Common Law in Alberta: Complete Guide

Posted on July 27, 2021

Data from Statistics Canada shows that around one-fifth of the Canadian population is now in a common law relationship, which is three times more than in the 1980s. Common law unions are increasingly popular as Canadians do away with traditional nuptials.

Different provinces across Canada define common law in their own way. If you live in Alberta, you must be wondering about your own province's common law definition.

In its most basic terms, common law in Alberta states that two people must be living together interdependently for three years and meet some pre-requisites for finances and the way they share in each other's lives.

That's what is considered common law in Alberta, but it gets much more complicated once you get into the details. Children, periods of separation, and finances all can either bolster a common law claim or tear it apart.

So, how does common law work in Alberta for you? In this guide, we'll break down the law step by step and help you apply it to your unique situation.

How to Prove to CRA Our Marital Status

If you are looking to make a common law claim, you'll need to understand the basic prerequisites you need to meet. Common law in Alberta, Canada generally requires that you be living together for three years without any interruptions. You can shorten the period if your situation includes children or legal documents. 

Alberta common law requires, along with a period of living together, that you:

  • Share in one another's lives beyond living in the same space
  • Have an emotional commitment to each other
  • Function as an "economic and domestic unit," or in other words, depending on one another financially 

At first glance, it seems that these pre-requisites are pretty hard to prove with facts and objective documents. The Alberta government, however, has set out key ways you can prove that you meet common law requirements.

Shared Ownership of Residential Property

One of the first things you need to prove to the CRA, or the Canada Revenue Agency, is that you share one living arrangement.

If you and your partner live in a home together, you can use the documentation of your home buying process as evidence of your living situation.

Joint Leases or Rental Agreements

If you don't own a home, but you rent, you can use evidence from these procedures as well. Gather your rental agreements or joint lease contracts that have both of your names listed and include this in your application.

Bills for Shared Utility Accounts

Along with proof that you both have your names listed on your living arrangement's legal documents, you'll want proof that you both contribute financially to continued living there. The best way to prove this is to show documents and bills for utilities.

These bills could be for gas, electricity, telephone, and any other joint utility accounts.

Important Documents for Showing Same Address

Other documents that are important as proof are legal documents that show the use of the same address. This means that any of your identification documents, like your driver's license and passport, should show that you both use the same official address.

You can also use other documents such as car insurance policies, rental insurance documents, and other insurance contracts.

Identification Documents

Along with your application, you should also include identification documents. These prove who you are who you say you are in your application so that the CRA can properly process your claims.

How Long After Living Together are Considered Common Law in Alberta?

When do you have to claim common law in Canada? The federal law in Canada is that you must be cohabiting for one year before you can make a claim for common law. The provinces have their own rules on the period of time you must wait, however.

So, how long do you have to be together to be common law in Alberta? Alberta requires that you be living together either for three continuous years or with a degree of permanency and a child together.

What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?

One of the ways to speed up the common law process is to shorten the length of time that you must live together. You can do this by proving that you have a child together, or you can create a cohabitation agreement.

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document that proves your intention to live together, be a part of each other's lives, and be financially dependent on each other. This legal document is a great way to prove your intentions to the government and make the period of time living together less important.

Is a Cohabitation Agreement a Good Idea?

It is not just a good idea to have a cohabitation agreement to speed up the process, but also to be very clear about your intentions and responsibilities to your partner. Even married couples divorce, so it's possible that common law unions can fall apart.

Having a legal document that states responsibilities to each other and outlines what will happen with children and property in the case of separation is a great way to protect yourself legally.

A cohabitation agreement in Alberta will be a legal document that holds up in court and lists the terms of your living arrangements, responsibilities to each other, financial situation, responsibilities with children, and more.

Can I Make One Before My Spouse Moves In?

It is highly recommended that you make a cohabitation agreement before either of you moves in. This makes sure that your intentions and responsibilities are set before anything else occurs.

How Much Does It Cost?

A cohabitation agreement can cost absolutely nothing if you choose to write one yourself. However, you could choose to buy an affordable template online or hire a lawyer to help, which could be much more expensive.

Do I Need a Lawyer for One?

It's not required to have a lawyer for a cohabitation agreement, but it's highly recommended. Cohabitations are meant to be valid for legal processes, such as being held up in court, and mistakes can be held against you or have unintended consequences.

You'll want to make sure your terms are listed as explicitly as possible and avoid loopholes and unintended meanings in the case of separation.

What if We Have a Verbal Agreement?

A court may choose to not uphold any agreements that were verbally made. In that case, there are no documents to use as evidence of an agreement. Anything that is really important to you must be written down and both parties must sign to be held up in court. 

How Do Common Law Partners in Alberta Have to File Taxes?

When filing taxes, you must file taxes as common law partners in the same way that married persons or single persons must file taxes with the correct marital status. 

Alberta common law rules state you must both file your own taxes and include the personal information of your common law partner. 

Filing as common law partners allows the CRA to combine your household income. This means they will tax you according to your joint income and you will receive the relevant benefits.

You should only file taxes separately as single once you and your common law partner have separated for at least 90 days and you've legally changed your marital status. Penalties for filing differently than your legal marital status can be a denial of benefit. You will also have to pay your correct taxes and any penalty fees.

What if We Have Children Together?

Childcare expenses can only be claimed by the common law partner with the lower net income. Your Canada Childcare Benefit can also be affected by your marital status change, and the CRA will take into account both you and your partner's income when calculating benefits.

What Not to Do in a Common Law Relationship

Some mistakes to avoid when in a common law relationship are not having a cohabitation agreement that is explicitly clear, especially in regards to children and property. While common law relationships can dissolve a lot easier legally than marriages, they can get very complicated. 

If you have been living together for a long time, bought things together, and have children, it will be much harder to divide property and agree on custody arrangements. The longer these issues persist, the more trauma there is for the children involved.

What Is My Partner Entitled To?

When you are living together, it is up to you to decide who will pay for what. In general, common law couples may decide to pay off bills and debt together and make joint purchases. In the event of separation, a common law relationship in Alberta entitles each partner to a certain amount of property and custody rights. In the event of a common law breakup, proceedings much like divorce agreements will occur.

Here are Some Frequently Asked Questions

Items purchased jointly are property of both people, so you would divide the property fairly. If both partners contributed to buying the house they live in, further negotiation will have to occur to decide what will happen to the house. If you originally bought the house and your partner moved in, you can keep the house and ask other party to move out.

Laws that ensure the equal division of financial gains among spouses only apply to married couples. Instead, common law partners are only entitled to what each person owned before the start of the relationship and what they personally bought during it.

The same rules apply to debt. If you originally had the debt, it's yours to take care of after separation. If both your names are on the debt, you're both responsible and the lender can pursue both parties for payments.

Know Your Marital Status

Now that you know more about common law in Alberta and what you're entitled to in a separation, you can move forward with your common law claim with confidence. Make sure to make a cohabitation agreement that will make both partners happy and legally protect everyone involved.

If you're looking for more financial advice, including taxes and marital status, check out Read through our blog for the latest tips!

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