Cohabiting Relationships and Adult Interdependent Partners (Formally known as Common-law Relationships)


The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.

This topic discusses Common-law Relationships now called Cohabiting Relationships and Adult Interdependent Relationships.

Definition of Cohabiting Relationships and Adult Interdependent Relationships

“Cohabiting Relationships” and “Adult Interdependent Relationships” are relationships where two people choose to live together without getting married. These relationships also include same-sex couples. The term living “common-law” is no longer used in Alberta laws;as the law in Alberta changed with the introduction of the term  “Adult Interdependent Relationship”.

In Alberta, the Adult Interdependent Partnership Act defines an Adult Interdependent Partner as: a person who has lived with another person in a relationship of interdependence. The Adult Interdependent Partnership Act provides two possible ways for such a relationship to exist;

  1. If a formal and valid Adult Interdependent Partner agreement is created with the other person. (Note that two people that are related by either blood or adoption must enter into such as agreement in order to be considered Adult Interdependent Partners); or
  2. If the partners are not related by either blood or adoption, they have either;

(a) Lived with the other person in a “Relationship of Interdependence” for at least three (3) continuous years; or

(b) Lived with the other person in a “Relationship of Interdependence” of some permanence where there is a child of the relationship (either by birth or adoption). (Note: there is no requirement that you need to be aware that you are in an Adult Interdependent Relationship (AIR) or that you knew this legislation existed.)

A “Relationship of Interdependence” is a relationship wherein two people (1) share one another’s lives, (2) are emotionally committed to one another, and (3) function as an economic and domestic unit (this could mean you share bills, bank accounts, and/or responsibilities).

The new law is set out in the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act and has applied in Alberta since June 2003. However, the term living “common-law” is still used in Canadian laws or Federal laws and there may be some differences from the Federal Adult Interdependent Relationships Act (AIRA).  For example, under Federal law, in order to qualify as “common-law” for income tax purposes, the parties must reside together for only one (1) year.

If you are living in a Cohabiting and Adult Interdependent Relationship, you should know that the relationship never becomes a marriage in the legal sense. It does not matter how long you live together.

Age of Partners in Cohabiting Relationships and Adult Interdependent Relationships

It is lawful to live in a Cohabiting and Adult Interdependent Relationship (“AIR”) as long as both partners are at least 18 years of age. It is also possible to live in an “AIR” with a person under 18 years of age with their guardian’s consent. An individual who is 16 or 17 years of age may enter into an “AIR”, as long as their guardian provides prior written consent.

The old law applicable to relationships that ended before January 1, 2020 is that property belongs to the person who paid for it. Any property a partner purchased belongs solely to that person; their partnerhas no legal rights to the property purchased by their partner simply because they have lived together for a period of time. If a partner has contributed to the property, either directly or indirectly, they may have rights to the specific property. A direct contribution could include but is not limited to, making mortgage payments, utilities payments or renovations. An indirect contribution could include, but is not limited to, providing childcare while their partner worked, maintaining the household or decorating the household. You should consult a lawyer if you believe that you have earned a right to the property in your partner’s sole name and you had a long-term relationship.

Property that is purchased and registered jointly makes you both legal owners. In the case of jointly-owned property, one partner cannot keep the property for themselves and exclude the other from the use, possession or sale; therefore, one partner cannot sell the property unless they have consent from the other owner. If the property is sold, the proceeds must be shared equally. In the case of separation, one partner may also consider buying the other partner’s share in the property.

Children

If a child is born from an Adult Interdependent Relationship, the mother is considered the sole guardian and custodial parent of the child if the father does not acknowledge himself as a parent and does not demonstrate an intention to take on the responsibilities of a guardian within one year of either; (a) becoming aware of the pregnancy or (b) becoming aware of the birth of the child, whichever is earlier.

The Child Support Order may be changed if circumstances change, and the Order can be enforced across Canada.

Changing Surnames

In Alberta, a partner may not apply for a formal name change to change their surname to that of their Adult Interdependent Partner. A partner may, however, adopt their Adult Interdependent Partner’s surname. Note that this change may not be done for illegal reasons.

If a partner decides to use their partner’s surname, they should have their driver’s licence and credit cards changed to the new surname. A person may be required to keep their old name on certain other documents, such as a Social Insurance Card.

Protection of Interests

To fully protect the rights of both partners, including same-sex partners, all necessary legal documents should be drafted up. These documents include, but are not limited to, a will, an enduring power of attorney, personal directives and a cohabitation agreement. To protect your interests you should contact a lawyer to see how these documents can help protect you and your partner..

Death of a Partner

If a cohabiting partner dies, he or she must be specifically named in the deceased partner’s will to inherit any of the estate. If the partner is not specifically named in their deceased partner’s will, a previous legal spouse may be able to contest that will. If no will exists, an Adult Interdependent Partner has the same rights as a married person to inherit property. Similarly, a child from an Adult Interdependent Partnership would be treated as a child from a marital relationship.

Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.