What You Need to Know About Common Law Marriages

Common law marriage or common law union as they are often called is the act of living together as husband and wife without being legally married. One third of all unions in Quebec result in common law marriages and often children are born into this union. What is confusing is that the recognition of common law marriages differs from province to province. Although they may be recognized at the federal level, they are not recognized in the province Quebec.

For the sake of the Federal pension plan common law relationship regardless of sex, are recognized even in Quebec because it is a federally administered program, but in the case of Quebec Family Law the situation changes drastically.

What common law couples do not know is that they have no rights as common law partners under the Quebec law. When common law marriages breakup the common law female spouses and their children are not entitled to anything a legal wife and children would have should a licensed marriage end in divorce.

The common law union in Quebec is not recognized as a marriage but is known as a “conjoints de fait”, “de facto union” and can equally apply to same sex couples. These couples have no rights when it comes to ” alimony, family patrimony, compensatory allowance, and the matrimonial regime.” The Matrimonial regime has several options afforded to legal spouses, which includes the division of property after a divorce or separation. However, the common law couple is entitled take back just what they came into the union with, without much other legal recourse. There are no protected rights for the wife and child to live in the family home, and often time the women have no real assets of any kind.

A Montreal woman who lived with a well to do businessman and had three children as a result of that union has challenged the law in Quebec Superior Court this week. She is claiming alimony for her ten-year union with this man. She feels she has earned the right to receive alimony as if she was his legal wife. She is asking for 50 million dollars and $56,000 a month support. The woman met the businessman overseas and he enticed her to come back to Canada with him but he never married her. They lived with her as husband and wife and during their 10 years together, they had three children together.

Quebec law stipulates that the names of the family cannot be revealed in civil matters. Nevertheless, the woman’s attorney Anne Marie Goldwater can be mentioned. She states, “that it comes down to a question of dignity.” However, Quebec law does allow for child support payments and the man has been paying for child support since their breakup.

The stark facts are that 35 percent of Quebec couples are in common law marriages and 60 per cent of these unions have sired children.

Anne Marie Goldwater says that Quebec Law is outdated and common law spouses should be afforded the same rights as legally married spouses. Goldwater feels that the kids are entitled to the same lifestyle that they had while the couple remained together. Simple child support payments will not afford that opportunity. She feels the children who have done nothing wrong will have to suffer. She maintains that the Quebec’s Civil Code, as well as Canadian marriage laws, discriminate against “live-in couples because they restrict the definition of marriage to a “lawful union” of two people. Common-law couples are being left out of the definition without regard for the quality of the relationship they’ve entered into.”


Similarly, Sylvia Shrim, a family law attorney says that Quebec common couples just do not realize that they have fewer rights than their legally married counterparts. There is not much protection under the law for these common law couples. Quebec is the only province that has not adapted to the modern times.

Although the case presented is of a wealthy family at the time of their union, most families in Quebec are far from wealthy. The single parent moms and children are living on meager means, and upon separation from their common law spouses the situation becomes dire, many times these women and children have no recourse but to seek welfare, food banks and other means to make ends meet.

Note: For Americans who wish to enter into a common law union, the definition of common law union has always been that a woman and man announce themselves to world that they are husband and wife, (a public announcement is necessary it is not sufficient to just live together and keep silent about it). They must live in this union depending upon the laws of the state anywhere from 7 to 14 years to be recognized as husband and wife without actually getting married.

However, the majority of states do not recognize the common law union, What is quite interesting is that if a couple comes from a state such as Texas which recognizes a common law union and moves to California a state that does not, California state law will allow the union as “married.”