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Common Law Relationships in Alberta

Understand Alberta's common law partnerships: Navigate rights, responsibilities, and benefits under Adult Interdependent Partnership laws.

Common Law Relationships in Alberta

Key Takeaways

  • Alberta uses "Adult Interdependent Partnership" (AIP) instead of "common-law" since 2003 for non-marital relationships with legal recognition.
  • AIPs require living together for 3 years, having a child, or signing an agreement to be recognized.
  • AIPs don't need to be romantic; platonic relationships and family members can qualify.
  • Legal rights similar to marriage include property division, insurance, taxation benefits, and inheritance rights.
  • Ending an AIP requires mutual agreement, living apart for a year, marriage, or legal annulment.

Since 2003, Alberta has switched out the term ‘common-law’ couple, and now instead refers to this kind of relationship as an ‘Adult Interdependent Partnership,’ or AIP for short. These unique relationships, distinct from traditional legal marriage, have an equally unique legal framework to prevent and solve complications that may arise, just like with other legally recognized relationships.

Definition and Criteria for Common-Law (AIP) Couples

As found in the Adult Interdependent Relationship Act, a relationship may be considered as common law – now called AIP – when it meets certain criteria that qualify these two partners as being a single domestic unit. Relationships considered to be legally recognized as an AIP when the partners have lived with each other in an interdependent relationship under one or more of the following conditions:

  1. For a continuous period of at least 3 years.
  2. With some measure of permanence, even if for less than 3 years, if the couple has a child together.
  3. Or, if neither of the first two criteria are met, the couple can be recognized if they have entered into an adult interdependent partner agreement together.

While there is no official form to submit to gain legal recognition for an AIP relationship, there is a suggested format created by the province, written under the Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement Regulation. Following this template can help ensure that the written document is considered valid.

Also of note is that a relationship does not necessarily need to be romantic or conjugal in nature to classify as an AIP. Examples of partnerships that qualify include platonic relationships, family members, and in some cases, minors. The distinction is made as long as both individuals are functioning together as a single domestic and economic unit, sharing assets and responsibilities, and ultimately, are emotionally committed to sharing their lives.

There are also designated criteria for when a relationship cannot be considered a valid AIP. If any of the following apply, the relationship will automatically not be considered an adult interdependent relationship:

  • One of the partners has already signed an AIP agreement with someone else, as someone can only be in one AIP relationship at a time.
  • One of the partners is already legally married.
  • One of the partners is a minor. Exceptions can sometimes be made if the partner is at least 16 years old, if the guardians give written consent to the partnership, and if the individual is not related to the other partner by blood or adoption.
  • One of the partners does not have the capacity to understand what they’re agreeing to.
  • The agreement is signed under fraud or duress.
  • The partners do not live together, and do not intend to live together, when signing the agreement.

If two partners acting as a single economic and domestic entity do not meet the criteria to be considered an adult interdependent partnership under provincial law, they may still be considered common-law partners under federal law. It’s always best to consult with a legal professional to determine the exact legal implications of a relationship, and what the partnership may qualify as.

Legal Implications of Adult Interdependent Relationships

Partners recognized as being in an adult interdependent relationship are protected by certain rights, and are entitled to receive the associated benefits that come with the relationship’s legal recognition.

Most notably, AIP partners are given similar rights and protections as to what a married couple would have. For this reason, proving that the relationship qualifies as an AIP is the first and arguably the most important step in ensuring that the couple’s rights are protected. Doing so will help avoid any legal disputes that may arise if the relationship doesn’t meet the legal criteria.

The rights of an AIP relationship are outlined in a handful of acts, including the Family Law Act. These include benefits relating to property division, insurance and taxation, inheritance, and the right to use the home after a partner passes away. This gives individuals in an AIP relationship legal recognition and thus protection, but only if they meet the legal criteria first.

The most significant legal implications of being in an AIP in Alberta include:

  • Legal Recognition: Adult interdependent relationships receive similar legal recognition to that of married spouses. Equally, they receive similar rights and protections, up to and including spousal and child support. Gaining legal recognition for the AIP relationship can be a crucial step, preventatively settling any disputes regarding property, support or inheritance rights.
  • Property Division: For an AIP couple, property is divided similarly to how it would be for a married couple. Assets acquired during the relationship are divided fairly, but not necessarily equally, between the partners upon separation. The exact property division for AIP couples is decided case by case.
  • Inheritance: If a partner passes away with no will, and the relationship is recognized as an AIP, the surviving partner stands to inherit from the deceased’s estate. A will can specify what the surviving partner inherits, but a lack of a will means that Alberta’s estate laws will be used instead to determine what the surviving partner will receive. This may not align with the couple’s intentions for their future, making it important to plan ahead and ensure that all necessary documents are seen as legally valid.

Understanding the legal significance of an adult interdependent partnership in Alberta is essential to help individuals in such a relationship navigate their rights and responsibilities effectively. It’s always a good idea to seek legal guidance to be sure that all nuances of the partnership are understood and documented in a legally binding way.

Common Law Separation and Property Rights

In Alberta, when an adult interdependent partnership ends, the two partners must navigate the separation process, in particular for matters related to property division and parental responsibilities. Knowing the process in advance is the easiest way to ensure a fair resolution for everyone involved.

It is important to know when the relationship is no longer considered an adult interdependent partnership. An AIP ends if:

  • Both partners write a statement saying the relationship has ended, and they intend to live apart.
  • The partners live separately for 1 year, and they intend to no longer be in a relationship.
  • They marry, either each other, or someone outside the interdependent relationship.
  • A partner enters into an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement with someone else, which may only occur if both initial partners are in an AIP with each other, but have not signed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement.
  • A declaration of irreconcilability is obtained by one or both parties.

With this in mind, there are several ways an AIP relationship may end, ranging from separation to a legal marriage. If the AIP is annulled because the relationship has ended and the partners are separating, then the partners have legal rights that protect them during the process of property division.

Division of Property Rights

Firstly, if the relationship was legally recognized as an AIP, then the partners have a similar legal recognition to married couples. Because AIP relationships are legally recognized, laws concerning property division and rights apply, including any that apply to married spouses, such as the Assured Income for Severely Handicapped benefit, spousal or child support.

When it comes to actually dividing property during a separation, personal property and gifts are kept by the individual they belong to. The rest of the property is divided – not necessarily equally, but fairly – based on the situation of each partner, and the type of property in question.

Each partner keeps the property they personally brought into the relationship, as well as any personal property such as gifts, and the rest of the property is divided according to the

cohabitation agreement made. Or, if none was made, it is divided as per the Family Property Act.

Any property that is jointly owned is typically divided equally, unless a cohabitation agreement is in place that dictates an alternate plan for property division. When assessing property division, courts take into account what each partner contributed during the relationship to ensure that all property is divided fairly.

Understanding Parental Responsibilities and Support

Another important aspect to consider in adult interdependent partnerships is which partner will be performing which domestic responsibilities. This is especially true when children are involved, and even more in the event of a separation. If an AIP couple separates and there is a child’s well-being to consider, the partners will still have certain responsibilities expected of them.

Both parents are required to provide financial support to their children. In Alberta, child support is determined for AIP couples the same as for married couples. This is done based on guidelines that consider the income of both partners and the number of children involved. Specifics relating to child support after a separation can also be determined in advance, when the partners draft the cohabitation agreement.

Parental custody and the time spent with each parent is another factor to consider, one that must be made with the child’s best interest in mind. This means considering the child’s relationship with each parent, as well as each parent’s ability to care for the child, and any other factors that might affect the child in question.

To avoid any disagreements escalating into legal disputes, it is important for the AIP couple to discuss their plan for dependents in advance and to legally formalize any agreements made about child support and custody. Planning these aspects beforehand will set clear expectations for everyone involved if a separation does occur. It can also play a large role in helping any children adjust to the changes associated with the separation.

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