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Common-law couples may have less rights in separation agreements

Across Canada, an increasing number of couples are choosing to cohabit and start families without legally marrying. While common-law couples in Alberta have similar rights to their married counterparts, some legal rights are not extended to these couples. Those working toward separation agreements with a common-law partner should be aware of how Alberta treats these cases.

Property rights are just one of the several issues affected by marital status during an Alberta break-up. One woman noted that, after separating from her partner of 20 years, she had no property rights to the couple's two houses. The houses were in her partner's name, and she would only be entitled to 50% if the couple had been married.

In Alberta, common-law separation agreements are governed by the Adult Interdependent Relationship Act. The Act does not cover several subjects involved in a traditional divorce, including property division. If a couple can't agree on a settlement, legal action may be taken to prove that the couple constituted a "family". However, this can lead to lengthy court battles and appeals, as the law is unclear on many issues.

Alberta has seen a 38 percent increase in the number of common-law couples over the past decade, with 10 percent of couples citing themselves as common-law. Then number of married couples only increased 20 percent in the same period. Those with questions about property rights and separation agreements during a break-up of any kind are advised to contact a divorce lawyer to understand their options and obligations under the law.

Source: CBC News, "She spent $124K to get her home back: Legislation leaves Alberta common-law couples without recourse", Sarah Rieger, Oct. 16, 2017

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