What you need to know before you move in with someone

If you're in a relationship with someone and you're planning to move in together, there are a few things you need to know about your legal rights and responsibilities, especially if you separate later or one of you dies.

What you need to know usually depends on whether you're considered to be:

  • a spouse, or
  • a common-law partner.

People become spouses when they get married.

But you can also be a spouse under the law if you're not married. When you live with someone without being married, it's often called living in a marriage-like relationship. (You might call it being in a common-law relationship.) If you do this, the law usually sees you as a spouse after a certain amount of time.

That amount of time isn't the same for all federal and provincial laws:

  • some laws treat you as spouses after you've lived together for at least two years
  • other laws treat you as spouses after you've lived together for just one year, or even less
  • BC provincial law treats you as spouses if you've lived together for any length of time and you have a child together (unless you have an issue about dividing property)

Click the sections that apply to you to find out more.

Even if a law treats you as a spouse, that doesn't mean you're married. You're only married if you have a legal marriage ceremony and get a marriage licence. See Common questions about marriages, divorces, and annulments inside and outside Canada for more about this.

You're always responsible for helping to support your children, whether you live with them or not. See Child support for more about this.

If you move in with someone who has children, you might have to pay child support when you separate if:

  • you helped to support the children for at least one year during your relationship with the children's parent, and
  • the parent applies to the court for support from you within one year of the last time you contributed to the children's support.

But even if this happens, your responsibility to pay child support isn't the same as the children's parents' or guardians' responsibility to pay it.

A court would also look at:

  • the children's standard of living when they lived with you, and
  • how long you lived with their parent.

What if you want to make your own agreement about child support?

If you're living together, you can't make an agreement about what you'll do about child support if you separate.

The BC Family Law Act says that agreements about child support are only legal if they're made:

  • after you separate, or
  • when you're about to separate.

Even if you make an agreement after you separate, the court can order you to pay child support according to the Child Support Guidelines instead. You can't make an agreement that gets you out of your legal duty to support any children or stepchildren.

This area of law is complicated, so while there are some general rules about it, they might not work in your situation.

See Dividing property and debts after you separate for more detail about this. And think about speaking to a lawyer.

Here's some basic information to get you started.

In BC, the law about dividing property after separation is the same for:

  • married couples, and
  • couples who've lived together for at least two years.

If you separate, the law says that, unless you make a different agreement, all the property that you or your spouse own on the day you separate is family property, no matter whose name it's in. Family property is divided equally. But you get to keep excluded property, which is:

  • anything you had before you began your relationship
  • gifts from other people that were meant to be just for you
  • inheritances
  • some parts of personal injury settlements

You share equally the increased value of excluded property.

Things get complicated legally when it comes to how excluded property is treated when it's mixed with joint property:

  • you each get to keep what you had before you moved in together, but
  • you each get an equal share in the increased value of any property that either of you had before the relationship, and
  • you each get to keep half of any property that you got while you were together. It doesn't matter who actually owns the property. If one or both of you got it while you were living together, you now divide it equally.

How do you share the increased value of family property?

When you separate, the law about dividing the increased value in family property applies to lots of things. For example:

  • land
  • house
  • furniture
  • cars
  • pensions
  • bank accounts
  • certain insurance policy payments
  • business interests

See section 84 of the Family Law Act for more detail about what the law says is family property.

But some types of property and assets aren't divided equally. These are called excluded property. They include gifts and inheritances that were given to only one spouse.

See section 85 of the Family Law Act for a full list of what the law says is excluded property.

But even if you own excluded property, you and your spouse each get an equal share of any increase in its value that happened while you were together.

What does that mean?

Say:

  • you owned your home before you met your spouse,
  • the house is in your name only,
  • your spouse moved in with you later, and
  • you lived there together for more than two years before you separated.

If the house increased in value by 20 percent while you lived in it together, you're now each entitled to half of the value of that increase.

For example, if your house was worth $400,000 when your spouse moved in with you, and it was worth $480,000 when your spouse left you two years later, you and your spouse get equal shares of the $80,000 increase in the house’s value.

This area of law is complicated, so while there are some general rules about it, they might not work in your situation.

See Dividing property and debts after you separate for more detail about this. And think about speaking to a lawyer.

Here's some basic information to get you started.

In BC, the law about sharing debts after separation is the same for:

  • married couples, and
  • couples who've lived together for at least two years.

If you separate, unless you make a different agreement:

  • the law says that debts taken on by you or your spouse while you were living together (called family debt) are shared equally when you separate, no matter whose name the debts are in, and
  • debts that either of you take on after separation to take care of family property (for example, to repair the roof of the family home) are also shared equally, but
  • even though you have equal responsibility for family debt, the people you owe money to (your creditors) can only collect the debt from the person who signed for it. If you both signed, the creditor can collect from either of you.

This rule doesn’t apply if it would be really unfair to split the debt equally.

What if you and your spouse don't want to share property and debt if you split up?

You and your spouse can write an agreement at any time during your relationship or after you separate that says how you want to divide your property and debts if you separate.

To find out more about making agreements, see:

What if one person changes their mind about the agreement?

This can be complicated. See How do you change an agreement? for more detail about this.

Here are some basic facts to get you started.

Courts don't like to overturn agreements about dividing property and debt.

But a judge might cancel or change this type of agreement if:

  • one spouse didn't share important information about property or debt
  • one spouse took advantage of the other
  • one spouse didn't understand what they were signing
  • the agreement is "significantly unfair" (see section 95 of the Family Law Act to find out more about what that means)

If provincial or federal laws see you as a spouse or common-law partner, you might be able to get some benefits. But you might also lose some benefits, such as social assistance benefits.

For social assistance laws, you're treated as spouses if:

  • you're married, or
  • you've lived together in a marriage-like relationship:
    • for the last three months in a row, or
    • for nine of the last twelve months, and
    • one of you depended on the other financially

Seniors benefits

Spouses who are married or have lived together for at least one year can get some federal benefits when they're seniors. For example:

  • Old Age Security (OAS) pension
  • Spouse's Allowance
  • Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)

You're eligible for OAS if:

  • you're 65 or older,
  • you're a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, and
  • you've lived in Canada for at least 10 years since the age of 18.

The Spouse's Allowance is for couples with low incomes. It's paid to spouses who are between 60 and 64 years old if their spouse:

  • is 65 or older, and
  • gets an OAS pension.

If you get the Spouse's Allowance and you separate, your Allowance will stop three months after you separate.

GIS is based on the combined incomes of you and your spouse. If you separate and your own income is low, you might be able to get GIS as a single person.

Canada Pension Plan credit splitting

If you and your spouse separate after you've lived together for one year, the contributions that you each made to the Canada Pension Plan while you were living together are shared equally between you unless you have an agreement or order that says they will not be shared. This is called credit splitting.

But it doesn't happen automatically. You have to apply.

See Dividing pensions and other benefits after you separate to find out more about this.

MSP and medical and dental benefits

You can get coverage on the provincial Medical Services Plan for your partner no matter how long you've lived together. To get your partner covered, sign them up for the plan. But you'll have to pay a higher family rate.

If you or your partner has medical or dental insurance through work, ask the plan administrator about coverage for your partner.

When it comes to wills, the law sees you as spouses if you've been living together as a couple for at least two years right up until one of you dies.

If you separate before one of you dies, you're not spouses any more. It doesn't matter how soon after you separate one of you dies.

The law says quite clearly that you have both a legal and moral obligation to provide for your spouse and children (even children who're now adults) in your will. If you don't leave them anything, they can challenge your will after you die.

If you die without making a will, your spouse automatically gets part of your estate.

You can only list things that you own by yourself in your will. Things that you own jointly with your spouse (like a home or joint bank accounts) automatically belong to your spouse after you die.

Also, a will doesn't apply to assets where you've already named a beneficiary, such as life insurance, RRSPs, RRIFs, and TFSAs.

For more detail about this, see: