Am I in a Common Law Relationship?

Common-law relationships are those that don’t involve any sort of formal marriage ceremony. They are established once you and your partner have been living together (also referred to as cohabiting) for a length of time. The law has recently changed in Alberta and now we treat the division of common law property the same as we treat the property of married persons.

Common-law relationships typically refer to couples that live together in an arrangement similar to a marriage, but without a marriage ceremony or legal documents, for a period of 3 years, or for any period of time if the parties are the parents of a child. The idea of living “common law” is a complicated one, and its meaning varies greatly from province to province.


Cohabitation means living together. Two people who are cohabiting have set up their household together in one place and no longer maintain separate residences.


Alberta Common law couples that separated PRIOR to January 1, 2020, do not have all of the same rights and obligations as married couples under the law relating to assets and debts. Alberta Common law couples that separated after December 31, 2019, have very similar rights to the division of their property that married persons enjoy. However, their rights and obligations around parenting and supporting children are similar to those of married couples.

When a couple falls under the Matrimonial Property Act of Alberta or the Family Property Act of Alberta, and they divide their property when they separate, there is a general rule of equal sharing of the property they used as a married couple. This general rule does not exist for common law couples who separated prior to December 31, 2019. For these couples the division of property is determined in accordance to many factors and the existing body of case law. This is why it is especially important to contact a lawyer if property is being divided.

The break-up of common law relationships can be seen like the breakup of a business.

Each party needs to look at what they respectively provided to buy the assets, contributed to keep up or improve the assets, may have done to allow the other person to do the same.

If you and your former partner cannot agree on how to split up your property, you may apply to the court for a court order to divide the property. It is recommended that former common law partners have legal advice involving common law property division.

If you are curious to know your rights in a common law relationship or if there is a change in your relationship you should consider speaking to a lawyer. It may not seem particularly romantic to visit a lawyers office but it may help give clarity.

Get in touch with us today to set up an appointment. Call us at: 780 831 7370