Canada: New law erases line between marriage and common-law

When Kerr and Baranow’s 25-year relationship fell apart in 2006, Kerr asked for an interest in the house. Baranow refused. The resulting court case dragged on five years and went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada before Kerr received a share.

Even as Kerr v Baranow plodded through the courts, the BC legislature took steps to stop similar litigation from happening again.

BC’s new Family Law Act, which replaces the 1978 Family Relations Act, will give common-law spouses living together in “marriage-like” relationships for two years or more an automatic right to wealth or property accumulated during their time together.

It will also make each spouse automatically responsible for half the other’s debt, whether they helped incur it or not.

This means that if you break up after two years of cohabitation, as of March 18, you will suddenly find yourself liable for half your ex’s student loans, credit card bills and mortgage. Property acquired before the relationship began is excluded, as are inheritances and gifts.

The whole deal kicks in automatically next month — no registration or recognition required. Couples who want to avoid sharing will need lawyers to write legal agreements in order to opt out.

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