Ontario Common Law Separation Agreements
Separation Agreements for Common Law Couples
For common law couples—i.e., couples who have lived together but never married— there is no formal process that must be followed in order to separate, and no need for divorce. Common-law couples can dissolve their union at any time, with no required legal action.
However, if you have lived together for some time and have children together or have jointly purchased numerous assets, then the process of separating can be complicated. You may want to seek legal advice from a lawyer for common law separation in Ontario and sign a separation agreement.
Common law partners also do not have the same legal rights and obligations toward one another upon separation as do married couples. Below are descriptions of the key areas of difference between common law partners and married couples. This information applies equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
Common Law Division of Property
Part 1 of the Family Law Act (FLA), which provides for the equal division of financial gains made during a marriage, applies only to married couples. Unmarried couples are not legally entitled to the division of property. Because the FLA’s property-sharing regime does not apply to common-law partners, each partner is entitled only to what he or she brought into the relationship or acquired during it. For more information about what this means, and how to determine who owns what, see our article titled: Common-Law Relationships and Division of Property.
Spousal & Child Support for Common Law Separation
Part 3 of the Family Law Act, which governs support, applies to common-law couples who cohabited continuously for a period of 3 years or more, or who have cohabited in a relationship of some permanence and have natural or adoptive children together. If your relationship meets that definition, you may be entitled to spousal support or be obligated to pay your former partner spousal support. Spousal support is generally calculated the same way it is for married couples, although married couples would claim support under the Divorce Act.
Determining whether or not a couple has cohabited for 3 years can sometimes be difficult, if partners have retained separate residences or have spent long periods apart, perhaps for work. But if the partners held themselves out as spouses and have demonstrated a long-term commitment, and an integration of their lives, they can be considered to have cohabited despite maintaining separate residences for a specific purpose, such as employment or facilitating access to children, and despite spending long intervals of time apart.
Every parent has a legal duty to support any dependent children they have, to the extent they are able to. Child support is also determined the same way for married parents as for unmarried ones. Both are calculated using the Child Support Guidelines, regardless of whether the support claim is made under the Divorce Act (which applies only to married couples) or the Family Law Act.
Note that if your common-law partner has children from a former relationship who have been living with you, you may be considered be a parent to that child as well, for the purposes of child support. Anyone whom the court finds to have acted as a parent to a child (who is “in loco parentis,” or standing in the place of a parent) may be required to pay child support.
Common Law Child Custody & Access
Any parent can apply for custody of or access to a child. While married couples obtaining a divorce will apply for custody and access under the Divorce Act, unmarried couples will apply under the Children’s Law Reform Act (CLRA). The CLRA applies to cohabiting couples who decide to separate, those with children together who have never cohabited, and married couples who have decided to separate but are not seeking a divorce.
The Family Home in a Common-Law Relationship
Unlike married spouses, common-law partners do not have an equal right to possess the family (or matrimonial) home. Like any other property in a common-law relationship, the home belongs to the person who purchased it and whose name is on the title (or lease, if the home is rented).
If you own your home, you do have a legal right to kick your common-law partner out of it if your relationship breaks down. However, unless you are afraid for your own safety, it is not recommended that you do so. Courts generally do not look kindly on such action, particularly if your partner is in a less financially advantageous position than you are. If your partner applies for spousal support, your conduct regarding the home may influence the court’s award of spousal support.
If the matrimonial home is in your spouse’s name, you still do have some options if you wish to stay in the home, particularly in the short term:
- First, if you meet the definition of “spouse” under Part 3 of the Family Law Act and are therefore able to apply for spousal support, you may apply to the court to stay in the home as part of a support order. Under s. 34(1)(d) of the Family Law Act, the court can make an interim or final order in regard to the matrimonial home.
- Second, if your partner has threatened violence and you fear for your safety or the safety of your children, you can apply for a restraining order. Under s. 46(2) you can apply for a restraining order against someone you have cohabited with for any length of time. The court can make an interim or final restraining order.
- A third option is to claim a constructive trust. However, it is extraordinarily rare for a common-law spouse to be successful in making this type of argument for possession of the matrimonial home.
Get additional insight on common law separation and how a lawyer can assist you. Call Feldstein Family Law Group P.C. at (905) 581-7222. We can help!
Andrew Feldstein Founder
Andrew Feldstein graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1992. Prior to focusing exclusively on family law, Andrew’s legal practice covered many different areas, including corporate commercial. One of Andrew’s fundamental objectives is to achieve those goals mutually and collaboratively, as set out by him and his client.
Daphna Schwartz Lawyer
Daphna Schwartz joined Feldstein Family Law Group, P.C. in 2007 as an associate lawyer. She was previously practising family law in the Barrie area. Her practice includes all areas of divorce and family law, including custody and access, child support, spousal support, and property issues. Daphna is also qualified to practise Collaborative Family Law.
Anna Troitschanski Lawyer
Anna Troitschanski joined the team at Feldstein Family Law Group, P.C. in 2012. Prior to that, she practised Family Law at a boutique Newmarket firm. Her experience covers all areas of divorce and family law, including custody and access, child support, spousal support, and division of property.
Nick Slinko Lawyer
Nick Slinko attended York University from 2003 until 2007 where he majored in both Law & Society and Philosophy. Nick graduated in 2007 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree. He proceeded to earn a Juris Doctor in Law at the University of Western Ontario in 2011. Nick was Called to the Bar in June of 2012 after completing his Articling term with the Feldstein Family Law Group, P.C. He became an associate with the firm immediately thereafter.
Veronica Yeung Lawyer
Veronica Yeung joined the Feldstein Family Law Group, P.C. as a summer student in 2014 and returned as an articling student in 2015. Following her call to the Ontario Bar in June 2016, Veronica was welcomed to the team as an associate lawyer.
Veronica attended York University for her undergraduate studies and graduated as a member of the Dean’s Honour Roll when she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Honours Criminology.
Shana Gordon-Katz Lawyer
Shana joined Feldstein Family Law Group P.C. as an articling student in 2017. Following her call to the Ontario Bar in June 2018, Shana was welcomed back to the firm as an associate. While completing her articles, Shana assisted with legal matters covering all areas of family law.
Shana attended the University of Western Ontario for her undergraduate studies, where she graduated as the gold medalist of her program, Honors Specialization in Classical Studies.
Rachel Zweig Lawyer
Rachel joined Feldstein Family Law Group P.C as a Summer Student in 2019 and returned as an Articling Student in 2020-2021. Following her Call to the Ontario Bar in April 2021, Rachel was welcomed back to the firm as an Associate.
Prior to completing her legal studies and obtaining her Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa, Rachel obtained her Bachelor’s Degree at Ryerson University with a major in English Literature.
Lauren Harvey Associate Lawyer
Lauren joined Feldstein Family Law Group as a Summer Student in 2020 and returned as an Articling Student in 2021-2022. Following her Call to the Ontario Bar in April 2022, Lauren was welcomed back to the firm as an Associate.
Prior to completing her legal studies and obtaining her Juris Doctor at the University of Western Ontario, Lauren obtained her Honour’s Bachelor of Arts Degree at Wilfrid Laurier University majoring in Criminology and minoring in Law and Society.
Quinn Held Associate Lawyer
Quinn spent two years as a Summer Student and then completed her Articling term at a boutique Family Law firm in Orangeville, where she was exposed to various complex Family Law matters. Following her Call to the Bar of Ontario in June 2022, she became an Associate with the Feldstein Family Law Group.
Prior to obtaining her Juris Doctor from the University of Windsor, Quinn obtained her Honour’s Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of Guelph majoring in Criminal Justice and Public Policy and minoring in International Development.