Understanding Common Law in Quebec

Posted on August 4, 2021

Quebec common law couples represent nearly half of the country's total common law couples. At the same time, many of these common law couples don't fully understand how their marital status differs from married people.

Quebec's common law definition states that unmarried couples living together for a long period of time can qualify as common law. Married couples, on the other hand, immediately gain a married marital status as soon as they are legally wed.

Common law vs. married is mainly a matter of personal preference and considering what is better for your unique situation.

Common law in Quebec, Canada differs from how other provinces define common law relationships. Quebec common law rules consider couples who qualify based on the length of their time living together and their intentions for each other.

So how long is common law in Quebec? What other qualifications do I need to meet to file for a common law relationship in Quebec?

In this guide, you'll learn what it takes to become a common law relationship and how your new marital status will affect your financial assets and children.

How to Prove to CRA That We Are Common Law

To file for common law in Quebec, you'll have to meet several standards for your living situation. So what is considered common law in Quebec?

Quebec is a bit looser than other provinces in terms of defining a common law couple. They will consider couples who have been living together and identify as a couple publicly, those who have children together, and those that live together with a legal agreement.

The minimum time living together must be one year. Separations that last for less than 90 days do not restart the period required.

If you'd like to file for common law, you'll need to prove you're living in the same residence. Then you'll need to show proof of intentions to live conjugally and depend on each other financially.

Shared Ownership of Residential Property

You can prove you've been living together for a year or more by showing proof of shared ownership of residential property. If you own a home together, you can show that both of your names are on the deed and dated.

Joint Leases or Rental Agreements

If you don't own a home, you can show that you rent together. You can show leases or rental agreements with both your names on them to prove you share a property.

Bills for Shared Utility Accounts

You can also prove that you both help each other financially while living together by showing bills. If you have any shared utility accounts, you can use those documents as proof of financial interdependence and a shared address.

Important Documents With Shared Address

You can prove a shared address with your partner by providing individual identification documents with the same address. You can also offer documents that show insurance policies with the same address and tax documents.

Identification Documents

You can also show identification documents of children that you both parent, which would help speed up the process. Otherwise, you'll need to provide identification documents like driver's licenses or passports to prove your identity.

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

When do you have to claim common law? Quebec requires one year of living together per Canada's federal law, but you can speed things up by proving you parent a child together or live with a cohabitation agreement.

If you have met all the requirements for common law, the government will treat you as a common law couple even if you have not changed your marital status. You can contact the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to officially change your marital status at any point after you meet the requirements and compile evidence.

What Is a Cohabitation Agreement?

A cohabitation agreement in Quebec is a legally binding document that you and your partner make to set intentions and expectations for living together. This document is valid to be held up in court.

Having a cohabitation agreement is proof to the government that you are living together in a way that qualifies you for common law.

Is It a Good Idea?

It is a great idea to have a cohabitation agreement. It helps you and your partner set expectations before you start a common law relationship. It also helps in the case of separation so that your property and children are legally protected.

Can I Make One Before My Spouse Moves In?

It is recommended that you make a cohabitation agreement before your partner moves in. This agreement helps you to set expectations and makes for a healthier relationship. It's also hard to enforce rules retroactively, so you'll be legally protected only after you've signed an agreement.

How Much Does It Cost?

A basic cohabitation agreement can cost $500 if done professionally with an attorney. The cost will go up if there are complications such as child support and custody to be dealt with. It's possible to make one on your own for free, but it isn't advisable since the document is legally binding.

Do I Need a Lawyer for One?

It's recommended that both parties hire an attorney so that everyone's best interests are kept in mind during the cohabitation agreement process. It's not required, but mistakes can be devastating later.

What If We Have a Written Verbal Agreement?

It's great if you've spoken to your partner and agreed on living arrangements, but it won't hold up in court. Anything you agree on will have to be written and signed by both parties.

Do Common Law Partners in Quebec Have to File Taxes Together?

When filing for taxes, you are subject to federal law as outlined by the CRA. Canada does not allow common law partners to file taxes jointly. Each partner must file their own taxes and indicate their marital status on their tax documents.

If you claim an incorrect marital status on your tax documents, you are committing fraud. You will be subject to fines and could be denied benefits. The CRA will also reassess your taxes so that you will be taxed correctly.

If you are common law, you must file as common law for your taxes.

What If We Have Children Together?

If you are common law and have children together, taxes become more complicated. When you file as common law, the CRA will combine your household income and tax you according to joint income, and your benefits may change as a result. 

If you are filing with child expenses, you'll need to be careful. The spouse with the lowest net income is required to report childcare expenses, but the other cannot.

What Not to Do in a Common Law Relationship

Common law relationships do not have all the same protections that married couples do. You don't necessarily have a right to division of property or a right to your primary residence. You also don't necessarily have a right to support payments from your partner or their inheritance after your partner's death.

The Partnership Act in Quebec attempts to protect non marital partnerships that include business ventures. For example, business partners can outline roles and rights to profits so that disputes cannot later put one partner in jeopardy.

Because the government does not protect common law relationships as much as married couples, entering into a common law relationship without an attempt to protect yourself legally is a mistake.

Keeping yourself vulnerable in the case of disputes or separation can not only put your financial assets at risk but your children, too.

What Is My Partner/Spouse Entitled To?

The government doesn't treat married couples and common law couples the same. Instead, you'll need to be proactive about setting expectations and outlining what property will remain yours.

The Family Law Act in Quebec does not exist as it does in other provinces. Quebec does not recognize any financial consequences of common law relationships. When common law couples separate, they do not have any rights to the other's property at all. 

In the case of owning your house, even if your partner has been living with you for years, they do not have any right to continue living there unless their name is on the ownership papers. You can, therefore, kick them out legally.

Your partner also has no right to any of your assets. While married couples have to divide property fairly, common law couples can leave with their own property without dispute. You are also responsible for all debts that are in your name and your ex-partner has no responsibility for them.

The only thing that can change this is if you have a cohabitation agreement that says otherwise.

What Happens If We Separate?

In the case of a common law breakup, you'll have to follow whatever was agreed on in your cohabitation agreement. Common law separation in Quebec does not otherwise give property ownership to partners equally.

Quebec common law couples also do not have to go through the same procedure of divorce as married couples. The only thing needed to end a common law relationship is to permanently separate.

Once you have moved out for 90 days or more, you are legally single and can alert the CRA as to your new marital status.

Get Financially Ready for Common Law

Congratulations on deciding to enter a common law relationship! Now, you know how to legally protect your financial assets and children before you register as common law in Quebec.

Insurdinary provides a platform for financial comparisons for insurance and loans, as well as advice on how to financially prepare yourself for lifestyle changes. If you need more advice about your financial assets, check out the blog!

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