Understanding marriage default laws in British Columbia

On behalf of Peterson Stark Scott posted in Family Law on April 20, 2020.

In Canada, couples who are cohabiting are considered to be legally married after a certain amount of time has passed. In British Columbia, that amount of time is two years.

But some couples don’t look favourably on the government deciding their relationship status. A recent survey of couples living together in romantic relationships suggests they believe the law infringes on how they shape their relationships.

Becoming married by default after two years is something that doesn’t reflect every couple’s wishes. There are some who say the laws relating to cohabitation creates some problems in British Columbia. For instance, another study showed that many family court judges evaluate a marriage-like relationship between cohabiting couples using the same metrics they use in traditional unions to identify a “good marriage.” These may include preconceived notions about gender and class.

What is worse, analysts say, is that most couples who live together don’t understand the laws that affect their relationship. Some couples responding to the survey falsely believed they had to apply to be considered spouses after living together for the specified time under the law. Some didn’t understand that each province sets its own time limit, rather than the federal government.

Couples can opt out of the default time limit to avoid being affected by provincial legislation, but this needs to come with a lawyer’s advice.

Rules regarding family law are continually evolving, and many find those laws difficult to understand or interpret. An experienced lawyer can help you clarify issues pertaining to things such as cohabitation and default rules. They can also help you in the onerous process of opting out of the default rules, if that’s what you and your partner decide you want. Ultimately, it’s best to be clear on how your romantic relationship may be affected by the law prior to making a commitment to living together.

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