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Common-Law spouses: same rights as married spouses, right?


Family law

You have been in a committed relationship for over 10 years. You live together, have shared all family expenses, and have even had children together. You have never considered formalizing your union through marriage, as you have never seen the point in doing so. In fact, you are common-law (or, de facto) spouses!

A few years ago, you decided to put work on hold, indefinitely, in order to focus on raising the children and taking care of the family, while your spouse continued to work to provide for the family.
You might be tempted to believe that, in the unfortunate case of a separation, your spouse will have to continue to financially provide for you, at least until you are able to get back on your feet, as you have withdrawn from your career to take care of the children….Right?

WRONG!  Unlike other Canadian provinces, common-law spouses residing in Quebec do not have the right to spousal support following the breakdown of their relationship.  (Other Canadian provinces are Common Law jurisdictions, as in England.  Quebec is a Civil Law jurisdiction, as in France. “Common-law marriage” does not exist as a legal concept in a Civil Law jurisdiction.  However, specific laws can be and are passed to grant specific rights to common-law spouses, even in Quebec.)

The only way to prevent the unfortunate situation of no spousal support is by either getting married, or entering into a cohabitation agreement.

Cohabitation agreements are contracts signed by common-law spouses where they decide ahead of time what rules should govern the potential breakdown of their union. Spousal support is one potential issue this type of agreement can determine, among other issues such as, for example, the division of assets.
Should you decide to have such an agreement drafted, it is advisable that you consult an independent attorney in order to avoid interpretation issues.
Sonia Rotondo, Attorney-at-Law
Alepin Gauthier Avocats inc.
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