While many of these older re-partnered couples have an informal understanding that their assets will remain separate, the intricacies of B.C.’s family and estates laws make that goal more challenging than they might assume — unless they have it all down in writing.
Unlike the law in some other provinces, B.C.’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act and Family Law Act make little practical distinction between married spouses and common-law ones, which means that parties need only have spent two years in a “marriage-like” relationship to be considered spouses under either piece of legislation.
Many couples unknowingly stumble into spousal relationships, with the first sign frequently coming in the form of a legal claim by one party seeking an interest in the other’s property or estate.
Without a fixed definition of the term, disputes abound in B.C. courts about which relationships are “marriage-like,” focusing on factors such as the level of commitment between the parties, their financial reliance on one another, whether they live together and how they present themselves to friends and family.