On January 1, 2020 the new Family Property Act came into effect. While there has long been legislation deciding how married spouses will divide their property when they separate, there has not previously been legislation for dividing property between unmarried people who live together.
The Family Property Act will now govern how property will be divided for both married spouses and adult interdependent partners. Determining who is a married spouse is simple. It is determined by whether the parties are married to each other. However, determining who is an adult interdependent partner is not quite so straightforward. The Act says people are adult interdependent partners if they have entered into an adult interdependent partnership agreement or if they lived with each other in a relationship of interdependence:
(i) for a continuous period of not less than 3 years, or
(ii) of some permanence, if there is a child of the relationship by birth or adoption.
To determine if people are in a relationship of interdependence, the Court is looking for a relationship where the people:
(i) share one another’s lives
(ii) are emotionally committed to each other; and
(iii) function as an economic and domestic unit.
Lawyers with expertise in this area are now discussing when a court will decide that a relationship of interdependence started. Many believe that, just because people are living in the same home, that will not necessarily mean they are in an adult interdependent relationship. For example, if two people are living together while they attend university, but the parents of each of them are paying all of the bills, most lawyers agree that they are probably not in a relationship of interdependence.
However, many are also discussing the possibility that people may not have to be living under the same roof to be in a relationship of interdependence. People who are in exclusive, intimate relationships, who intermingle their finances, share household activities and hold themselves out to be an economic and domestic unit could very well be held to be in interdependent relationships, particularly if they help each other with their children. Courts in other provinces have found these types of relationships to be such that their property will be divided. We will have to wait to see what the Alberta Courts decide.
In the meantime, if you are in a relationship like this, it is important that you contact a lawyer and discuss whether or not you should be entering into a Cohabitation Agreement. In that type of agreement, you and your partner are able to determine how you will divide your property now, while your relationship is ongoing, instead of having a Judge decide how to divide your property if your relationship ends.
Catherine Regier helps you navigate the turning points of life. She is a partner with Pritchard & Co. Law Firm, LLP. Contact Catherine at (403) 527-4411 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.