Quebec has the highest number of common-law unions (28.8%) in Canada. Although these unions are often short-term or transitory and some will end up in marriage these marriages tend to have a high divorce rate. Since the divorce rate in Quebec was 48.4% in 2009, it is not unreasonable to assume that more than half of the common law couples will end up in a breakup.
In Quebec, common-law partners are known as de facto partners and do not have the same rights as married couples.
There are many common beliefs about common-law unions such as:
• After 3 years, couples who are living together have the same rights as couples who are married.
• Common law couples who live under the same roof are considered in a common-law relationship by the income tax department – therefore must have the same rights as a married couple.
• Couples with children who break-up: the common-law “wife” assumes she can get an alimentary pension.
• Couples who own a home and break-up: the proceeds are equally split between the 2 spouses.
These commonly held assumptions/beliefs have no basis in the Civil Code of Quebec.
So when I meet couples who want to want to buy a house I always ask if they are married, if not…I recommend the following:
1. The house should be in both names.
2. The down payment each puts in should be documented by the notary or lawyer because if they split up and the house is sold, the amount each invested will be returned as well as any profit accrued on same percentage as the investment.
3. They should each have a new will made leaving the house to the surviving spouse. Why? Because if a common-law spouse dies intestate, his/her portion of the immovable assets does not go to the surviving spouse but to his/her family….
If you are in a de facto union, you should have a cohabitation contract which will lists the items owns by each “spouse” before they started living common-law. It is also recommended to keep receipts for items acquired during cohabitation which are included in the contract. A cohabitation contract is the only protection a common-law couple can have in terms of a legal framework for their relationship.
Quebec has the “Civil Code”. The rest on Canada has “Common Law”, two entirely different legal systems…