Rights and obligations

From a legal point of view, common law spouses have no obligation toward one another, regardless of how long they have lived together. The right to an equal share in the family patrimony in the event of separation applies only to couples joined in marriage or civil union. In the case of common law couples, assets accumulated during cohabitation must be divided in accordance with proof of ownership, unless otherwise indicated in a joint agreement.

Did you know that...

  • A common law spouse who is the sole owner of the family residence may sell or mortgage it without the consent of the other spouse. In the event of separation, they alone will retain use of the home and are under no obligation to split the proceeds of sale with their former spouse. The only way to avoid such a situation is to buy the property together and to make sure that both names appear on the notarized deed.
  • Even if you spend your entire life with your common law spouse, that does not make you their legal heir. If a spouse wishes to bequeath their assets to their significant other, they must do so in a will. Without a will, the immediate family of the deceased (children, father, mother, sister, etc.) will inherit their assets.
  • A common law spouse has no legal obligation toward their life companion, unless otherwise stated in an agreement. In the event of separation, common law spouses without financial resources are not entitled to alimony.
  • Children born of a common law union have the same rights and obligations as children from a legal marriage or civil union. The lower income spouse is therefore entitled to child support. Even if they live apart, both parents continue to exercise parental authority. Unless there are serious reasons to do so, it is consequently impossible for one parent to limit the visitation rights of the other parent.

A few exceptions...

  • Certain social legislation gives common law spouses some rights. For example, the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec recognizes a spouse's right to receive compensation upon their partner's death in an automobile accident. That being said, the laws that sets married, civil or common law unions on equal footing impose certain criteria (duration of cohabitation, existence of a child, etc.).
  • Since 2002, the Civil Code of Quebec has recognized the right of the common law spouse to consent to health care for his or her spouse when the latter is not capable of giving such consent and where no mandatary, curator or guardian has been appointed.

For a list of legislation that grants common law spouses the same rights as married or civil union spouses, please consult the following website: Ministère de la Justice