What is a marriage-like relationship?

In British Columbia, a common law relationship is what the courts call it once two people have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for more than 2 years.

What is considered a marriage-like relationship is very fact-specific and depends on the facts of each case. It was the question decided by the BC Court of Appeal in the recent case of Weber v. Leclerc, 2015 BCCA 492.

Some things the court has said are marriage-like include being intimate together, celebrating holidays together including exchanging gifts, vacationing together, having pets or children together, and sharing household and family duties.

In Weber, the BC Court of Appeal explains that there are generally accepted characteristics of a conjugal relationship including shared shelter, sexual and personal behaviour, services, social activities, economic support and children, as well as the societal perception of the couple.

With specific reference to the parties’ intentions, the court states:

[23] The parties’ intentions “particularly the expectation that the relationship will be of lengthy, indeterminate duration” may be of importance in determining whether a relationship is “marriage-like”. While the court will consider the evidence expressly describing the parties’ intentions during the relationship, it will also test that evidence by considering whether the objective evidence is consonant with those intentions.

[24] The question of whether a relationship is “marriage-like” will also typically depend on more than just their intentions. Objective evidence of the parties’ lifestyle and interactions will also provide direct guidance on the question of whether the relationship was “marriage-like”.

It is clear from the existing case-law that there is no “one size fits all” and no one thing will make or break the marriage-likeness of your relationship. What might be a marriage-like relationship in one case might not be in another.

The Family Law Act in BC applies to everyone who is considered a spouse and conveys certain rights and obligations on spouses. Spouse is defined in that act as a person who is married to another person or has lived with another person in a marriage-like relationship for a period of 2 years.

Feel free to check out our video on this subject.

For any further information or to request a consultation from a Vancouver Family Lawyer, please contact Kaila Dotten at Richter Trial Lawyers | thegoodfirm.


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