Common Law Matters

Know your legal rights or entitlement to property as a common law couple.

Common Law Matters/

Know your legal rights or entitlement to property as a common law couple.


The separation process for common law couples is similar to a divorce, but with some major differences. A family lawyer can help you sort through your unique situation to help you move on with your life.

Common Law couples are legally referred to as ‘adult interdependent partners’. The term common-law acknowledges unmarried relationships involving economic and emotional interdependency, and is governed by the Alberta Adult Interdependent Relationships Act. The act covers a range of personal relationships that are not included in the term marriage, such as committed platonic relationships where two people agree to to share emotional and economic responsibilities.

There are two key elements that define a common-law relationship.

An adult interdependent partner is a person involved with another person in an unmarried relationship of interdependence where they

  • share lives
  • are emotionally committed to each other
  • function as an economic and domestic unit

Adult interdependent partners must be

  • living in an interdependent relationship for a minimum of three years
  • living in an interdependent relationship of some permanence where there is a child by birth or adoption
  • living in or intend to live in an interdependent relationship and have entered into a written adult interdependent partner agreement.

During a separation, common law couples can apply to the court for the exclusive possession of household goods and the primary home. Household goods refer to any personal property owned and enjoyed by one or more parties or children living in the primary home. The home is defined as a house, part of a house, business, mobile home, residential unit or a suite that is, or has been, occupied by the parties.

When common law couples separate, it is assumed that each will keep the property they bought during the relationship, that is, the items they paid for, or is registered in their name. Unlike separating married couples, the Matrimonial Property Act does not manage this relationship, and therefore there is no presumption of equal division of property between adult interdependent partners.

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