Definition of “Common Law” Relationship depends on context…

Definition of Common Law Relationship in Ontario

Please note that the information provided herein is not legal advice and is provided for informational and educational purposes only. If you need legal advice with respect to your common law relationship (e.g. cohabitation agreement, separation agreement, getting married, etc.) in Ontario, you should seek professional assistance (e.g. make a post on Dynamic Legal Forms).

Did you know that the definition of “common law” relationship changes in Ontario depending on the context in which it is used? I’ll be discussing “common-law” relationships in this blog in 3 different contexts: (1) family law, (2) tax law, and (3) employee benefit plans.

Family Law Context
I have previously blogged about “common law” relationships in the family law context.
As discussed in that blog, under s. 29 of the Ontario Family Law Act, support issues (for spouses and children) may arise where two people have been living together in a conjugal relationship for three continuous years (s. 29(a))or where they have a relationship of “some permanence” and “are the natural or adoptive parents of a child” (s. 29(b)). Common law coupled, do not, however, have the same rights to property (i.e. equalization of net family property) as married couples are generally entitled to. For more information about common law relationships in the family context, be sure to check out CLEONet’s Fact Sheet.

Tax Law Context
Under Canadian Tax law, a “common law” relationship arises where two people have lived together in a conjugal relationship for a continuous period of at least 1 year or when two people have a child together: see s. 248(1) of the Income Tax Act. There are a number of tax law rules that apply to create rights and obligations on “common law” partners when they file their tax returns. We won’t be getting into any of those here as there are many rules and they can get complicated.

Employee Benefit Plan Context
If you are an employee, you should check your employer’s benefit plans (e.g. dental, medical, bereavement, life insurance, etc.) to see how they define “common-law” relationship. These kinds of employer obligations are based on private, contractual laws (i.e. their particular policies and plans) which can differ from one employer to the next.

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