In a story that made headlines over the weekend, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled last week that common-law spouses in Quebec are not entitled to the same rights regarding support as their married counterparts.

The decision has led to much discussion in the media regarding what rights common-law spouses have, and as was made clear in one news report I saw, it appeared that many common-law spouses took it for granted that they would be afforded the same rights by the court as their married counterparts.

The ruling was not without its dissenters, as Justice Abella, in disagreeing with the majority and arguing that the current scheme was unconstitutional, states:

Since many spouses in de facto couples exhibit the same functional characteristics as those in formal unions, with the same potential for one partner to be left economically vulnerable or disadvantaged when the relationship ends, their exclusion from similar protections perpetuates historic disadvantages against them based on their marital status”.

In Ontario, while common-law spouses do not universally enjoy the same rights as their married counterparts (see our blog on inheritance rights of unmarried couples), under certain circumstances the Ontario legislature has advanced to common-law spouses the same rights as those who are married.

Within the Succession Law Reform Act, in identifying those who are entitled to apply to the court for dependant’s relief, section 57 defines a “spouse” as including two people who:

            “are not married to each other and have cohabitated,

            (i) continuously for a period for a period of not less than three years, or

(ii) in a relationship of some permanence, if they are the natural or adoptive parents of a child.”

Common law spouses do not universally enjoy the same rights as their married counterparts. While statutes such as the Succession Law Reform Act have advanced to common-law spouses some statutory protection, this protection is not universal.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark