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LIVE CHAT replay: 'common law' arrangements across Canada

Categories: Canada, Community

The expression "we're practically married" has taken on a whole new meaning for B.C. couples who live together following dramatic changes to that priovince's Family Law act. (Watson Goepel Lawyers)

Common-law couples living in B.C. woke up this week with all of the rights - and responsibilities - of a married couple.

The province's new legal definition of the word "spouse" came into effect Monday, and many cohabiting couples must now wrap their heads around a few big changes, including:

  • A "spousal relationship" does not have to begin with wedding bells. Merely moving in together now signals that you're in a serious partnership. And after two years of cohabitation, you are spouses under the law.
  • After the two-year mark, debts are family debts, property is family property, and - partners may have to split assets 50/50 if they go their separate ways.
  • A legally binding co-habitation agreement could be in the cards for some unmarried couples, as future breakups could have the same repercussions as divorce.
The changes to B.C.'s law have served as a wake-up call to common law couples across the country, the number of which is ballooning four times faster than the number of married couples, according to Statistics Canada.

The rights and responsibilities between these partnerships vary dramatically from province to province, meaning lovebirds who share (or would like to share) a nest should think long and hard about the kind of commitment they're making.

What does it mean to be in a common law relationship in Canada today?

And why is there such a gulf between commitment-cementing B.C. and other provinces' laissez-faire approach. (We're looking at you, Quebec.)

This week on CBC Live Online, host Lauren O'Neil and our guests take a look at the patchwork of marriage-like designations for common law couples across the country.

This week's special guests included:

  • Craig Neville is a family lawyer, mediator, and parenting coordinator at Vancouver's Watson Goepel Maledy LLP. He graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in 1979 and was called to the Bar in Saskatchewan in 1981 and the Bar in British Columbia in 1986. His goal is to find principled solutions that address not only the immediate emotional or financial concerns of clients but also their longer term financial and emotional stability.

  • Vanessa Gruben is a member of the Common Law section of the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law where she teaches property law and family law. She was called to the bar in Ontario in 2003, after which she practiced as an associate in the litigation group of a national law firm. She joined the Faculty as an assistant professor after graduating as a James Kent Scholar from Columbia University's Master of Laws program.

  • Alan Henry is a member of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador. He obtained a Juris Doctor degree from the University Of Saskatchewan in 1990, and was called to the Bar of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1991. His preferred areas of practice include Family Law and Collaborative Family Law.

  • Averie McNary presently teaches at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Law. She was a lead on major reform of Alberta family legislation in 2004 and 2010, and has acted in matters of child protection and family law in the traditional barrister and solicitor role. Her credentials include: Q.C. B.A. (Manitoba '78), LL.B. (Alberta '81), LL.M. (Dalhousie '97).

  • Azim Hussain is a partner at Norton Rose in Montreal. He worked with Pierre Bienvenu on the high-profile Eric vs. Lola case, representing Eric. Hussain was called to the bar in Ontario in 2002, and in Quebec in 2001.He specializes in arbitration and alternative dispute resolution, among many other areas.

Tags: CBC, Community, Live Online

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