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How Alberta family law views common-law unions

One of the benefits of living in a federation is the freedom accorded to each province and territory, even so far as adjudication. Family law falls under federal jurisdiction and distinguishes between the dissolution of a formal marriage and that of a common-law relationship. Alberta is among those provinces which abides by this distinction, particularly when it comes to property division.

By contrast, British Columbia accords the same property rights division to common-law unions as it does to legal marriages. A relatively new change in B.C. legislation, certain conditions do apply, such as the duration of the union. On the other hand, Alberta and most other provinces continue to view all property accumulated up to the point of legal separation as divisible. The defining word here is "legal," which determines how issues such as property sharing and division will be treated.

Yet that doesn't mean that an "equitable claim" to share in an ex-partner's assets cannot be made. Such claims stand outside the Marital Property Act and depend on the specific circumstances of each common-law case. A judge will review such a claim in terms of "unjust enrichment" by which the contributions of one common-law partner can be shown to have enabled the other to attain property or assets.

The criteria applied is stringent, particularly so since the claim falls outside legislation. When dissolving a common-law partnership, there should be no unwelcome surprises. In such cases, the assistance of an Alberta family law firm could help navigate a client undergoing the dissolution of a common-law union through the intricate, but definite, distinctions.

Source: Financial Post, "Why confusing common law relationships with marriage can be a costly mistake", Laurie H. Pawlitza Special, Accessed on March 20, 2018

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