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Responsibility For Children In Common-Law Families

Whether married or cohabiting, parents are legally obligated to support their own children. Although separation or divorce results in one parent living apart from his or her children, this responsibility to continue providing financial support does not change. But what obligation does one party have towards the children of his common-law spouse after the relationship ends?

Step-Parents May Be Required To Pay Child Support

In some cases, a spouse may exit a common-law relationship with no obligation to provide financial support to the children of his ex-partner. However, the legal responsibility for support may exist if:

  • The spouse shared with the parent in supporting the child for at least one year during the cohabitation
  • The parent makes a court application for support within the time limit of one year following the spouse’s last contribution to the support of the child

The duration of the relationship, the standard of living the child had during the couple’s cohabitation and other factors also help determine the level of support the ex-spouse may be required to pay. However, the parent or guardian will still have the greatest degree of responsibility for the child after the separation.

Can Cohabiting Spouses Make Their Own Child Support Agreement?

A common-law couple may sign an agreement regarding child support, but only if such is made at the point of, or after a separation. Even if one partner is only a step-parent, the couple cannot decide at the outset of their relationship how child support will be handled should they later decide to separate.

Despite the existence of a preexisting agreement, a court may nonetheless order a different support arrangement in light of the circumstances of the case and in the best interests of the child.

The lawyers at Peterson Stark Scott are available to provide guidance on all legal issues impacting the separation of common-law spouses.

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