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Home > Families and Couples > Marriage, civil union and common law union > Are common law spouses subject to the same rules as married or civil union spouses?

Are common law spouses subject to the same rules as married or civil union spouses?

Statistics show that an increasing number of couples choose to live together without first getting married or entering into a civil union. If you are among them, you may be wondering about the legal consequences of your situation. One thing you should know is that, whether you and your partner have lived together for 3, 5 or even 20 years, you do not have the same legal status as a legally married or civil union spouse.

Family residence
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. Common law spouses are not entitled to the right of protection of a family residence that is granted under the Civil Code of Québec to legally married and civil union couples.

Family patrimony
The obligatory division of family patrimony applies only to legally married and civil union couples. In the event of separation, the spouse who is the sole owner of the residence can keep it. The owner of the residence also retains the right to sell it without sharing the proceeds of sale with the former common law spouse. To avoid such a situation, the spouses both need to purchase the property by each signing the notarized deed.

If you are both owners, you are both adequately protected and, at the time of resale, you will both benefit from the increased value of the jointly purchased house.

Children born of a common law union have the same rights and obligations as children from a marriage or civil union. Therefore, there is no need for parents to adopt such children.

Like all children, the children of common law parents may be given the surname of the mother or the father, or a combination of the two.

In the event of death
Even after living together for 50 years, common law spouses are not each other's legal heirs upon death. The only way that your common law spouse can inherit your assets and property when you die is if you draw up a will. Without a will, the family of the deceased common law spouse inherits his or her property in accordance with the Civil Code of Québec.

The rule is similar for life insurance. You cannot collect your common law spouse’s life insurance unless he or she has previously appointed you as the beneficiary of the policy, either in the policy itself or in a will.

In the event of separation
Common law spouses without financial resources are not entitled to alimony in the event of separation, although child support may be requested on behalf of children born of the union.

Even if the parents live separately, they continue to exercise joint parental authority over their children. Therefore, full rights of access cannot be opposed, hindered or restricted without serious reasons for doing so.

Finally, unless otherwise indicated in a joint agreement, property accumulated during cohabitation must be divided in accordance with the right of ownership that either spouse can prove. In other words, each spouse keeps the assets and property he or she acquired while living together, hence the importance of keeping all receipts and bills showing ownership of property acquired during the common law union.