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Common Law vs Marriage : What is the Difference?

Common Law vs Marriage

A romantic relationship between 2 people can take several forms. If you are in a long-term relationship, you may already see the differences in you as a couple than other couples. However, it is important to know the differences in a relationship thoroughly to avoid any issue when it may end.

The relationship status is significant, especially when you and your partner split up. Several legal rights under family law are associated with the relationship you have with your partner which you may called common law agreement.

One ongoing debate on this matter is common law vs marriage. Many couples form a family and still do not know about the 2 types of relationship status by law. So, what is the difference between them?

Common Law vs Marriage: Defining the Two Types of Relationship

Despite subtle differences, the 2 types of legal relationships have specific definition by the law. Here is a brief definition of a common-law relationship and legal marriage.

What is a Common Law Relationship?

A common law relationship is plain and simple to define. Any couple who live together like any other family but is not married by the law are common-law couples. The legal system of Canada considers them to be in a common-law relationship.

Moreover, two people are involved in more than a sexual relationship with one another in a common law relationship. This is called being in a conjugal relationship. The couple has been together for years and has grown an emotional and romantic connection. This goes beyond sexual or physical needs. Therefore, the couple lives together under one roof.

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Different states can term a common law relationship differently. Some states may name it “adult independent relationships,” and some may call it “domestic partnerships.”

Nevertheless, common law rights are determined almost similarly everywhere. The common law in Saskatchewan requires several criteria to determine a common law relationship.

The 2 major factors considered in this case are the duration of the couple living together and their number. In addition, the common law relationship must form a conjugal relationship.

A conjugal relationship means that the couple is involved in a romantic and emotional understanding beyond sexual needs. Moreover, the partners must support each other and portray themselves as a couple in a common law relationship.

What does Legal Marriage Mean in Canada?

On the other hand, the bookish definition of a legal marriage is 2 people coming together, saying their vows, and are certified by a judge of their legal relationship. Just like other countries, Canadian law recognizes married couples as spouses of each other.

A legal marriage allows couples to form families under the law. Many legal rights are recognized and established under family law in a legal marriage. To avail them, 2 people must come together and get certified of legal marriage. In Canada, people who are over 16 years old can legally get married. There must be a marriage license issued by the state. For this reason, you may need a spousal support lawyer.

Apart from the definition, there are several differences between a common-law relationship and legal marriage.

Common Law vs Marriage: The Impacts on Your Family Rights

In Canada, your relationship with your partner can take the 2 forms mentioned above. If you have lived together for more than 3 years, you are entitled to a common law relationship. And, if you have arranged a legal marriage ceremony and obtained a signed marriage certification, you are a spouse in the eye of the law. But what are the other key differences associated with these 2 types?

Division of Property

The major difference between common law and marriage comes in the form of property division. Many people in Canada are still surprised to know that their property will be divided depending on their relationship with each other if the partners get separated.

The Canadian law and order have specific legislation when it comes to the divorce of formal and legal marriage. When you are married by the law, you are entitled to several rights of the legal system.

Similarly, when you decide to end the marriage through divorce, those rights apply to property division. There is specific legislation on the process, amount, and entitlement of property division in a legal marriage.

On the other hand, this becomes extremely complex in a common law relationship. The country has no statute that can govern this issue of property division. What will the court do? The court will run a thorough investigation of the relationship since no particular law is available on the matter.

The court will look into the duration, quality, and extent of the relationship and give a verdict. In the end, you will have to oblige by the outcome of the court’s verdict and divide property accordingly.

One of the procedures of determining a decision is the “joint family venture.” The court will check whether you have been working together towards a family goal or not. Moreover, the court will look into any joint bank account or a joint business. These will eventually decide the division of property in a common-law relationship.

Access to Your Child and Child Support

Canadian law treats both relationships equally when it comes to child custody. Taking care of and being with your child is your legal right, regardless of your relationship with your partner.

As a result, it is equally important for a father or a mother from any kind of relationship to apply for child custody during separation.

So, during your togetherness, both you and your partner possess equal rights to take care of your beloved child. There is no discrimination in taking care, loving, and accessing your child.

Moreover, no common law separation agreement can stop you from claiming child custody if you get split in the future. The same thing applies to legal marriages as well. Even if you get divorced from your spouse, you can always file for child custody under family law.

Monetary Assistance

Whether it is a common law separation or legal marriage divorce, both the relationship gets access to any kind of spousal or child support care.

For both the type of relationship, you are entitled to support your spouse or live-in partner and your child. If you get separated, you must take care of both of them as ordered by the law or the court.

House Ownership

The last point where your relationship status may impact is the ownership of the house you and your partner live in. The legal titleholder of the house will always gain ownership in a common-law relationship. However, married partners acquire legal rights over the ownership of the house.


Relationships are always tough. Determining the type of legal rights you and your partner have in a relationship is tougher. There will always be confusion in the debate between common law vs marriage. So, it is important to have a clear idea about the two concepts of relationship.