What is Common Law in Ontario?

February 15th, 2024
Common Law Union

Ontario acknowledges common-law relationships as legitimate partnerships between two individuals of any gender. Such relationships come with many of the rights and obligations that married couples have.

However, it is crucial to recognize the distinctions between common law unions and formal marriages. In this discussion, we’ll discuss how common law in Ontario, Canada works, highlight the differences from legal marriages, and outline the legal considerations for those opting for a common law relationship in the province.

Definition of Common Law Relationship

There is no single definition of a common law relationship in Canada or in the province of Ontario. Instead, common law has different requirements under Canadian laws vs provincial laws.

Canadian Definition of Common Law for Immigration Purposes

Under Canadian immigration law, a couple is considered to be in a common-law relationship once they have been in a marriage-like relationship for 12 months or longer. A common-law partner may sponsor their partner of either gender to immigrate to Canada. Immigration officials may require common-law partners to provide a statutory declaration confirming their common-law status, which must be signed before a notary public or commissioner of oaths.

Canadian Tax Law

Under the Canadian Income Tax Act, a couple of any gender is considered to be in a common law relationship if they have been living together in a conjugal relationship for at least 12 months or are the parents of a child by birth or adoption regardless of how long they have been living together.

Employee Benefit and Pension Plans

The definition of a common law spouse for the purposes of being covered under a partner’s benefit and pension plan varies depending on the employer. Some employers will cover partners who have lived together for only six months, although for others it is 12 months, 3 years or 5 years. It is important to check with your benefit administrator to determine whether your common law partner qualifies for benefits under your plan. Some employers require their employees to provide a statutory declaration signed before a notary public or commissioner of oaths to prove their common-law status for the purposes of obtaining benefits.

Ontario Law

While some provinces have laws allowing common-law partners to register their relationship as a domestic partnership, Ontario does not have such a law. Under Ontario family and estate law, common-law partners do not have the same rights as a legally married spouse.

Distinguishing between Common Law Relationships and Legal Marriages in Ontario

There are distinct differences between common law unions and formal marriages in Ontario. Common law partnerships generally have fewer rights and duties than legal marriages. Also, under Ontario family law, partners are not considered to be in a common-law relationship unless they either have children together or they have been living together for at least 3 years.

Here’s a breakdown of key differences:


For common-law couples in Ontario, the process of ending a relationship differs from that of married couples. The separation process can be more difficult without the legal framework that marriage provides. There are no specific laws to safeguard the interests of each partner. Essentially, there is no official “divorce” procedure for common law partners, making it crucial for each individual to actively protect their rights and interests during this time.

Dividing Property

For married couples in Ontario, assets acquired during the marriage are typically divided equally. In contrast, common law partners must actively establish their claim to shared property upon separation.

Spousal Support Rights

Married couples have clearer entitlements to spousal support in case of separation or divorce. Common law partners must prove their entitlement to support.

Inheritance Considerations

Unlike married couples, common-law partners do not have automatic inheritance rights. It is crucial for them to take legal steps to protect their interests in case of one partner’s death or incapacity.

CPP Survivor Benefits

Common law partners, as well as legally married spouses, are eligible for survivor benefits from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). Common law partners must have been living together for at least one year in order to be eligible.

Understanding these distinctions can help couples make informed decisions about their relationships and future planning in Ontario.

How Can Red Seal Notary Help?

If you need to prove that you are in a common law relationship for employment, immigration, CPP, or other purposes, Red Seal Notary’s team of knowledgeable and professional notaries can help you commission or notarize your statutory declaration of common-law status at our convenient walk-in offices in Toronto, Ottawa, and Mississauga, as well as by appointment at locations across Canada. Please visit our website at www.RedSealNotary.com or contact our helpful call center at 1-888-922-7325 to make an appointment to notarize your documents at locations across the country.

Helpful Links

Canada Immigration – Declaration of Common Law Union
CPP Survivor Pension and Link to Common Law Declaration
Canada Revenue Agency Definition of Common Law Status

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