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All common-law relationships are treated the same everywhere in Canada.

This depends on what you mean when you say “common-law.” 

When romantic partners live together, the exact “label” that is used, as well as any rights and responsibilities that come from living together, are defined differently by different governments. 

The federal government uses the term “common-law,” and federal rights and responsibilities (in other words, for things related to the government of Canada, such as income tax) start after living together for 1 year. Federal laws apply to all Canadians, including Albertans.

The term “common-law” may also be used in other provinces and territories to refer to couples who live together. But different provinces and territories (also called “jurisdictions”) use different terms. For example: “civil union” or “domestic partnership.” The rights and responsibilities that come with the label can also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Finally, the amount of time required to get these rights and responsibilities also varies across the provinces: sometimes, jurisdictions require 1 year of cohabitation, others 2 years, and some even 3 years. The laws of a particular province or territory apply only in that province or territory.

Alberta law does not use the term or the concept of “common-law.” Instead, it uses the term and concept of an Adult Interdependent Relationship (AIR), and this only applies for Alberta law. The concept if an AIR is different from what the federal government calls “common-law” and other kinds of non-married relationships in other provinces and territories.

Last Reviewed: October 2015
It is possible to be married to more than one person at a time.

False. In Canada, it is a crime to be married to more than one person at a time.

Some people may choose to be in polyamorous relationships. These are relationships where you have more than one romantic partner. However, you can only be married to one of these partners.

Be Aware

In Alberta, it is possible to have both a “spouse” and an “Adult Interdependent Partner” (AIP). This could happen if you are separated but not divorced from your married spouse. You could then become the AIP of another person by either: living together for 3 years, or having/adopting a child together. These situations are not common and can get complicated.


 
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Last Reviewed: August 2016
When we first got together, we signed a domestic contract. Now I am stuck with it—there is nothing I can do.

This is not necessarily true.

The starting position about domestic contracts is that they are meant to be followed. And, in many cases, the parties do follow them. Similarly, courts often respect (also called showing “deference” to) these contracts, as these contracts reflect the parties’ expectations from the beginning, usually before any rights or entitlements arise.

Therefore, if you and the other party have a domestic contract, and you are both happy with the terms of the contract, then you can simply follow your agreement and part ways.

However, sometimes, while they are still together, the parties may want to change one or more terms of the domestic contract. This can be done by agreement or through out-of-court processes.

After you separate, you may be able “challenge” the agreement in court. To challenge an agreement, the party challenging it will need to have a legal reason (it cannot simply be because one party “wants” something different).

Specifically, the agreement may be challenged if:

  • One or both ex-partners provides a legal reason that the agreement should be cancelled or “set aside.” For example, if special circumstances existed when the agreement was signed that prove that one of the parties did not understand the contract, or if one of the parties did not provide full financial disclosure to the other.
  • One or more parts of the agreement are not enforceable. For example, parents could not agree that no child support would be paid (because child support is the right of the child).

In addition, although courts show “deference” to domestic contracts, they also recognize that sometimes there are good and valid reasons to set these agreements aside (or set aside parts of these agreements). This is because when the agreement was created, the parties did not know or consider what the circumstances would be like at the time of separation.

Last Reviewed: October 2015
Now that I finally have Guardianship and Trusteeship for my mother, I can go ahead and make whatever decisions I want for her.

Not necessarily.

The decisions you want to make must fit within the legal requirements of the job and the Order that was granted. The Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act says that you must:

  • make decisions in the Represented Adult’s best interests;
  • make decisions according to the beliefs, values, and wishes that the Represented Adult held while she still had capacity;
  • include the Represented Adult in the decision-making process whenever possible;
  • act “diligently and in good faith” (that is, you must put careful, honest, and sincere effort into doing the job);
  • keep the Represented Adult informed of the decisions you make; and
  • keep a record of the decisions you make.
Last Reviewed: May 2016
I can stop paying child support when my child turns 18.

Not necessarily. 

Under both the Alberta Child Support Guidelines and the Federal Child Support Guidelines, the child will have a right to continued support if he or she is still under the care of a parent and is enrolled in school full-time. 

Under the Alberta Guidelines this eligibility for child support does not go past age 22. Under the Federal Guidelines, there is no age limit. 

Also, under the Federal Guidelines, child support can continue for a child who cannot leave the care and control of her or her parents because of illness or disability (and again there is no upper age limit).

Last Reviewed: October 2015
Now that I am married, I don’t have to worry about things like Powers of Attorney, Personal Directives, and Wills. If something happens to me, my spouse will be able to take care of everything.

False. 

Many married people assume that if they become incapable of making their own decisions, that medical staff, banks, and other service providers would simply take direction from their spouse (this is called “substitute decision-making”). As a result of this assumption, they do not complete the legal paperwork required to give their spouse this authority.

This assumption is wrong. Alberta law does not have any such automatic default position. If you want your spouse to be able to make decisions on your behalf, then you must create the necessary legal documents: a Power of Attorney (for financial decisions) and a Personal Directive (for other decisions). These documents have specific legal requirements and they must be entered into separately from any domestic contract.

Last Reviewed: April 2016
People who are LGBTQ cannot adopt children.

False.

People who are LGBTQ are allowed to adopt in Canada. They would follow the same adoption processes as any other Albertans. However, some countries do not permit international adoptions by people who are LGBTQ.

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Last Reviewed: November 2016
My great grandmother just turned 85 and still drives her car: surely that is against the law.

False.

Whether or not your great grandmother can drive a car will depend on her health.

Driving a motor vehicle is a privilege, not a right. As a result, Alberta Transportation must balance individuals’ transportation needs and the public’s right to road safety. One of the ways that road safety is ensured is by monitoring drivers’ skills, safety records, and medical conditions.

As people age and/or become ill, they may no longer be able to drive, or allowed to drive. But it is not an issue of age. Just because a person is old does not mean he or she cannot drive.

At her age, your great grandmother should be tested for driver fitness every 2 years. That is the law. If she has any illnesses, she should have reported them to Alberta Transportation. If those illnesses do not make her unqualified to drive, and if the driver fitness tests show that she is able to drive, then she is allowed to drive.

Last Reviewed: April 2016
Partner abuse only happens to married couples.

False.

Partner abuse happens when someone causes injury or harm to a person who they are in a romantic relationship with. This type of abuse can happen between people who are currently dating, married, or living together, or between people who used to date, were married, or were living together.

Partner abuse can happen to anyone, whether you are young or old, a man or woman, rich or poor, dating or living together or married, heterosexual, or LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer).

Last Reviewed: October 2015
I can’t afford to leave my abusive relationship.

Leaving an abusive relationship is very difficult, and this includes financially difficult. There are different supports and services available for people suffering from family violence. Every person’s situation is different. Therefore, each person might need different kinds of help. For example, someone who needs financial help might not need to find a shelter if they have another safe place where they can go. 

A shelter is a safe place where victims of domestic violence can go to live on a temporary basis. There are many different shelters throughout the province available to people who need protection because of family violence. Certain shelters may only be for women, for women and children, or for men. There are even shelters for seniors who are being abused.

If you need financial help, Alberta Works may be able to help. Alberta Works is a service that provides help to people in different areas, including employment services, income support, and health benefits services. For example, Alberta Works might be able to help unemployed people find jobs, or help low-income people pay for certain costs, such as food and shelter.

Alberta Works even has a specific program that provides financial help to people who are leaving an abusive relationship and cannot afford basic necessities like shelter and clothing. However, there are certain eligibility criteria that you must meet in order to get financial help from Alberta Works. To determine whether you are eligible for financial help from Alberta Works, contact a centre near you.

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Last Reviewed: October 2015
My partner and I separated because of infidelity. Surely the court will not give custody or guardianship to a cheater.

False. Unless violence or abuse was involved, the judge will not take into account why the relationship ended. Also, the behaviour of your ex-partner will not be considered by the judge unless that behaviour relates to his or her ability to parent. Just because a person has an affair does not mean that he or she is a bad parent. 

As always, when a judge has to decide about parenting arrangements, the judge must base the decision on the “best interests of the child.”

Last Reviewed: October 2015
Once I have signed a Power of Attorney, Personal Directive, or Will, I can never change my mind.

False.

As long as you still have capacity, you can destroy the old document and write a new one.

Last Reviewed: April 2016
If I have a lawyer, I don’t need to bother doing any legal research for myself.

Not necessarily.

Traditionally, when you hire a lawyer, the lawyer handles every aspect of your case, including all of the research. However, some lawyers now offer “unbundled services” or “limited scope retainers.” In this type of arrangement, you and your lawyer will share the work that needs to be done for your case. This type of service is usually more affordable than full service representation. It also allows you to be more involved in your own case. In this situation, you may want to or be asked to do some of the research yourself.

Even if your lawyer is doing the research for your case, you may still want to learn a bit about the law regarding your situation. This may help you when working with your lawyer. For example, it may make it easier to:

  • ask relevant questions;
  • stay focused on the legal issues;
  • understand your lawyer’s advice; and
  • make decisions based on that advice.

 

Last Reviewed: March 2016
If we live together long enough, we’re considered “married” under the law.

False. 

Unless you go through a formal marriage ceremony, you are never married.

Last Reviewed: October 2015
My sister and I have been living together for 5 years in a relationship of interdependence. We must be considered Adult Interdependent Partners (AIPs) by now since we’ve met the 3-year requirement for AIPs.

False.

For two people who are related by blood or adoption to become Adult Interdependent Partner (AIPs), they must sign an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement (AIPA). Two people who are related by blood or adoption will never become AIPs just by living together.

Last Reviewed: October 2015

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