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The law about the division of property between separating common-law couples in Canada has long been a source of confusion. Many, if not most, people believe that they have the same rights to the division of property acquired during a relationship, whether they are married or have lived together without getting married. This is simply not the case.
At the present time, the Matrimonial Property Act provides a relatively clear set of rules which governs the division of property between married partners. However, partners who have lived together, but are not married, are not covered by the Matrimonial Property Act. In fact, there is currently no legislation in Alberta which governs the division of property between partners who are not married. Instead, unmarried partners are required to rely on the law created by previously decided cases to divide their property. This leaves unmarried partners in a more confusing situation on separation. This leads to more uncertainty, which leads to more court hearings and trials for these separating partners. Any time there is additional uncertainty and more court for separating partners, there is more stress for families and children.
The Alberta government has recently started the process of clarifying the law by passing legislation which will provide for a regime for the division of property for unmarried partners. Beginning January 1, 2020, the law of division of property will become the same for partners who:
- are married;
- have lived together for a period of at least three years; or
- have lived together for less than three years, and have a child together.
Once this new law, which will be called the Family Property Act, comes into effect, the process of dividing property on relationship breakdown, should become clearer and easier to complete.
If you have recently separated from a partner who you lived with but did not marry, you should obtain legal advice about whether it is in your best interests to begin negotiations to divide your property now or whether you should wait until January 2020. It is possible that your rights and obligations may change once the new legislation takes effect in January. If that is the case, it may be important for you to begin any court action before the Family Property Act comes into effect. A knowledgeable family law lawyer will be able to assist you in making the best decision for your situation.