Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Common Law Relationship Definition:

Two unmarried persons living together as though married.

Related Terms: Adult Interdependent Partner, Marriage, Common Law Marriage

A relationship between two persons in which they reside as if they were married.

Sometimes referred to as a common law union or by the now oxymoronic term, common law marriage.

Lord Denning ventured into the frey in Davis v Johnson when he wrote of the concept of a common law wife:

"No such woman was known to the common law, but it means a woman who is living with a man in the same household as if she were his wife. She is to be distinguished from a mistress, where the relationship may be casual, impermanent and secret."

In Soper, the Justice Morrison of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court wrote:

"I think it would be fair to say that to establish a common law relationship there must be some sort of a stable relationship which involves not only sexual activity but a commitment between the parties. It would normally necessitate living together under the same roof with shared household duties and responsibilities as well as financial support. I would also think that such a couple would present themselves to society as a couple who were living together as man and wife. All or none of these elements may be necessary depending upon the intent of the parties."

Not all, but most jurisdictions recognize certain rights to unmarried spouses who reside in as if they were married. For example, the pension rights of a partner to a common law relationship may be exposed to separation and division as a result of a common law relationship of a specified duration. Similarly, exposure to spousal support liability may arise as a result of a long-term common law relationship.


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