How to Protect Yourself in a Common-Law Relationship 

Understanding the Law

According to statistics, marriage is decreasing in popularity in Quebec, despite the legal protections it offers in the event of divorce or death. Couples who have opted for a common-law (de facto) union can also benefit from some of these protections by drawing up a written agreement. 

A well-known case 

In Quebec, 41.8% of couples did not choose to marry in 2021. This trend is on the rise, as evidenced by its sharp increase in number from 8.2% in 1981. 

The trend has been reflected for several years on the judicial scene, with the Supreme Court of Canada delivering a judgment in 2013 in the well-known case of Eric and Lola. The Court ruled that Quebec’s laws did not discriminate against common-law partners. 

In this case, the couple had three children. Lola had a lower income than Eric, a multimillionaire businessman. She wanted Eric to pay her spousal support. However, the law does not impose an obligation for one common-law partner to pay such support to the other or to hand over a share of the family property. 

The country’s highest court confirmed that this situation does not violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, noting that other rules in the law protect common-law couples. 

How to protect yourself 

Are you in a common-law relationship and afraid you won’t have legal protection in the event of separation? A contract between common-law partners can help. 

Couples who have chosen to live together without getting married are in a common-law relationship. Quebec law officially calls this a “de facto union”. For example, living together between one and three years is generally enough for this union to be recognized. 

Common-law partners have rights and obligations similar to those of married couples. However, certain legal protections, such as the division of family property, are reserved for married people. A contract between common-law partners can provide some of these protections.  

With this type of contract, you can agree on many aspects of living as a couple, such as 

  • sharing responsibilities and contributions,  
  • identifying a list of property and debts of each person before starting to live together,  
  • planning how the property will be divided in the event of separation, and 
  • establishing support payments in advance. 

Certain conditions must be met for this contract to be valid. You and your partner must be at least 18 years old and in agreement. You must not be under tutorship or a protection mandate. The contract can be verbal, but a written version can serve as proof in the event of a disagreement during the separation. 

Did you know? Inheritance cannot be addressed in a contract between common-law partners. Wills are the legal tool for this purpose. Wills are particularly important for couples who have not chosen to marry. Without a will, a partner inherits nothing in the event of the death of the other partner.

Rights and limitations 

A common-law relationship gives you certain rights and obligations without having to draw up a contract. This is the case for 

  • taxes and government benefits (social assistance, legal aid and tax credits, among others), 
  • private insurance coverage, certain benefits in the event of accident or death, 
  • consenting to medical care for the other person, and 
  • asking for tutorship to be established for the other in case of incapacity. 

However, many protections are reserved for couples who have chosen marriage. This is the case for the protection of the family home, which prevents the sale of a property or the transfer of a lease without the other’s consent in the event of separation. Equal division of property is also reserved for married couples, as is spousal support in the event of separation.