Identifying a Common Law Spouse
Common law spouses are not included in Part II of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, which governs intestate succession (dying without a valid Will).
In British Columbia, unlike Ontario, intestate laws now provide the same rights to common law spouses as to married spouses, if the couple lived together in a marriage-like relationship for a period of at least two years before the death of one of them. Recent case law out of British Columbia has grappled with the issue of identifying common law spouses in cases of intestacy.
In Austin v. Goerz, 2007 BCCA 586, the deceased had been separated, but not divorced, from his wife for six years. During the last six years of his life, the deceased lived with another woman, Ms. Goerz, as husband and wife. The deceased died without a Will. On the death of the deceased, the legally married spouse, Mrs. Austin, brought a claim seeking a declaration that Ms. Goerz was not the deceased’s common law spouse. The lower court dismissed Mrs. Austin’s claim, and she appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. On appeal, Mrs. Austin argued that the deceased, while legally married, could not have a common law spouse as he lacked the legal capacity to marry. Mrs. Austin also argued that Ms. Goerz was not a common law spouse as there was no financial dependence between her and the deceased during their relationship. Both arguments were dismissed. The Court of Appeal recognized that common law relationships can exist even though one or both partners lack the capacity to marry. Furthermore, lack of financial dependence is not determinative in identifying common law relationships.
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Bianca La Neve