Posted by: SMARTER BOLDER FASTER | August 4, 2009

Protecting Your Property When Living as Common Law

Understanding Rights in a Common Law Relationship

By Elias Metlej

Four years and more than $80,000.00 later, the separation was complete. But this couple was not married and didn’t own the house together.  

The rights and responsibilities of common law partners are often overlooked, and not considered as seriously as those of married couples. If you own your home, but allow someone to live with you as common law, you must carefully consider what you are entering into.

A common law relationship exists when two people, who are not married, live together in a marriage-like relationship. The couple can be a same-sex couple or of the opposite sex.

While Nova Scotia laws dictate the rights of married couples, the rights of common law couples are not as clearly defined. Ironically, some people select common law living to avoid the legal complications of marriage. However, living as common law has proven to be more complex, especially if there is no agreement on key issues.

For example, if a person who owns a house dies without a will, their common law partner may not have any entitlement to the property or the proceeds if it is sold. Conversely, while your intentions may be to leave your home to a family member, your common law spouse may have a claim against your estate depending on the circumstances.

To best protect yourself, you can set out the terms of your relationship in a cohabitation agreement. This document formalizes the interests and intentions of common law spouses. While the agreement can address numerous legal issues, it should explicitly establish how property and debts will be divided if the relationship ends.

Cohabitation agreements can be created Rebefore a couple starts living together or at any time during the relationship. Ultimately, each spouse should get independent legal advice before the agreement is signed.

Understanding common law rights and responsibilities will foster a strong relationship. Creating a cohabitation agreement will ultimately ease the situation, and protect your home, if the relationship ends.

– Elias Metlej is a real estate lawyer with the Halifax firm Blois Nickerson & Bryson. You can write to Elias at

Reposted from the Metro Daily News (August 13, 2009)


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