Common Law British Columbia
Family law is going through some rapid changes in BC, and this affects everyone, particularly people in common law relationships.
Currently family law is governed by the Family Relations Act. However, the Family Law Act is in the process of replacing this legislation. The Family Law Act has already been given Royal Assent and will likely be proclaimed in force over the next twelve to eighteen months.
The effect of this new legislation is dramatic, as the BC Family Relations Act did not cover common law relationships whereas the new Family Law Act does. Although not in effect now, for common law partners it may as well be, because even if your relationship ends right away, you or your partner can simply wait until the Family Law Act is in effect to use its provisions.
Am I Common Law?
British Columbia considers you common law if you and your partner have lived in a marriage-like relationship for two or more years, or you have children together.
The Family Relations Act governs division of property when a marriage ends. It does not apply to unmarried couples. However, this is all about to change. The new Family Law Act, when it takes effect, will treat married and common law couples the same with regards to property division. Although not yet in effect now, even if your relationship ends, a common law partner simply needs to wait until the Family Law Act is in effect to apply for a division of property.
A common law partner in BC has one year after separation to apply to court for spousal support under the Family Relations Act. There is no deadline for married couples applying under the Divorce Act.
Child Support & Child Custody
Child support and child custody are decided the same way for common law couples in British Columbia as for married couples.
Under the Family Relations Act, there is a one-year deadline to apply to court for child support from a common law step parent. No such deadline exists in the Divorce Act, which applies to married couples.
The rights of common law partners are the same as married partners when it comes to most estate issues, including intestate succession and dependents relief.
Under the Family Relations Act, it often did not make sesne for common law BC partners to enter into a cohabitation agreement. This is because doing so brought them into the purview of the Family Relations Act, which required an equal division of all property. However, with the impending approach of the Family Law Act, a cohabitation agreement is strongly recommended if this is not the result wanted by a couple.