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“Spouse” – What It Means And Why It Matters

British Columbia has laws that provide married couples and unmarried spouses with the same rights and responsibilities under many areas of family law. But in order to exercise those rights and responsibilities, it is important to understand exactly what the law considers a “spouse”. Our post this week looks at what the term includes and how the definition can impact you – especially if you are a cohabiting couple.

What Constitutes A Spouse In B.C.?

Spouses can include both married and unmarried individuals. If married, the spousal relationship begins when the couple formalizes their relationship in a legal marriage ceremony.

For the unmarried, a spouse under the province’s Family Law Act includes couples who have lived together in a relationship that resembles that of a marriage, and who have done so for:

  • At least two years
  • Less than two years if they have a child together

The Significance Of Being A Spouse

Determining whether you are in a spousal relationship is important since it impacts your legal rights and responsibilities at the end of the relationship.

In British Columbia, unmarried spouses divide property and debt in the same way as a divorcing married couple would – 50/50.

Unmarried, childless spouses can also make an application for spousal support. Where a common-law couple has a child together, either party can seek spousal support even if they have lived together for less than two years.

Having spousal status also impacts a number of governmental benefits. For instance, being in a spousal relationship could result in a reduction of social assistance payments. It can also mean that the parties can share CPP credits, receive Old Age Security payments as a couple or apply for death benefits in an ICBC car insurance claim. For such benefits, time requirements for the duration of the spousal relationship are often different from those under provincial law.

The lawyers at Peterson Stark Scott can provide guidance to unmarried parties to determine and protect their rights and responsibilities.

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