Family Law Act: Common Law Couples in BC

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Although this only applies to my fellow British Columbians, it is important to note that as of March 18, 2013, common law couples in British Columbia who have been living together for more than two years, will have the same rights as married couples if they are separated.  This law isn't anything new, it's been in the works since November 2011.

Common law is becoming increasingly popular among generation Y, especially in Vancouver where people can't afford to buy or rent independently.  Many couples meet, date for a month or two, and then start living together common law just because it saves them money on rent.  The reason for these changes is that the government recognizes the increasing number of common law relationships and they want to protect the rights of individuals in that relationship.

bc commonlaw

Many common law individuals are unhappy about this arrangement because they believe that they are living common law for a reason (to avoid having the partner have access to your property and assets once the relationship dissolves).

BC Stats states that common law relationships are growing at a rate 3x faster than the number of married couples.  Many couples want to “test the waters” by living together before they get married.

Property acquired before the relationship is excluded from being divided once the common law relationship ends.  Property that is shared during the relationship is considered to be equally divisible (that is, a 50/50 split) once the relationship ends.

Now, here's the kicker: Debt acquired during the relationship is subject to a 50/50 split as well!

So this new act really gives an onus for us all to sit down with our lovely live-in partner of almost two years to discuss finances.  Either that, or everyone should be running to get cohabitation agreements or some sort of agreement to ensure that their finances are protected in case of a split.  No one wants to think that they will split up with their significant other (and of course no one expects to when they say “I do” even) but given that the divorce rate is approximately 50% and that most common law relationships don't even make it to marriage, it is certainly important to consider.

That being said, even though this new law in BC seems very imminent and set in stone, there is still a lot of “grey area” about this new law.

The moral of the story is, I think, to talk to your honey about money.  In a relationship, everything is fair game for discussion (or at least it should be) and that includes all that consumer and mortgage debt you have.  Perhaps this will get a lot of common law relationships to get serious and think about whether they should be common law.

As a previous common-law-er myself, I don't personally recommend common law relationships and I don't think I would do it again if I had the chance to.  I think I would want to get some commitment before moving in because the last thing you want (well, the last thing I want) is someone to swindle me for my money or my property if the relationship doesn't work out.  With everyone being completely non-committal, blase, and wanting instant gratification (including in relationships, the believe that everyone can do better and shouldn't settle), I think it's important to think seriously about common law.  Although it might seem like a good idea to save money on the short term, you might not be saving money in the long term.

I guess one way to mitigate this is to check with your partner and talk finances before you move in.  Once you move in with someone, it's really difficult to get out of the relationship (or it can be).  So, protect yourself.  As much as you want to believe that this person is “the one” he or she might not be.  And the damage that happens after can be pretty ugly.

Readers, are you in a common law relationship?  How does it work where you live?  Do you talk to your honey about money?

(Image by David Castillo Dominici / freedigitalphotos.net)

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Young is a writer and former owner of Young and Thrifty and the main "twitter' behind Young and Thrifty's twitter account. She lives in Vancouver, BC and enjoys long walks on the beach, spending time with her anxious dog, and finding good deals. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

2 Comments

  1. Liquid on March 18, 2013 at 4:59 am

    Interesting change. This law appears to protect the most vulnerable. It makes sense debt accumulated during the relationship is split 50/50 but what about all the debts before the relationship? I’m single and have almost $400K of debt, probably more by the end of the year. I assume my current debt isn’t shared if I enter into a common law relationship because then I don’t know why any girl would want to get with me lol.



  2. Brian on March 18, 2013 at 8:47 am

    That’s interesting, I didn’t know there was going to be a change in the laws. Living with another PF blogger makes the financial discussions pretty easy and we’ve had a written agreement about our rental property for years. I hope no one gets taken advantage of over this.



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