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
Texas
Utah
Washington, D.C.

Hope that helps, and I think the answer to your question is that it will retroactive.. Now if you were common law in these above states and MOVED to California, then they will recognize the common law marriage. I think as long as you’ve been together 7 years, you have the same rights as married couples do, BUT you have to INTEND to get married. Not just be living together.

Wow, this is so interesting! Canadian and American laws in regards to common law are really quite different!

The Rat says:

You’re right – In Canada, if a couple is considered to be common-law and things deteriorate and a breakup ensues, the situation is not the same as being married, and in most cases it ends up being a far cry from a 50/50 split on assets. I also think each of the provinces have subtle variations of the law and can vary somewhat depending on where one resides.

With that being said, from a personal standpoint, I think a couple could end up in a worse situation if they decide to get married before having the experience of living with each other. It’s one thing to go each one’s separate ways while being common law, but you’d be surprised how many people go out and spend a bucket of cash on a wedding and new home only to realize when they start living with each other that they despise one another and aren’t compatible!

That’s when it can get really nasty from a financial perspective!

Nice post
.-= The Rat

young says:

@The Rat- Yes- I think I’ve come to the consensus that I would rather see if I can stand the other person before I dump a bucketload of cash on a wedding! (At the going rate these days, that’s $15000+) How did you and Mrs. Rat do it? Did you co-habitate beforehand?

Common Law was abolished in my state, Pennsylvania, on 1/1/2005. Even if you were common law married (held yourself out as husband and wife, filed taxes jointly…) and broke up you still had to file for a “regular” divorce.
.-= Stay at Home Mom CFO

Rainy Day is correct. It depends on what state you live in. In NY, you are considered to be in a common law partnership if you live together with someone for 7 years, even though NY isn’t a common law “state” per se. So, pretty much, it’s just better to get married in NY than to risk being together for a while and having it all end messily.

young says:

@SAHMCFO Hmm it seems like in a lot of the United States, common law doesn’t sound like it’s recognized.

@Investing Newbie 7 years?? That’s a long time to be considered common law…some people don’t even stay married for that long! Yeah, might as well get married, huh? Here in Canada it is 1 year of cohabitation= common law for taxation purposes.

Thanks for all your input- it’s nice to see differences and similarities between states and provinces!

Blogs says:

Well it’s simple when a man takes in a women to his home he should share. If they split she should leave with nothing. If the is a child then the should both pay have. The man should help her fin financially for a settling period of no more than two years. Wevil got to stop paying millions to get rid off your ex girlfriend. That amounts to prostitution no more no less

Here in the U.S., every state is different when it comes to common law/cohabitation laws. In my state, New Jersey, we don’t have common law — makes me wonder if there are any rules/regulations governing cohabitation and the aftereffects.
.-= RainyDaySaver

young says:

@RainyDaySaver Wow, New Jersey doesn’t have common law? That’s interesting…but there’s probably lots of couples living common law in New Jersey, though, right? I wonder how couples who break up would deal with division of assets…