Even if a couple has been living together for years, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a common-law relationship. Under the law in the Province of Manitoba, a couple must be in a conjugal relationship for it to be a common-law union.

In 1980, the Supreme Court of Canada came up with a test to determine whether people are living in a conjugal relationship. It identifies seven areas, along with specific questions, which examine the nature of a relationship:

1. Shelter

  • Do both people live under the same roof?
  • What are the sleeping arrangements?
  • Does anyone else occupy or share the accommodation?

2. Sexual and Personal Behaviour

  • Do the parties have a sexual relationship? If not, why not?
  • Do the parties maintain an attitude of fidelity to each other?
  • What are their feelings toward each other?
  • Do they communicate on a personal level?
  • Do they eat their meals together?
  • What, if anything, do they do to assist each other with problems or during illness?
  • Do they buy gifts for each other on special occasions?

3. Services

  • What is the conduct and habit of the parties in relation to (a) the preparation of meals; (b) washing and mending clothes; (c) shopping; (d) household maintenance; and (e) any other domestic services?

4. Social

  • Do they participate together or separately in neighbourhood and community activities?
  • What is the relationship and conduct of each of them towards members of their respective families and how do the families behave towards the parties?

5. Societal

What is the attitude and conduct of the community towards each of them and as a couple?

6. Economic Support

  • What are the financial arrangements between the parties regarding the provision of or contribution toward the necessaries of life (food, clothing, shelter, recreation, etc.)?
  • What are the arrangements concerning the acquisition and ownership of property?
  • Are there any special financial arrangements between them which they’ve agreed would be determinant of their overall relationship?

7. Children

  • What is the attitude and conduct of the parties concerning the children?

Each of the factors is important, but a couple doesn’t have to demonstrate all of them for the relationship to be considered conjugal. A couple can be in a conjugal relationship even if not living under the same roof if one of the parties is in a nursing home, for example. Sex may not be part of the relationship, or the couple may not own any property together and keeps finances separate. These factors on their own do not mean a conjugal relationship doesn’t exist.

However, when claiming the existence of a common-law relationship, sharing expenses and living in the same place is not enough. The law looks at the above factors to determine if, on balance, the couple has a relationship equal to that of being married.

kelly riediger image smallBy Kelly Riediger

If you have questions about legal aspects related to common-law relationships, contact me today.