Understanding Common Law Partnerships in Manitoba

Posted on August 13, 2021

In a battle between common law vs. marriage, common law is winning. The younger generation is tending to move in together faster and put off marriage longer.

While common law is becoming more popular, not everyone fully understands how it differs from marriage or how complicated it can become. In Canada, the federal government has laws that set the standard for common law, but the provinces all have their own rules.

Common law in Manitoba, Canada is much different from Alberta or Ontario. How provinces define common law relationships comes down to the length of time required to achieve common law, and what prerequisites you need to qualify.

So how does Manitoba define common law relationships? Manitoba common law requires that you have been living together in a conjugal relationship and are financially interdependent for three years or more.

Manitoba common law rules, however, that certain situations including children or cohabitation agreements can alter that timeline.

In this guide, you'll learn exactly what a common law relationship in Manitoba means and how you can achieve one.

How to Prove to CRA That We Are Common Law

In Manitoba, you must prove several things to claim common law. So what is considered common law in Manitoba? In general, you must have been living together for three years or more, or you must be living together with a degree of permanency and have a child together.

You must meet the above requirement and also meet these three prerequisites:

  • Have an emotional commitment to each other
  • Share in each other's lives
  • Depend on one another financially, also called an "economic and domestic unit"

Proving that you qualify as common law, in the case that it's called into question, can get fairly personal. The court may need testimony from neighbours, friends, and family that you attend family events together and are regularly seen doing things together.

Otherwise, you'll have to prove to the CRA that you live together in this way by providing the following documental proof.

Shared Ownership of Residential Property

Since common law depends on the fact that you are living together, you'll have to provide proof that you are living together by showing documents regarding your living arrangements. For example, if you own a home together, you can provide documentation that both of your names are listed on the closing documents for the house.

Joint Leases or Rental Agreements

If you don't own a home, but lease or rent together, you can choose to provide documentation of this instead. You can show a leasing or rental agreement to the CRA that has both of your names listed with the date.

Bills for Shared Utility Accounts

You'll also have to provide proof that you both contribute financially to your living situation, meaning you live together as an economic and domestic unit. A great way to do this is to show documents for your shared utility accounts.

You can provide the CRA with bills for gas, electricity, telephone, and more that have both of your names included.

Important Documents for Proof of Address 

You can also prove that you live at the same place by showing documents that prove use of the same official address. You can choose to provide ID cards, driver's licenses, passports, or even insurance policy documents for both individuals that show the same address at the same time.

Identification Documents

When claiming common law, you'll also need to provide satisfactory identification documents to prove your identity. These can be driver's licenses, passports, and other federal or province-issued IDs.

How Long After Living Together Are Considered Common Law in Manitoba? 

When you are living under certain conditions, like living with the parent of your child or living with a cohabitation agreement, it's possible to claim common law early. When do you have to claim common law? You can choose to do it early, or you should apply to change your marital status after a set period of time living together conjugally.

But how long do you have to be together to be common law? If you've decided not to actively claim common law, the rules that apply to common law relationships will automatically apply after you've been living together for three years. This means that any legal issues that arise will be handled as if your marital status is now common law.

What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?

Having a cohabitation agreement in Manitoba means that you can speed up the process and apply for common law early. A cohabitation agreement is a legal document signed by both parties listing their intentions and terms for living together.

Providing a legal document like this proves your intention to live together interdependently to the CRA and local governments.

Is It a Good Idea?

Cohabitation agreements aren't just a good idea because they speed up the process. They also help to protect you legally. A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding document that can be held up in court in the case of disagreements or separation.

Can I Make One Before My Spouse Moves In?

It is highly recommended that you set out to make a cohabitation agreement before you move in together if you choose to go the route of common law. This document helps you and your partner be clear about your intentions and responsibilities while living together, and it's often hard to retroactively make agreements when wrongs have already been committed.

How Much Does It Cost?

It's possible to make a cohabitation agreement for free by choosing to do it yourself. This route can take time with educating yourself and writing it from scratch. You can also choose to use free templates or buy templates, or you can hire a lawyer.

Do I Need a Lawyer For One?

It is highly recommended that both parties entering a cohabitation agreement get an attorney. Cohabitation agreements are meant to be legally binding and hold up in court. If there are mistakes, it could risk validity or put one party in a bad spot.

What if We Have a Verbal Agreement?

Verbal agreements are great to have informally, but you should always follow them with a written agreement. A verbal agreement will not hold up in court as there is no documentation that it occurred. The best way to go about an agreement is to have a cohabitation agreement.

Do We Have to File Taxes Together?

When your marital status changes, the CRA must know about it so that they can tax you properly. Changing your marital status to a common law relationship means that you will be taxed differently than before.

People involved in a common law relationship should file taxes separately, but still include information about their marital status and the personal information of their partner. This allows the CRA to combine your household income and apply the appropriate benefits.

Misrepresenting your marital status in any way is to commit fraud and you will be penalized. The CRA will have to reassess your taxes, can deny you benefits, and will fine you.

What if We Have Children Together?

If you have children together, filing taxes might seem a bit more complicated. Having a child within a common law marital status will affect how you get taxed and what benefits you receive, such as the Canada Childcare Benefit. The spouse with the lowest net income must be the one to claim childcare expenses.

What Not to Do in a Common Law Relationship

Common law relationships can be dissolved much easier than marriages can in theory, but jointly owned property and children can complicate things. It's a mistake to enter a common law relationship without having a clearly written out cohabitation agreement that prepares the couple in the case of separation.

Another thing to keep in mind is entering into a business together while in a common law relationship. The Partnership Act in Manitoba allows for people to enter into business ventures together while keeping responsibilities and benefits separated. You should read up on the law and how to clearly, legally document each persons' role in the business before you continue.

Otherwise, things can get messy.

What Is My Partner or Spouse Entitled To?

In most of Canada, the government treats common law relationships differently than marriage when it comes to property. Common law partners are not entitled to each other's property and only property that you bought together is subject to negotiation.

The Family Law Act in Manitoba is unique in that it gives equal rights to common law partners, much like in marriage. It states that all property is subject to equal division between the partners regardless of who bought it originally. In the case of one partner's death, the surviving partner will receive the right to all property without a will or the government will override the will so that the surviving partner receives their fair share of the inheritance.

This means that in Manitoba, the common law partner has an equal right to the house that is the primary residence, all the assets, and equal responsibility to pay off debts. This is the same during the relationship as it is in separation.

In Manitoba, this law means that you cannot rightfully kick your partner out of the home to which you both have an equal right.

What Happens if We Separate?

In the case of a common law break up, the partners must follow the cohabitation agreement they signed and Manitoba's laws for property rights. The process is a bit different than a divorce in that you can end a common law relationship simply by moving out permanently.

A common law separation in Manitoba occurs after 90 days of constant separation. Once 90 days have passed, you can let the CRA know that your marital status has changed as of the date you originally moved out.

You can only then file your taxes separately as single if you've passed 90 days and alerted the CRA.

Do You Need More Advice?

Now that you know what is considered common law in Manitoba, you're ready to decide if you and your partner are ready to claim common law. Remember to make up a cohabitation agreement first before you go any further.

Taking the step to legally document a common law situation probably also means that you are actively organizing other areas of your life as well.  We find that many couples who take this step are also looking for insurance products as well. That's where the experts at Insurdinary come in.  Get a quote from us right now to find more information on your financial situation.

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