Pattie Lovett-Reid: Financial implications of marriage versus common law
When you are in a relationship, you’re in it emotionally and financially.
In a new poll, the Angus Reid Institute asked the question: “When two people plan to spend the rest of their lives together, how important is it to you that they legally marry” (meaning exchange vows in a public ceremony, whether civil or religious)?”
Here were the results:
Very important, 19%
Somewhat important, 28%
Not that important, 29%
Not at all important, 24%
Furthermore, four-in-10 of the 1,520 Canadian adults surveyed in January have never married, and aren’t sure they want to.
From a legal perspective, Canadians are inclined to see marriages and common-law-relationships in a similar light. When asked about the current tax rules – which treat couples the same way whether they are married or common-law partners – are adequate, or if there should be extra benefits for people who legally marry, almost six-in-10 (59 per cent) say couples who legally marry should not receive extra tax benefits unavailable to common-law couples. Add to this, 58 per cent feel common-law partners should be treated the same as marriages when it comes to splitting up assets if the relationship ends.
Sure, there are social implications here but what about the financial implications?
While British Columbia currently allows common-law spouses to claim half of their partner’s assets if the relationship ends, other provinces do not treat common-law relationships in this way.
Rick Peticca, an associate at Shulman Law Firm, says in Ontario, there is one area of law where married couples and common law spouses are treated differently, and this is with property division and dealing of assets on separation. Generally speaking, the division of assets for common-law spouses is done according to ownership as opposed to equalization.
While attitudes toward marriage in Canada may be changing, it is important to note over half have walked down the aisle at least once in their life. What’s holding the rest back? The 40 per cent who aren’t married say they aren’t opposed to the idea of marrying someday. Four-in-ten of the 40 per cent say they would like to marry one day and 33 per cent aren’t sure if they want to marry, but aren’t ruling it out. About one-quarter say they aren’t interested in changing their marital status, primarily because they haven’t found the right person— yet.
Regardless of what you think about marriage or common-law relationships, the best protection until the laws catch up with the attitudes is to have a properly-drafted and prepared marriage and/or cohabitation agreement respectively. According to Peticca, this will provide a person with legal protection in the event the relationship comes to an end.