Tag: definition

26 Oct

Dependant’s Support – Do common law spouses have to live in the same residence?

Stuart Clark Support After Death Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Paul Trudelle recently blogged about the Stajduhar v. Wolfe decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, wherein the court was faced with the question of whether two individuals who did not live together in the same residence could meet the definition of “spouse” for the purposes of seeking support after death pursuant to Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“). In ultimately concluding in such a decision that the two individuals did not meet the definition of “spouse”, such that the surviving individual could not seek support after death, much emphasis was placed on the fact that the two individuals did not “live” in the same residence. In coming to such a decision, the court stated:

In conclusion, I find that Branislava has failed to prove that she was a dependent spouse as defined by s. 57 of the SLRA at the time of Jeffrey’s death.  The evidence satisfies me that the couple never lived together and thus did not cohabit for any period of time.” [emphasis added]

But is such a finding in keeping with the previous case law on the subject? Do two individuals need to live in the same residence to be considered “spouses” within Part V of the SLRA?

The definition of “spouse” within Part V of the SLRA includes two people who have “cohabited” continuously for a period of not less than three years. “Cohabit” is in turn defined as “to live together in a conjugal relationship, whether within or outside marriage“. When read together, to meet the “common law” definition of spouse in Part V of the SLRA two people must live together in a conjugal relationship continuously for a period of not less than three years.

As the words “live together” are contained in the definition of spouse, when read in its literal sense it would appear self-evident that two individuals must “live together” in the same residence to be considered common law spouses. Importantly however, this is not how the court has historically interpreted the subject.

Prior to Stajduhar v. Wolfe, the leading authority on what was meant by two individuals “living together in a conjugal relationship” was the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision of M. v. H. In M. v. H., the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that in determining whether two individuals lived together in a conjugal relationship you are to look to the factors established by paragraph 16 of Molodowich v. Penttinen, which include:

  • Did the parties live under the same roof?
  • What were the sleeping arrangements?
  • Did they maintain an attitude of fidelity to each other?
  • Did they participate together or separately in neighbourhood and community activities?
  • What was the attitude and conduct of the community towards each of them and as a couple?

The Supreme Court of Canada was clear in M. v. H. that the factors established by Molodowich can be present in varying degrees, and that not all categories must be met for two individuals to be considered spouses. When the Ontario Court of Appeal in Stephen v. Stawecki applied the factors employed by M. v. H. specifically to the question of whether two individuals must live in the same residence to be considered spouses, the court concluded that they did not, and that living arrangements are only one of many factors to consider. In coming to such a conclusion, the Court of Appeal states:

We agree with the respondent that the jurisprudence interprets “live together in a conjugal relationship” as a unitary concept, and that the specific arrangements made for shelter are properly treated as only one of several factors in assessing whether or not the parties are cohabiting.  The fact that one party continues to maintain a separate residence does not preclude a finding that the parties are living together in a conjugal relationship.” [emphasis added]

The recent Stajduhar v. Wolfe decision notably does not contain any reference to Stephen v. Stawecki, nor to the Supreme Court of Canada’s previous consideration of the issue in M. v. H., such that it is not clear whether such cases were considered by the court before determining that the two individuals were not “spouses”. As a result, it is not clear whether M. v. H. and Stephen v. Stawecki will continue to be the leading authorities on the issue, such that Stajduhar v. Wolfe is an outlier decision, or whether Stajduhar v. Wolfe represents a new line of thinking for the court on whether two individuals must live in the same residence to be considered spouses.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

07 Sep

Update: Can divorced spouses be dependants?

Stuart Clark Support After Death Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Back in February 2017 I blogged about how, as a result of a recent change in the definition of “spouse” within the confines of Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”), divorced spouses could arguably no longer qualify as a “spouse” of the deceased individual for the purposes of dependant’s support. As a divorced spouse would be unlikely to be included amongst any other class of individual who could qualify as a “dependant” of the deceased, the effect of such a change was to potentially deprive divorced spouses from the ability to seek support from their deceased ex-spouse’s estate following death.

The issue centered on the removal of language from the definition of “spouse” within Part V of the SLRA. The definition of spouse previously included language which provided that a “spouse” included two people who “were married to each other by a marriage that was terminated or declared a nullity”. The revised definition provided that “spouse” under Part V of the SLRA had the same meaning as section 29 of the Family Law Act. As section 29 of the Family Law Act did not include similar language to the definition of spouse including two people who “were married to each other by a marriage that was terminated or declared a nullity”, but rather simply provided that “spouse” was defined as including two people who were married to each other or who are not married to each other but cohabitated continuously for a period of not less than three years (i.e. common law spouses), the argument was that divorced spouses could no longer be “spouses” for the purposes of Part V of the SLRA.

Much debate ensued in the profession following such a change in definition about what impact, if any, it would have upon a divorced spouse’s ability to seek support after death. Such debate now appears to be moot, as the Ontario legislature appears to have acknowledged the confusion caused by the change in definition, and has again changed the definition of “spouse” within the confines of Part V of the SLRA with the passage of the Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017, S.O. 2017, C.8 (the “Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act”).

In accordance with “Schedule 29” of the Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act, the definition of “spouse” as contained in Part V of the SLRA now reads as follows:

“Spouse” has the same meaning as in section 29 of the Family Law Act and in addition includes either of two persons who were married to each other by a marriage that was terminated by divorce.” [emphasis added]

The revised definition of “spouse” leaves no doubt that divorced spouses can qualify as a dependant of their deceased ex-spouse within the meaning of Part V of the SLRA. Interestingly, while the revised definition of “spouse” clearly includes divorced spouses, it does not contain a reference to those individuals whose marriage was “declared a nullity” as the previous definition of spouse contained. As a result, it is still questionable whether those individuals whose marriage was declared a nullity could be considered a “spouse” within the confines of Part V of the SLRA, and whether they could bring an Application for support as a dependant of their ex-spouse’s estate following death.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

Find this blog interesting? Please consider these other related topics:

Can Divorced Spouses no longer be Dependants?

Cohabitation and Marriage

Dependant Support Claims, Limitation Periods and the Vesting of Real Property

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