Posts

Common Law vs. Marriage

Common Law and Marriage are often confused when it comes to the division of property and other rights and obligations upon separation. In order to know what you’re entitled to, it’s important to understand the distinction between these two terms so you can create the best plan for your future.

What may be confusing to some is the fact that the Family Law Act (“FLA”) has two definitions for spouse and that these two types of spouses are treated very differently upon separation.

Definition of Spouse in Ontario

Keep note that the definition of spouse and the rights that flow from that definition differ from province to province. This post is restricted to the definition of spouses and their rights in Ontario.

The first type of spouse is defined in s. 1(1) of the FLA and it means either of two persons who:

  1. Are married to each other, or
  2. Have together entered into a marriage that is voidable or void and in good faith

This includes marriages from anywhere else in the world.

The second type of spouse is found in s. 29 of the FLA.

Here, spouse means any spouse as defined in s. 1(1) (the married spouses) AND anyone that meets the following criteria:

Persons who are NOT married to each and have cohabited:

  1. Continuously for a period of not less than three years; or
  2. In a relationship of some permanence, if they are the parents of a child.

What is also important here is the part that says “cohabited continuously.” Consider the following example for a couple with no children:

  • Partners live together for 2 years starting January 1, 2015;
  • They then live apart for 7 months from January 1, 2017 to August 1, 2017;
  • Then they start living together for 5 more months starting August 2, 2017.
Start of cohabitation – 2 years Break in cohabitation – 7 months Restart of cohabitation – 5 months End of three years
January 1, 2015 January 1, 2017 to August 1, 2017 August 2, 2017 January 1, 2018

 

In this example, they would not meet the criteria of common law spouse as defined in the FLA.  They would have to live together for 3 more uninterrupted years from August 2, 2017 to August 1, 2020 to be considered common law spouses.

However, if this couple had children, then they would likely be considered common law.

How do these separate definitions of spouse affect me?

These two definitions mean that there are different property rights for a married spouse and a common law spouse. Under the FLA, married spouses have automatic property rights in addition to support rights.  This means they have rights to an equalization payment, property such as the pension, the matrimonial home, support payments, and intestacy rights.

Common law spouses on the other hand, only have automatic rights to spousal support on separation under s. 29 of the FLA. This comes as a shock to some clients as they believe that simply living in the home is enough to guarantee rights to the home or any other shared property. This is only true in common law where both parties share property as joint tenants or tenants in common.

However, spousal support is not guaranteed like child support is. Spousal support is granted according to various factors, one of which is need (see s. 30 of the FLA).

Now that doesn’t mean a common law spouse can never claim rights to property out of the common law relationship and succeed; it just means they will have to seek one of the following alternative remedies;

  1. Unjust Enrichment;
  2. Quantum Meruit;
  3. Constructive trust; or
  4. Resulting trust.

These types of remedies are called “equitable claims” and usually involve litigating the matter in court in order to successfully receive the remedy.

Contact Rabideau Law’s caring and experienced staff for a consultation to see what legal options are available in your specific situation.

Joining Assets with Children

We recently came across an individual asking whether he could avoid the cost of preparing a Will by simply ‘joining’ all his assets with his children. Perhaps you may also have someone give you such an idea in order to skip the preparation of a Will because it’s “easier and cheaper to just join your accounts” than to visit the lawyer’s office.  

Interesting but misinformed.  

While joint ownership is often used as an estate planning tool in order to have assets transferred to the surviving owner (or simply for the sake of convenience) and avoiding the dreaded probate tax upon death, it has to be thought through to avoid unintended results.

Some questions that should be crossing your mind are:

  • Who is this account to be shared with?
  • Is the co-owner of the account one of your adult children?
  • What type of account is it (registered, non-registered etc.)?
  • Are there rollovers available so that there isn’t unnecessary tax burden on the estate?
  • Do you know the tax consequences that arise as a result of transferring a capital asset into joint ownership? 
  • Is the underlying intention to avoid probate tax?
  • Is avoiding probate tax worth the loss of control?
  • Is the true legal and beneficial ownership being transferred?

Some additional considerations may include the following:

In the event of your death, are you certain that Johnny will share equally with your other son, Bobby?  Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. Johnny may be in a financial strife and decide to use the proceeds out of this account thereby cutting Bobby short. What if Johnny’s facing creditor issues? Will creditors now be able to access the account? Do either of them have dependants (children, spouse) and how does all that factor in?

Along with continuous changes in the law, the above are some of the questions one must seek answers to in relation to joining accounts. Other items that require attention when preparing Wills are registered plans, insurance proceeds payable upon death, joint ownership designations, assets owned under tenancy in common etc.

It is always a good idea to speak to a professional and have your situation reviewed. Contact Rabideau Law today and speak to one of our professional Wills and Estates Lawyers.