Living Together: Common-law Partnerships & Adult Interdependent Relationships

Law

People living together in a romantic relationship may have certain legal rights and responsibilities. See the sections below to learn about:

  • What a “common-law” relationship is
  • Taxes for common-law partners
  • What an “Adult Interdependent Relationship” is
  • How you become Adult Interdependent Partners
  • Legal rights and responsibilities of Adult Interdependent Partners

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: August 2016
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page contains legal information about people’s rights when they live together in a romantic relationship.

Be Aware

If you are thinking about moving in with your partner (but haven't yet), this Information Page still has good information for you to make your decision and plan ahead, but you may want to start with the Before Moving in Together: Legal Considerations Information Page.

Most people think of these relationships as “common-law” relationships. Although that is what they are called for certain things involving the government of Canada, that is not what they are called in Alberta (for the purposes of Alberta law).

In Alberta, the kind of relationship that most people call “common-law” is called an “Adult Interdependent Relationship.” However, the difference in the “name” is only the beginning—the two relationships are different in other ways as well:

  • The term “common-law relationship” is used for some federal purposes. This means for things related to the government of Canada, such as income tax. Federal laws apply to all Canadians, including Albertans. Therefore, a couple may be considered “common-law” partners under federal law, but may not meet the requirements to be in an “Adult Interdependent Relationship” under Alberta law. This can get confusing: it is explained in much more detail on the rest of this Information Page. 
  • The term “common-law” may be used in other provinces to refer to couples who live together. However, Alberta law does not use the term or the concept of “common-law relationship.”
  • When romantic partners are living together, any rights and responsibilities that come from moving in together are defined differently by different governments. For the federal government, rights and responsibilities start after living together for 1 year; in some provinces it takes 2 years, and in others it takes 3 years. It is important that you understand which laws apply to you, and which do not—this is explained in much more detail on the rest of this Information Page.
  • In Alberta, even if the relationship is not romantic (also called “platonic”), the people involved can be in an Adult Interdependent Relationship. For more information on non-romantic Adult Interdependent Relationships, see the Non-romantic Adult Interdependent Relationships Information Page.

In general, the law on this Information Page is about people who live together in Alberta. This is because in order for Alberta law to apply, the people involved should all live in Alberta. If you are not sure whether both of you officially live in Alberta (this is also called “residency”), please see the New Relationships & Out-of-Province Issues Information Page.

You are currently on the Law tab of this Information Page, which has information on what the law says in Alberta. For information on the process you need to follow to ask for what you want, click on the Process tab above. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs above.

The law and legal system are complex: this will take a while. Be sure to give yourself enough time to read the information below, understand how it applies to your situation, and know what actions you may need to take.

The first topic is What the words mean. Please read this section even if you think you already know what the words mean. In order to understand the resources on this page, you will need to understand the legal terms.

What the words mean

These words are not listed alphabetically—they are in the order that makes it easiest to understand the complete legal picture.

If you are looking for a specific term, you can use the Glossary, which is in alphabetical order.

federal law

Federal laws are created by the Government of Canada and apply to all Canadians, no matter which province they live in. Examples include: the Income Tax Act, the Criminal Code of Canada, and the Immigration Act.

provincial law

Provincial laws in Alberta are created by the Government of Alberta and apply only in Alberta. Examples include: the Alberta Adult Interdependent Relationship Act, the Alberta Family Law Act, and the Alberta Wills and Succession Act.

“common-law” partner

In Alberta, the term “common-law” only applies to certain couples and only for certain federal laws (such as the Income Tax Act). Under most federal laws, the term “common-law” refers to a couple who has lived together in a romantic relationship:

  • for at least one year; or
  • for less than one year but they have a child together.

Under Alberta’s provincial laws, there is no such thing as “common-law” partners and “common-law” relationships. In Alberta, similar rights and responsibilities come from being in an “Adult Interdependent Relationship” (see below).

Be Aware

Under the federal Indian Act and the federal Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, the term “common-law” is used only for a couple who has been living together in a romantic relationship for at least one year (regardless of whether or not they have had a child together).

Adult Interdependent Relationship (AIR)

The term used in Alberta to describe what many people might think of as a “common-law” relationship.

A person is in an Adult Interdependent Relationship if he or she has been living with and in a “relationship of interdependence” with another person:

  • for 3 years; or
  • for less than 3 years if they have signed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement (see below); or
  • for less than 3 years if they have a child together (by birth or adoption).

A “relationship of interdependence” is a relationship where the partners are not married but they:

  • share one another’s lives;
  • are emotionally committed to one another; and
  • function as an economic and domestic unit.

The relationship does not have to be romantic or sexual to meet these requirements; it can be non-romantic (also called “platonic”). However, on this Information Page, we will only deal with the creation of romantic relationships. For information about non-romantic AIRs, see the Non-romantic Adult Interdependent Relationships Information Page instead.

Adult Interdependent Partner (AIP)

A person who is in an Adult Interdependent Relationship with another person (see above).

Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement (AIPA)

A written contract in which 2 adults agree to become Adult Interdependent Partners. That contract must be in the form required by the Alberta Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement Regulation—see the following resource.

PDF Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement Regulation
Government of Alberta
English

conjugal

A word used to describe a relationship—a “conjugal relationship” means the people involved have sex. This is also called a “romantic relationship.” This is different from a “platonic relationship,” which is a relationship of any kind that does not include having sex.

cohabitation

Living together in the same home.

cohabitation agreement

A contract created by 2 or more people who live together, or are about to live together, but are not married (and not planning on getting married in the near future). In this agreement the parties can address many issues, such as:

  • how bills will be divided between the parties;
  • whether one party will pay partner support to the other if they were to separate; and
  • how property will be divided between the parties if they were to separate.

blended family

When people start relationships with new partners, they might form what is called a “blended family.” A blended family can have children from previous relationships and from the current relationship. Blended families can have complicated financial issues, such as child and partner support responsibilities.

jurisdiction

A particular government’s right, power, or authority to make laws. The Government of Canada has “federal jurisdiction.” The laws made by the Government of Canada apply to everyone in Canada. On the other hand, the provinces and territories of Canada have “provincial jurisdiction.” The laws made by those governments apply only within that province or territory. The exact topics that each jurisdiction can make laws about is set out in Canada’s Constitution Act, 1867.

The laws that may apply to you

You may wish to read the laws (also called “statutes” or “acts”) that apply to your situation. The laws included on this Information Page are:


PDF Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement Regulation
Government of Alberta
English

Web Family Law Act (and associated Regulations)
Government of Alberta
English

Web Income Tax Act
Government of Canada
English

Web Canada Pension Plan (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-8)
Government of Canada
English

When reading laws, you also need to know about the “regulations” associated with those laws. Each of the links above takes you to a page that lists the laws as well as the regulations that go with them. For more information on laws and regulations, see the Our Legal System Information Page.

Cohabitation agreements

A cohabitation agreement is a contract created by two people, usually before they move in together. In this agreement, the couple can address issues about what will happen while the couple lives together. For example: who does what for household chores, and who pays for what. A cohabitation agreement can also address issues that may come up if the couple later separates, such as partner support and what will be the property rights of both partners.

For detailed information see the Cohabitation Agreements Information Page.

For information about what happens with a cohabitation agreement when a non-married couple separates, see the Relationship Breakdown if You Had a Domestic Contract Information Page.

Living together for less than one year without a child together

If you live together for less than one year, and do not have a child together, you do not qualify as “common-law” partners under federal law. Similarly, if you do not have child together, or have not signed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement, you do not qualify as Adult Interdependent Partners under Alberta law.

If this is the case for you, during this one-year period of time, you cannot take advantage of any of the benefits of being “common-law” (under federal law) or “Adult Interdependent Partners” (under Alberta law). You also do not have any of the obligations or responsibilities that come with being “common-law” or “Adult Interdependent Partners.”

During that first year, there are no laws that specifically address your relationship. There are no legal benefits or obligations. Although there might be benefits or obligations in other provinces or countries, this is not the case in Alberta.

Be Aware

This does not mean that the steps you take when moving in with your partner will have no legal consequences. One of the biggest changes that come up when people move in together is doing things “jointly.” This can have very serious legal consequences, even if you are not “common-law partners” or “Adult Interdependent Partners.” For more information, see the “Understanding joint ownership and debt” section of the Before Moving in Together: Legal Considerations Information Page.

At the end of the year, if you still have not had a child together or signed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement, you still will not be “Adult Interdependent Partners” under Alberta law, but you will be considered “common-law” under federal law. For more information about both of these, see the next two sections of this Information Page.

Tip

Every province has a different law about living in a “marriage-like” relationship without getting married. If you and your partner move to another province, you could have completely different rights and responsibilities. What the relationship is called and the amount of time you need to live together may also be different from Alberta.

Given the lack of legal status, if you are in such a relationship and the relationship ends, there is nothing in particular that you need to do to officially end the relationship. When you decide to separate, the relationship is over.

“Common-law partners” under federal law

Under federal law, you become “common-law partners” (also called “unmarried spouses”) after one year of living together in a romantic (or “conjugal”) relationship. As a result, for federal purposes (such as filing taxes), your “marital status” becomes “common-law.” This happens no matter where you live in Canada. You also become common-law partners when you have a child together (including adopting a child together), even if you haven’t been living together for a year yet.

Be Aware

The Indian Act and the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act are different. For those, you only become “common-law partners” after one year of living together in a romantic (or “conjugal”) relationship. Even if you have a child during that year, you are not “common-law partners” until that year has passed.

Once you are in a “common-law” relationship, you and your partner are treated very much like married spouses for many federal issues (including tax benefits). Couples who have been living together for less than one year are not treated the same as married spouses (unless they also have a child together).

Be Aware

Sometimes, this will lead to a positive result for you (such as more money back on your taxes), sometimes not. You cannot only take advantage of what you consider “good” and not have the “bad” apply as well. Also, remember that it is illegal to lie to the government about your marital status.

See the following resources for general information about filing taxes as common-law partners.

Web Romantic roommates at tax time
MoneySense
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Taxation of common-law couples
Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.
Be Aware

It is possible to have a common-law partner and a spouse at the same time, if you are separated from your spouse. For more information about this, see the following resource.

Web Can You Have Two Spouses At the Same Time?
Barriston Law LLP
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Below are a few more examples of how being “common-law” affects your federal responsibilities and benefits.

The “Spousal Credit” on your income tax return

When one common-law partner is making little or no income, the other partner may be able to claim a spousal credit.

Here is how it works: every year there is a base amount that is income tax-free. This is called the “basic personal amount.” For example, for the 2014 tax year that amount was $11,327. If your common-law partner made less than that in 2014 (for example: if he or she was a student) you could double your tax-free income for that year (to $22,654) by claiming the spousal credit.

In addition, and staying with this example, the student common-law partner can claim all student-related tax credits and transfer any unused credits to their common-law partner.

For more information, see the following resources.

Web Line 303 - Spouse or common-law partner amount
Government of Canada
English



Goods and Services Tax (GST) Credit

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Credit is a tax-free quarterly payment that helps “refund” individuals and families with low incomes for all or part of the GST that they pay. As a single person, you may have qualified for the quarterly rebate of GST, but once you are in a common-law relationship, chances are that you no longer will. This is because the government will calculate the credit based on your combined income. If your combined income is more than the lowest family income threshold, you will no longer qualify for the GST Credit.

Then again, perhaps you did not qualify as a single person, but would now qualify as a couple (for example: if your partner has very low income). If you do qualify as a couple, only one person can receive the credit. You can choose who receives it.

For more information, see the following resource.


Combining medical expenses and charitable donations on your income tax return

For medical expenses, you get a credit when the total bill for eligible medical expenses is higher than 3% of your personal net income or a set amount, whichever is less.

In cases where a couple’s combined medical expenses are high, the partner with lower income can claim the medical expenses tax credit for both partners to maximize the financial benefit.

For charitable donations, you are entitled to a 15% credit on the first $200 you donate, and a 29% credit for every dollar over $200. By combining your donations you can reach the $200 threshold faster.

For more information, see the following resource.


Contributing to your partner’s Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP)

You are able to contribute to your partner’s RRSP as if it was your own. However, the contributions you make will reduce your own RRSP deduction limit. Also, if your partner withdraws the contributions you made within 3 years of you making the contribution, then the amount that was withdrawn will be added to your taxable income in the given year.

To learn more about contributing to your partner’s RRSP, see the following resources.

Web Spouse and common-law partner
Government of Canada
English
See “Contributing to your spouse's or common-law partner's RRSPs.”

Web Époux ou conjoint de fait
Government of Canada
French
Voir : “Cotiser à un REER au profit d'un époux ou conjoint de fait.”


“Contributing” to your partner’s tax-free savings account (TFSA)

Many people use TFSAs to help with their financial planning, as the growth of money in those accounts is tax-free. Although you cannot directly contribute to your partner’s TFSA as you can with his or her RRSP, you are allowed to give your partner money to contribute to his or her own TFSA.

To learn more about “contributing” to your partner’s TFSA, see the following resources.

Web Frequently Asked Questions: TFSAs
TD Bank Group
English
See “Can I make spousal contributions to my spouse’s TFSA?”

Tax advantages if you are common-law partners with children

When there are children of the relationship, common-law partners are treated the same as married spouses.

This means that you are entitled to all of the same tax benefits, credits, and deductions as a family in which the parents are married. You can use these tax benefits, credits, and deductions in the same way as married people—such as assigning them to the parent with the higher income to maximize the financial benefit.

Some examples are below.

Tax benefits

As a parent, a person can receive benefits from the government. This is a payment by the government to the parent. An example is the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) from the federal government. Another example is the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB), a tax-free monthly payment made to low-income families to help them with the cost of raising children under age 18.

For more information about the various tax benefits available to families, see the following resources.    

Interactive Child and family benefits calculator
Government of Canada
English


French resources:

Interactive Calculateur de prestations pour enfants et familles
Government of Canada
French

Web Prestations pour enfants et familles
Government of Canada
French

Tax credits

Parents of children are also eligible for certain tax credits. A credit is an expense that is subtracted from tax owed. It does not lower your income. Examples of child-related tax credits are the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit and Children’s Arts Tax Credit.

For more information about these tax credits, see the following resources.

Audio/Web 

Audio/Web 

Tax deductions

Parents of children are also eligible for certain tax deductions. These are expenses that reduce your taxable income.

An example of a child-related tax deduction is the cost of child care:

Web Line 214 - Child care expenses
Government of Canada
English

Web Ligne 214 - Frais de garde d'enfants
Government of Canada
French

Another example of a child-related tax deduction, and the one that is usually of the greatest value, is the amount you can claim for a child as your “eligible dependant.”

Web Line 305 - Amount for an eligible dependant
Government of Canada
English

Canada Pension Plan (CPP)

For the purposes of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), common-law partners are treated the same as married spouses. A few examples are below.

Pension sharing (also called “income assignment”)

The Canada Pension Plan allows a common-law partner to assign a portion of his or her retirement pension to his or her common-law partner. If your common-law partner is in a lower tax bracket than you, assigning this income to him or her will lower the total family tax bill. However, if only one of you receives a retirement pension, you can only do this if the other partner has reached 60 years of age and is not a contributor to the CPP.

Web Pension Sharing
Government of Canada
English

Web Partage des pensions
Government of Canada
French

Credit splitting upon separation

Every employed person makes contributions to the CPP—the exact amount is based on your salary, and is taken from your paycheque automatically. The more you contribute, the more your pension credits increase. When you apply for a benefit under the CPP, your pension credits are used to determine whether you are eligible for what you are asking, and if you are eligible, what the amount of the benefit will be.

The CPP pension credits earned by common-law partners during their relationship can be split equally. However, this does not happen automatically—you must apply. See the following resources for more information.


Death benefits

When a person in a common-law relationship contributes to the CPP, his or her common-law partner may qualify for certain benefits if their partner dies. For more information, see the following resources.

Web Dealing with Death
Government of Canada
English

Web Allowance for the Survivor
Government of Canada
English

Web Allocation au survivant
Government of Canada
French
 

Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)

Old Age Security (OAS) is a pension program of the Government of Canada. It includes the Old Age Security pension and three types of OAS benefits payable to most seniors age 65 and over (this is scheduled to change to age 67 by 2023), who meet the Canadian residence requirements.

The OAS Pension

You can receive the OAS pension even if you have never worked or are still working. The amount of your OAS pension will be determined by how long you have lived in Canada after the age of 18. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Old Age Security - Overview
Government of Canada
English

The OAS “Guaranteed Income Supplement”

If you meet the residency requirements and you have a low income, this monthly non-taxable benefit can be added to your OAS pension. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Guaranteed Income Supplement - Overview
Government of Canada
English

Web Supplément de revenu garanti – Aperçu
Government of Canada
French

The OAS “Allowance”

If you are 60 to 64 years of age and your spouse or common-law partner is receiving the Old Age Security pension and is eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement, you might be eligible to receive this benefit as well. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Allowance for people aged 60 to 64 - Overview
Government of Canada
English

The OAS “Allowance for the Survivor”

If you are 60 to 64 years of age and your spouse or common-law partner has died, you might be eligible to receive this benefit. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Allowance for the Survivor
Government of Canada
English

Web Allocation au survivant
Government of Canada
French

Employment Insurance (EI)

Employment Insurance (EI) applies the same to common-law partners as it does to married spouses. An example is the “compassionate care benefits.” EI compassionate care benefits are paid to people who have to be away from work temporarily to care for or support a family member who is seriously ill and who has a significant risk of death within 26 weeks (six months). Common-law partners qualify as a “family member.”

Web Employment Insurance Compassionate Care Benefits
Government of Canada
English

Web In difficult times: Compassionate care benefits
Government of Canada
English

Web Assurance-emploi et prestations de compassion
Government of Canada
French

Immigration

A person can sponsor his or her common-law partner to come to Canada. For more information, see the “Immigration considerations” section below.

Further information

For more information about how the marital status of “common-law” affects your federal benefits and obligations, see the following resources.

Web Spouse and common-law partner
Government of Canada
English

Web Couples and taxes
Government of Canada
English

Web Married vs. Common Law – What’s the Difference Anyway?
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English


Web Époux ou conjoint de fait
Government of Canada
French

Web Les couples et l'impôt
Government of Canada
French

Does that mean that we are “common-law” under Alberta law?

No. In Alberta, the kind of romantic relationship that most people call “common-law” is called an “Adult Interdependent Relationship.” However, the difference in the “name” is only the beginning—the two relationships are different in other ways as well:

  • in Alberta, you are not automatically “Adult Interdependent Partners” after living together for one year; and
  • in Alberta, even if the relationship is not romantic (also called “platonic”), the people involved can be in an Adult Interdependent Relationship. For more information on non-romantic Adult Interdependent Relationships, see the Non-romantic Adult Interdependent Relationships Information Page.
Tip

Every province has a different law about living in a “marriage-like” relationship without getting married. If you and your partner move to another province, you could have completely different rights and responsibilities. What the relationship is called and the amount of time you need to live together may also be different from Alberta.

Other possible consequences

One of the biggest changes that may come up when people move in together is doing things “jointly.” This can have very serious legal consequences, even if you are not “common-law partners” or “Adult Interdependent Partners.” For more information, see the “Understanding joint ownership and debt” section of the Before Moving in Together: Legal Considerations Information Page.

For information about what the law requires to end a common-law relationship, see the “If you were not yet in an Adult Interdependent Relationship” section of the Ending a Non-married Romantic Relationship Information Page.

Becoming “Adult Interdependent Partners” under Alberta law

“Adult Interdependent Partner” is the term used in Alberta to describe what many people might think of as a “common-law” partner. However, they are not the same thing:

  • in Alberta, you are not automatically “Adult Interdependent Partners” after living together for one year; and
  • Adult Interdependent Relationships, unlike federal “common-law” relationships or other provinces’ laws about living together, can occur in non-romantic (in other words, non-conjugal) situations.

How does it happen?

In order to be in an Adult Interdependent Relationship (AIR), you must have been living with and in a relationship of interdependence with another person:

  • for years; or
  • for less than 3 years if you have signed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement; or
  • for less than 3 years if you have a child together (by birth or adoption).

A “relationship of interdependence” is a relationship where the partners are not married but they:

  • share one another’s lives;
  • are emotionally committed to one another; and
  • function as an economic and domestic unit.

In other words:

  • If you live together for 3 years (without having or adopting a child or signing an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement), you will be in an AIR when you reach the third anniversary of moving in together (whether you want to be or not).
  • If you have or adopt a child together, you automatically become Adult Interdependent Partners upon the birth or formal adoption, no matter how long you have lived together.
  • If you sign an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement (AIPA), you become Adult Interdependent Partners as soon as it is completely signed and witnessed, no matter how long you have lived together. However, you cannot sign an AIPA if you are a minor, unless you are 16 or over and have your guardians’ consent.

An Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement is a written and signed contract. That contract must be in the form required by the Alberta Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement Regulation. For information on how to complete an AIPA, see the Process tab of this Information Page.

Be Aware

Becoming AIPs means the partners each have certain legal rights and responsibilities. You might be able to “contract out” of these rights and responsibilities by signing a valid cohabitation agreement. This may be especially relevant if you are seniors who live together for companionship, as you may not wish to create other rights and obligations that could affect the rights of your children from your previous relationships upon your death.

As you can see from the definition of “relationship of interdependence,” the relationship does not have to be romantic or sexual to meet these requirements; it can be non-romantic (also called “platonic”). However, on this Information Page, we will only deal with the creation of romantic relationships. For information about non-romantic AIRs, see the Non-romantic Adult Interdependent Relationships Information Page instead.

Limitations on who can be in an AIR

In addition to meeting the requirements above for Adult Interdependent Partners, there are some limitations on who can be in an AIR.

For example:

  • You cannot become the Adult Interdependent Partner of someone if you are related by blood or adoption, unless you sign an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement with him or her.
  • You cannot be in an Adult Interdependent Relationship with two different people at the same time. In other words: you cannot have more than one Adult Interdependent Partner at a time.
  • You cannot sign an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement with someone if you are married to another person. However, if you are separated from your married spouse, you could become the Adult Interdependent Partner of another person in one of the other two ways (living together for 3 years, or having or adopting a child together). In this case, you would have both a “spouse” and an “AIP.” For more information about what counts as being “separated” from your spouse, see the Ending a Married Relationship under the Divorce Act Information Page.

An AIR is not the same as marriage

Although some rights of an Adult Interdependent Partner may be similar to the rights of a married spouse, they are often not the same—see the sections below for detailed information on the rights and responsibilities of AIPs during and after their relationship.

Be Aware

Unless you go through a formal marriage ceremony, living together will never make you “married” (or even “the same as married”)—even if you live together for decades. See the Getting Married Information Page and the following resource for more information about the differences.

Web Married vs. Common Law – What’s the Difference Anyway?
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

More information

For more general information about getting into an Adult Interdependent Relationship, see the following resources.

PDF Living Together: Adult Interdependent Relationships
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Adult Interdependent Relationships
Government of Alberta
English


Web Adult Interdependent Relationships FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Audio/Web Cohabiting Relationships and Adult Interdependent Partners
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Video Mariage et relation adulte interdépendante
L'Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Alberta
French

PDF La vie de couple en Alberta
L'Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Alberta
French
Being in an Adult Interdependent Relationship: Rights and responsibilities during the relationship

When a couple enters into an Adult Interdependent Relationship (AIR), and each member of the couple becomes the Adult Interdependent Partner (AIP) of the other, the rights, responsibilities, and potential benefits of each member of the couple changes considerably from when they were each single or “just living together.”

Social and legal benefits and rights

In certain cases involving social and legal benefits, you (and your partner) will be treated as if you were married. A few examples are listed below.

Right to financial support

Adult Interdependent Partners are obligated to financially support each other. This means that if one is not adequately supporting the other (for example: if a healthy AIP is not properly supporting a sick AIP), the AIP who is not being adequately supported can apply for a support order under the Family Law Act. Support includes food, clothing, medical aid, and lodging. If one AIP is capable of providing these necessaries of life for the other AIP but has refused or neglected to provide them, the Court may grant a support order.

For information about how to apply in court for a support order, see the Process tab of this Information Page.

Government financial assistance

The AISH program (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) recognizes that AIPs are obligated to support each other. As a result, if an AISH applicant is in an Adult Interdependent Relationship, the income and assets of the applicant’s partner are considered in determining AISH eligibility and level of benefits. Similarly, AISH health benefits and assistance may also benefit an AISH recipient’s partner. For more information, see the following resources.

Web AISH Eligibility: Cohabiting Partners
Government of Alberta
English

Web Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH)
Government of Alberta
English

Similarly, when an AIP applies for income support (also commonly called “social assistance”) from the government of Alberta, he or she must declare the resources of the other AIP. This may have an effect on the benefits received. For more information, see the following resource.

Workers’ Compensation

The Alberta Workers’ Compensation Act provides financial compensation to the victim of a workplace accident. If the workplace accident resulted in the victim’s death, compensation may be paid to his or her dependants, spouse, or Adult Interdependent Partner. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Workers' Compensation Board - Alberta
Workers' Compensation Board - Alberta
English

Victims of Crime Compensation

The Alberta Victims of Crime Act provides financial compensation to a victim injured as a result of a violent crime committed in Alberta, or due to his or her attempts to prevent the crime. The victim may be injured emotionally or physically. If the crime resulted in the victim’s death, the benefits can go to an Adult Interdependent Partner. For more information, see the following resource.

Audio/Web Victims of Crime
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Insurance issues

Under the Alberta Insurance Act, Adult Interdependent Partners are eligible for certain insurance coverage (such as life insurance, auto insurance, or property insurance), which used to be only available to married spouses. For specific information about your rights as an AIP, talk to your insurer.

For more general information, see the following resources.

Web Insurance for couples
Government of Canada
English

Web The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Right to information

A public body (such as a school or a hospital) may disclose personal information to the Adult Interdependent Partner of an injured, ill, or deceased individual. This right used to be limited to married spouses.

PDF FOIP News: Amendments to the FOIP Act
Government of Alberta
English

PDF FOIP Bulletin: Personal Information of Deceased Persons
Government of Alberta
English
See p. 7-8.

Web What is a public body?
Government of Alberta
English

Change of name

An Adult Interdependent Partner can change his or her last name to the last name of his or her Adult Interdependent Partner. For more information, see the following resources.

Audio/Web Cohabiting Relationships and Adult Interdependent Partners
Calgary Legal Guidance
English
See the second-to-last paragraph.

Audio/Web Changing Your Name
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Change of Name
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English

Pension benefits

Adult Interdependent Partners are considered “pension partners” in Alberta. This gives AIPs rights about the choices made regarding the pension, as well as death benefits. For more information about your rights as a pension partner, contact the administrator of your partner’s pension plan.

Rights and benefits related to the illness or death of an AIP

If one of the AIPs dies during the relationship, there are various rights, responsibilities, and benefits that apply to the surviving AIP. A few examples are listed below.

  • If your AIP becomes so ill that he or she needs a guardian and/or trustee and there is nothing in place that appoints a guardian or trustee, you as an AIP are now treated just as a spouse would be when applying to be the guardian or trustee.
  • If your AIP dies without a Will, you as an AIP are now treated just a spouse would be when applying to handle your partner’s estate. In addition, you may receive all or a portion of your deceased partner’s estate. The estate may also be required to provide adequately for you and any children that also have a right to sale of the estate.
  • If your AIP has a pension plan, you as an AIP qualify as a pension partner and all the benefits that come from that.
  • If you and your AIP were renting your home, and your now-deceased AIP was the only person named on the lease, as an AIP you may be allowed to stay in the property for a temporary period (up to 90 days from the date of death). This only applies to rental properties governed by the Alberta Residential Tenancies Act.

However, as an AIP, you do not have all the same rights as a married spouse. For example, when a married spouse dies, the Alberta Dower Act gives the surviving spouse a special interest (called a “dower” interest) in the home they own and lived in together (called the “homestead”). A dower interest means that the surviving spouse can live there for the rest of their life. However, AIPs have no dower rights.

For more information about what it means to be a guardian or trustee, see the following resource.

PDF The Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act - Alberta
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

If you are not sure if your property qualifies you for the 90-day protection under the Residential Tenancies Act, see the “Introduction” section of the following resource.

Web Landlord and Tenant Law
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English

For an introduction to AIPs’ general rights and obligations upon the illness or death of one of the partners, see the following resources.

PDF Making a Personal Directive in Alberta
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Making an Enduring Power of Attorney
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Making a Will
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Common Law Relationships Alberta
Common Law Relationships
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

For more detailed information, see the Planning for Illness Information Page and Planning for Death Information Page.

“Living together”: Differences between the provinces

Every province has a different law about living in a “marriage-like” relationship without getting married. If you and your partner move to another province, you could have completely different rights and responsibilities. What the relationship is called and the amount of time you need to live together may also be different from Alberta. You will need to learn about the laws in that province.

On the other hand, just because you were something similar to “Adult Interdependent Partners” in another province does not mean that you will automatically be Adult Interdependent Partners when you move to Alberta. You must first meet the Alberta requirements—see the “Becoming Adult Interdependent Partners under Alberta law” section above.

Other possible financial consequences

The laws around being in an AIR are not the only laws that govern your relationship. It is also important that you understand all of the legal consequences related to some of the financial steps you might take when moving in together. One of the biggest changes that come up when people move in together is doing things “jointly.” Or you might choose not to own things jointly. Whichever choice you make, it can have very serious legal consequences. For more information, see the “Understanding joint ownership and debt” section of the Before Moving in Together: Legal Considerations Information Page.

For information about how the law treats the division of property for non-married partners (including Adult Interdependent Partners), see the Property Division for Unmarried Couples Information Page.

More information about AIRs

For more general information about the rights and responsibilities of being in an Adult Interdependent Relationship, see the following resources.

Web Adult Interdependent Relationships FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Audio/Web Cohabiting Relationships and Adult Interdependent Partners
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
Being in an Adult Interdependent Relationship: Rights and responsibilities if the relationship ends

Not too long ago, an AIP had none of the rights that a married spouse has when the relationship ended. This is no longer the case.

However, when the relationship breaks down, AIPs do not have all the same rights as married spouses. For example:

  • In Alberta, when a marriage ends, the division of property is governed by a law called the Matrimonial Property Act. However, this law only applies to married couples. For AIPs, there is no automatic right to property when the relationship ends. Each AIP keeps what they own, and joint property is shared equally. If one AIP is not satisfied with that result, he or she can only apply to the court on the grounds of “unjust enrichment.” That is a lengthy and complex legal process. For more information, see the Property Division for Unmarried Couples Information Page.
  • AIPs cannot use the Divorce Act when they separate. Instead, they must use the Alberta Family Law Act. Although the two laws are very similar, they are not exactly the same.

For more general information, see the following resources.

Web Adult Interdependent Relationships FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Dating and New Relationships for Older Adults
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web A Guide to the law in Alberta regarding common-law property
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English

Web Common Law Relationships Alberta
Common Law Relationships
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Video Mariage et relation adulte interdépendante
L'Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Alberta
French
Other legal issues to consider when living together

Sometimes, when people live together in a marriage-like relationship, they have ideas about how the law will treat them. They can be very surprised to find out that they were wrong. A few common examples are listed below.

Substitute decision-making

Many people living in a marriage-like relationship assume that if they become incapable of making their own decisions, their partner can just take over. They believe that medical staff, banks, and other service providers would simply take direction from their partner (this is called “substitute decision-making”). As a result of this belief, they do not complete the legal paperwork required to give their partner this authority. 

This belief is wrong. Alberta law does not have any such automatic default position. 

For example:

  • You are injured in an accident and you are left in a coma. Your partner wants to make your medical decisions.
  • If you had thought about it in advance, you would have wanted your partner to make decisions for you. But you did not leave any paperwork saying that. No one can ask you now, as you are in a coma.
  • Your parent or adult child arrives at the hospital and thinks that he or she should make the decisions instead of your partner.
  • To solve the issue, your loved ones will have to go to court and ask the judge to appoint a decision-maker. This costs time and money, and can be very emotional for everyone.

To plan for a time when you will no longer be able make decisions for yourself, there are two different legal documents that are required:

  1. a Power of Attorney, which is for financial decisions; and
  2. a Personal Directive, which is for all other decisions.

If you live in a marriage-like relationship, it is important to create these documents, and to review them as your needs change. For example: when you first move in together, you may still want a person other than your partner to be your substitute decision-maker. However, when you have lived together longer, you might change your mind. 

For an introduction to these documents, see the following resources.

PDF Making a Personal Directive in Alberta
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Making an Enduring Power of Attorney
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Video Personal Directives
Government of Alberta
English
Be Aware

A separation does not necessarily affect a Power of Attorney and a Personal Directive. In other words, if you separate, your ex-partner might still be able to make decisions for you. If you separate, be sure to sign new documents.

For more detailed information, see the Planning for Illness Information Page.

Wills

Many people who live in a marriage-like relationship assume that if they die without a Will (also called dying “intestate”), their partner will automatically get everything. This is not the case.

To plan for what will happen to your things when you die, you will want to write a Will. If you live in a marriage-like relationship, it is important to create this document, and to review it as your life changes. For an introduction to the topic, including information about what occurs if you die without a Will, see the following resource.

PDF Making a Will
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
Be Aware

A separation does not necessarily affect a Will. In other words, if you do not sign a new Will after you separate, your ex-partner might still benefit. If you separate, be sure to sign a new Will.

For more detailed information, see the Planning for Death Information Page.

Death & “Designation of Beneficiary” forms

When a person dies, much of what they own goes into their estate to be dealt with in their Will. But there are certain types of things that do not pass through the Will. Instead, they go directly to a specific person. This includes assets and policies that are left to someone (called the “beneficiary”) because that person is named on a “Designation of Beneficiary” form.

Examples include:

  • Life insurance: when you purchase life insurance, you fill out a designation of beneficiary form indicating who will get the money (the “benefit”) when you die.
  • Pension plans: if you have a “pension partner” (see the “Being in an AIR: Rights and responsibilities during the relationship” section above), he or she gets the benefits. However, if you have no pension partner (for example: your partner who is not yet your AIP), the death benefit goes to the person that you named on the designation of beneficiary form.
  • Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs): when you set up an RRSP, you are asked to sign a designation of beneficiary form. The person you name in that document gets the RRSP when you die.
  • Tax-free savings accounts: when you open a tax-free savings account, you will also be asked to complete a designation of beneficiary form. The person you name gets the balance of the account when you die.

When you are in a marriage-like relationship, you may or may not want to name your partner as a beneficiary on a Designation of Beneficiary form. This is something to think about when you move in together, and to reconsider as your relationship changes.

Be Aware

A separation does not affect your Designation of Beneficiary forms. In other words, if you do not sign a new form after you separate, your ex-partner will get the death benefit. If you separate, be sure to sign new Designation of Beneficiary forms.

For more information about Designation of Beneficiary forms, please see the following resources.

Web The Importance of Beneficiary Designations
Advisor Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Beneficiary Designations: Why, when and how?
Manulife Financial
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Designated beneficiaries
Government of Canada
English

PDF Understanding Insurance Basics
Government of Canada
English

Web Module 6. Insurance
Government of Canada
English


Web Bénéficiaires désignés
Government of Canada
French

PDF Mieux comprendre les assurances
Government of Canada
French

Web Module 6. Assurances
Government of Canada
French

Joint tenancy

One of the biggest changes that may come up when people move in together is doing things “jointly.” For example, having a joint bank account or owning a car together. This can have very serious legal consequences. For more information about owning property (including pets) together or separately when living together, see the Before Moving in Together: Legal Considerations Information Page.

Cultural and religious considerations

Sometimes, when couples move in together, there are religious issues that they wish to take into consideration. It is important to understand that religious rules and laws, like all foreign law, are not recognized or applied in Canada. The following resources point out key differences between Canadian family law and traditional Muslim approaches. Although the focus is mainly on married couples, the principles for unmarried partners are similar and seeing the comparison may be helpful.

PDF Domestic Contracts (for Muslim Women)
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Domestic Contracts: Muslim & Canadian Family Laws
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Muslim & Canadian Family Laws: A Comparative Primer
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
Immigration considerations

Under Canadian immigration law, if you and your partner are considered “common-law” partners under federal law (that is, you have been living together for at least one year in a romantic relationship), you may be able to sponsor your partner to come to Canada.

Be Aware

Sponsoring someone is a serious legal and financial obligation and should not be entered into lightly.

For more information about sponsoring your common-law partner (or Adult Interdependent Partner), see the following resources.

Web Do you want to sponsor your family to join you in Canada? (Fact sheet)
Community Legal Education Ontario
Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, Urdu
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Apply to sponsor your spouse, partner or children
Government of Canada
English


Web How do I sponsor a spouse or common-law partner from inside Canada?
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Gujarati, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web How do I sponsor a spouse, common-law or conjugal partner, or dependent child living outside of Canada?
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Gujarati, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.


Aboriginal matters and on-reserve considerations

For many of the issues above, being Aboriginal does not change anything. However, if you live on-reserve there can be major differences.

The law about the property rights of common-law couples who live on-reserve has recently changed. The Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act (FHRMIRA) gives new on-reserve property rights to spouses and common-law partners.

However, the FHRMIRA only applies on reserves where the First Nation has chosen to not make its own rules about on-reserve family property. If your First Nation has made its own rules, you would need to follow those instead of the FHRMIRA. A list of First Nations that have made their own rules about family property division can be found in the following resource.


Be Aware

For the purposes of this law, “common-law” is defined as it is in the Indian Act, which is living together in a conjugal relationship for at least 1 year. Not all common-law couples (as they are usually described by the federal government) and not all AIPs (under Alberta law) have been living together for at least 1 year. For example: if you signed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement as soon as you moved in together. Or, if you have lived together for less than a year, but have a child together. For the FHRMIRA to apply, you must have lived together in a conjugal relationship for at least 1 year.

The FHRMIRA rules apply to all “common-law” couples who live on-reserve, even if one of the partners:

  • is not Aboriginal;
  • does not have registered Indian Status with the Government of Canada; or
  • does not have status for that particular reserve.

As long as one of the partners is a member of the First Nation, or has Indian Status, the FHRMIRA rules apply.

The starting position under FHRMIRA is that both partners have an interest in the family home, regardless of whose name appears on the Certificate of Possession (or equivalent legal documents related to the property).

Rights during the relationship

As a result of the new law, spouses or common-law partners on-reserve have new rights, including:

  • both partners have the right to live in the family home; and
  • if the family home is to be sold, both partners must consent to the sale in writing. One partner cannot simply sell the home on his or her own.

Rights if one spouse or partner dies

The FHRMIRA also provides certain rights if one of the partners dies, including:

  • the right to stay in the family home for at least 6 months,
  • the right to apply for an Exclusive Occupation Order, and
  • the right to a share of the on-reserve family property.

For more information about all of these rights, see the “Aboriginal matters and on-reserve considerations” section of the Dealing with a Death in the Family Information Page.

Rights if the relationship ends

The FHRMIRA provides specific rights if the relationship breaks down, including:

  • the right to apply for an Emergency Protection Order,
  • the right to apply for an Exclusive Occupation Order, and
  • the right to a share of the on-reserve family property.

For information about all of these rights, see the Family Breakdown if You Live on Reserve Information Page.

 

Blended families considerations

What is a “blended family”?

When people start relationships with new partners, they might form what is called a “blended family.” A blended family is a family that has children from previous relationships, and may even include children from the current relationship.

For example, if a person with 2 children from a previous relationship becomes the partner of someone else who also has a child from his or her own previous relationship, they would create a “blended family.” This can include step-parents and step-children. The new couple may also have children of their own, which means some of the children would be half-siblings.

Blended families and the law

In general, the law related to non-married relationships is no different for blended families than for any other families.

However, the legal concerns of blended families are generally more complicated. For example:

  • One or both partners may have continuing responsibilities for child support and spousal/partner support from their previous relationship.

  • Ongoing issues such as parenting arrangements may have an impact.

  • Deciding who will make which decisions about which children can be an issue.

  • There may be more complex issues related to property decisions, financial decisions, and estate planning.

As a result, it is even more important that legal decisions are made carefully and with full knowledge of rights, obligations, and potential consequences. Each of the family law Information Pages on LegalAve has a section discussing “Blended family considerations” for that topic.

How becoming a blended family affects estate planning: Wills, Powers of Attorney, Personal Directives, and Designation of Beneficiary forms

Wills, Powers of Attorney, Personal Directives, and Designation of Beneficiary forms are all legal documents that are used to plan for what happens when a person is ill or passes away.

Many people assume that when they split up and enter into a new partnership, any previously made legal documents will no longer be valid. This is incorrect. As a result, it is important to review these legal documents. You will likely have to take steps to change them to reflect the changes in your life.

For example, if you have children from your previous relationship and your current relationship, you may want to update your Will to include all of your children. Or, you may have named your former partner as decision-maker under a Power of Attorney and/or Personal Directive. If you do not change these documents and you become incapacitated, your former partner will still have the power to make decisions for you, even though you are no longer together!

For more information about planning for illness and death, see the following Information Pages:

Changing the children’s names

After creating a new blended family, a parent may want to change their children’s names to their new partner’s surname. To change a child’s name, you must be a parent or guardian of that child.

Generally, if you want to change your child’s surname to your new partner’s surname, you need the consent of your new partner and the consent of the other biological parent (unless you are the sole guardian). If consent is refused, you may be able to apply for a court order to change the name.

Be Aware

If your child is 12 years or older, the child must also consent to the name change.

For more information about the rules for changing a child’s name, see the following resources.

Audio/Web Changing Your Name
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web What’s in a Name? Legal Issues in Changing a Child’s Name
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Adopting or becoming the guardian of your new partner’s children

You may want to either adopt or become the legal guardian of your new partner’s children for various reasons. For example:

  • You may see the child as your own. As a parent or guardian, you will have the legal right to make decisions for that child.
  • The child may not have a relationship with his or her biological parent and you want to support that child by becoming his or her parent.
Be Aware

Adoption and guardianship are 2 different things. When you adopt a child, you become that child’s parent. You do not become the parent of a child when you become a child’s guardian.

Becoming the legal guardian of your new partner’s children

“Guardianship” is the word used in Alberta’s Family Law Act to describe the decision-making power that adults have about a child. In Alberta, all children are subject to guardianship. The Family Law Act sets out who is automatically the guardian of a child. Usually both parents are guardians, and a child may have other legal guardians.

You can apply to the court to become the guardian of a child if you have had the care of the child for more than 6 months. A judge can set aside this requirement if it is in the best interests of the child.

For more information about guardianship, see the Becoming the Guardian of a Child Information Page.

Adopting your new partner’s children

When you adopt someone, you become that child’s parent. Adoptive parents get the same legal rights and responsibilities as biological parents.

Step-parent adoptions are only suitable in certain situations. Currently, the law only recognizes a maximum of 2 legal parents. If both biological parents are actively involved and contributing to the child’s life, then “replacing” one with an adoptive parent would not usually be an option.

To adopt a step-child, you must have consent from:

  • the birth parents;
  • any other guardians of the child; and
  • the child to be adopted, if that child is 12 years or older.

However, in certain serious situations, the Court may decide that the consent is not needed.

The step-parent who wants to adopt must be capable of taking on the responsibilities of becoming the child’s parent, and the adoption must be in the child’s best interests.

Step-parent adoptions require an application to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

For more information on adoption by step-parents, see the Adopting a Child Information Page and the following resources.

Audio/Web Step parent adoption
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Private adoption
Government of Alberta
English

Web Considering Adopting Your Step Children in Alberta?
Small Miracles Adoption
English

More information

For more information about what to think about when creating a blended family, see the following resources. Some of these resources describe blended families in married relationships, but the same information applies if you are not married.

Web Remarriage
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Video Remarriage after Divorce
AdviceScene (via YouTube)
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.


PDF Dating and New Relationships for Older Adults
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Getting Re-married Later in Life: Some Estate Planning Considerations
Self-Counsel Press
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.
LGBTQ considerations

The law around non-married relationships is no different for LGBTQ couples than it is for any other couples—it is the same as described above. 

Unfortunately, LGBTQ partners sometimes still face social stigmas and battles that non-LGBTQ partners may not. Additional issues could arise if they are not “out” to extended families members. As a result, it is especially important have legal documents that identify the nature of the relationship (such as AIPAs, Personal Directives, Powers of Attorney, and Wills) and that the documents be clear and specific.

For more information about LGBTQ rights in Canada, see the following resource.

Web LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Rights in Canada
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
Polyamorous considerations

Under federal law, a person cannot have more than one common-law partner at the same time. Similarly, under the Alberta Adult Interdependent Relationships Act, a person cannot have more than one Adult Interdependent Partner (AIP) at the same time. Also, a person cannot become the AIP of another person if one of them is already living with his or her married spouse.

Therefore, there can only ever be two partners that are subject to the rights and obligations provided by the federal government or Alberta government.

If there are children

One or more of the partners in a polyamorous relationship may have children. In this case, the other partners may find themselves acting as parents to the children. This is called “standing in the place of a parent” or “in loco parentis.”

If you are standing in the place of a parent to a child, you may want to establish a more solid legal basis for the relationship. You can apply to become a guardian of the child. For more information about how to do that, see the Becoming the Guardian of a Child Information Page.

If you are immigrating to Canada

If your partner has sponsored you to come to Canada, you may have status as a Conditional Permanent Resident. While you have this status, you are required to live with your partner in a genuine, marriage-like relationship for 2 years after the status is granted.

If you are part of a polyamorous relationship during this time, you could run into problems.

In Canada, marriage is defined as an “exclusive” relationship. This means that only 2 partners are part of the relationship. Another word for this is that they are “monogamous.” Therefore, if immigration officials happen to investigate, they may determine that your polyamorous relationship is not a “genuine, marriage-like” relationship. This could put you at risk of losing your immigration status in Canada.

For more information on Conditional Permanent Resident status, see the following resources.

Web What is Conditional Permanent Residence?
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
English

Web Operational Bulletin 480 (Modified) – November 16, 2015
Government of Canada
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here. See “2.4 Assessing evidence of compliance of the two-year condition.

For detailed information about the different options if you lose your status, see the Family Breakdown and the Immigration Process Information Page.

Process

Learn more about steps involved when entering certain romantic relationships, including:

  • How to become common-law partners under Canadian law
  • How to become Adult Interdependent Partners under Alberta law
  • Changing your name
  • Asking the Court for a support order from your Adult Interdependent Partner

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: August 2016
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page contains legal information about people’s rights when they live together in a romantic relationship.

Tip

If you are just starting out with this topic, it’s a good idea to begin on the Law tab of this Information Page. There you will find basic information about what the law says, what the words mean, and other issues that will help you understand better what to ask for and how to get it. Once you have the basics down, you will be in a better position to learn about the process you need to follow to resolve your legal issues.

Most people think of these relationships as “common-law” relationships. That is not what they are called in Alberta. In Alberta, the kind of relationship that most people call “common-law” is called an “Adult Interdependent Relationship.” However, the difference in the “name” is only the beginning—the two relationships are different in other ways as well. For more information, please see the Law tab of this Information Page.

In general, the law on this Information Page is about people who live together in Alberta. This is because in order for Alberta law to apply, the people involved should all live in Alberta. If you are not sure whether both of you officially live in Alberta (this is also called “residency”), please see the New Relationships & Out-of-Province Issues Information Page

You are currently on the Process tab of this Information Page, which has information about processes involved in being common-law partners (under federal law) and Adult Interdependent Partners (under Alberta law). There is also important information in the Common Questions, Myths and Law tabs above. In particular, if you have not already done so, you may want to review the “What the words mean” section of the Law tab.

Cohabitation agreements

For basic information about cohabitation agreements and why you might want one, please see the Law tab of this Information Page.

For more detailed information on the process of creating a cohabitation agreement, see the Process tab of the Cohabitation Agreements Information Page.

Becoming common-law partners under federal law

If you have lived together in a romantic relationship with your partner for at least one year, you will need to let the Canada Revenue Agency know within a month of your marital status change to “common-law.”

To register your new common-law status with the federal government, see the following resource.


Becoming Adult Interdependent Partners: Changing your “marital status” with the federal government

For the purposes of federal law (such as filing income taxes), if you are in an AIR in Alberta, your “marital status” must be “common-law” for federal purposes. Therefore, once you become Adult Interdependent Partners, you will need to let the Canada Revenue Agency know about your change in your marital status within one month.

To register your new common-law status with the federal government, see the following resource.


Entering into an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement

To become Adult Interdependent Partners by completing an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement, you will need to complete the form required by the Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement Regulation. There is a template on the last two pages of the following resource.

PDF Adult Interdependent Relationships
Government of Alberta
English
Be Aware

There is no registry for these agreements. You do not have to register it anywhere, but you will need to keep the original(s) in a safe place.

Changing your name

The 2 ways to change your name

If you want to change your name to be the same as your partner’s, or if you both want to change your names to be the same (for example, Smith-Jones), you can do that in 2 different ways.

The first way is to just start using the new name you want for yourself. This is called “assuming a new name” and is based on the tradition of taking a partner’s last name. This is a legal way of taking a new last name, but it is not the same thing as a formal “legal” name change.

The second way is to complete a “legal” name change. This will change the name on your birth certificate. For information about how to legally change your name, see the following resources.

Web Change of Name
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English

Audio/Web Changing Your Name
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Changing a Name | How it works
Government of Alberta
English

Informing others of your name change

No matter how you change your name, you will want to let others know about it. You will need to update all of your identification to reflect your name change.  

For information on how to tell the CRA about your name change, see the following resource.

Web How to tell the CRA about your change of name
Government of Canada
English

For a list of other places which you may want to notify of your name change, see the following resource.

Web Changing your last name after getting married
Alberta Motor Association
English
This resource describes name changes after getting married, but the same information applies even if you are not married.
Changing your children’s names

A parent may want to change their children’s names to their new partner’s surname. To change a child’s name, you must be a parent or guardian of that child.

Generally, if you want to change your child’s surname to your new partner’s surname, you need the consent of your new partner and the consent of the other biological parent (unless you are the sole guardian). If consent is refused, you may be able to apply for a court order to change the name.

Be Aware

If your child is 12 years or older, the child must also consent to the name change.

For more information about the rules for changing a child’s name, see the following resources.

Web Change of Name
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English
See “Changing Your Child’s Name.”

Audio/Web Changing Your Name
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web What’s in a Name? Legal Issues in Changing a Child’s Name
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Changing a Name | How it works
Government of Alberta
English
Also see “How to apply” on the right of the page.

A registry agent can provide forms and explain the steps. To find a registry agent near you, see the following resource.

Web Find a registry agent
Government of Alberta
English
Sponsoring your common-law partner to immigrate

You can sponsor your common-law partner to immigrate to Canada—you don’t have to be married to do so. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Sponsorship – Common-Law and Conjugal Partner Relationships
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
Be Aware

​The sponsorship process is a serious legal decision. It also involves many steps and can take a long time. You may want to get legal advice if you are considering this. For more information, see the Working with a Lawyer Information Page.

If you would like to sponsor your common-law partner to immigrate to Canada as a permanent resident, the paperwork you need to fill out depends on whether your partner is already in Canada or not.

If your partner is already in Canada (for example, if he or she is here on a temporary work visa or study permit), you will start with this application package:

If your partner is already in Canada (for example, if he or she is here on a temporary work visa or study permit), see the following resources.


Asking the Court for a support order from your Adult Interdependent Partner

Adult Interdependent Partners are obligated to financially support each other. If your AIP is not adequately supporting you (for example: if you are sick and cannot support yourself), you can apply for a support order under the Family Law Act.

Support includes food, clothing, medical aid, and lodging. If one AIP is able to provide these necessaries of life for the other AIP but has refused or neglected to provide them, the Court may grant a support order.

Hiring a lawyer or representing yourself?

If you go to court, you can choose to either be represented by a lawyer, or to represent yourself. If you choose to represent yourself, you will be called a “self-represented litigant.”

Hiring a lawyer

If you hire a lawyer, your lawyer will explain to you what is happening with your case and why. A lawyer can help you reach an out-of-court agreement, or represent you in court.

However, even if you do have a lawyer, you may wish to continue reading this (and other Information Pages) to educate yourself further.

For more information about your options for legal representation and other legal help, see the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid Information Page  and the Working with a Lawyer Information Page.

Representing yourself

As a self-represented litigant, you can find some help at Resolution and Court Administration Services. See just below for information about help available in your area.

For more information, see the Representing Yourself in Court Information Page.

Help from Resolution and Court Administration Services

Resolution and Court Administration Services (RCAS) is a group of programs and services offered by the Alberta government to help people resolve their legal matters. RCAS staff:

  • help you stay out of court when possible;
  • help with the court process and forms if you go to court; and
  • offer free or low-cost programs to help families with the legal system.

For more information about how RCAS can help you, see the following resource.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English
Be Aware

These services used to be called Family Justice Services, Family Law Information Centres, and Law Information Centres. They are now together as a single point of contact to help Albertans with legal matters. However, you might still see some resources that call those services by their old names.

If you choose to go to court, some RCAS services might be mandatory. This means that you must use those services. This can depend on where you live and what kinds of issues you are taking to court.

In some locations, such as in Calgary, all self-represented litigants must first go through “triage services” before doing anything else. At triage, you will:

  • meet with RCAS staff for about 10 minutes to see what your next steps should be;
  • be referred to different services based on your needs;
  • be told what steps you can take next; and
  • schedule an intake appointment if needed (see below).

In many locations, self-represented litigants will have the option to go through an intake process. In some locations it is mandatory. At intake, RCAS staff will discuss your options with you. This may include a referral to court-supported family mediation when appropriate. See the following resources for more information.

Web Family court assistance
Government of Alberta
English

Web Intake Services (Alberta)
Government of Canada
English

RCAS staff also:

  • help you review your documents before you file; and
  • provide family court counsellors (FCCs) who help you learn about the court process and present the facts to the judge in Provincial Court.
Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Choosing the court & completing your paperwork

In some provinces, any “family law” matter goes to a specialized family court: everyone is in the same court. This is not the case in Alberta. When you are in still in an AIR and you are asking for a partner support order under the Family Law Act, you will have to choose between Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench.

All of the information you need to make that choice and to complete the paperwork in either court is on the Process tab of the Partner Support under the Family Law Act Information Page.

Although that Information Page has information about partner support when an AIR breaks down, the procedure is the same in an AIR that is still intact. The only difference is the “reason” you give on the Statement form (see below). Specifically, if you are still together, you will want to check off the third checkbox in section 4 of the form. This states that you and your AIP “are still living together” but that he or she “has without sufficient cause refused or neglected” to provide you “with the necessities of life.”

PDF Statement - Spousal/Partner Support (Form FL-48 / CTS3473)
Government of Alberta
English
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Do not use this form, or start your court action, without first reviewing the Process tab of the Partner Support under the Family Law Act Information Page.

Provincial Court

Queen's Bench

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