Tag: not married
As anyone who has ever watched the show Friends can attest, “breaks” can happen in any relationship. For those attempting to claim common law spousal status however, what impact, if any, do such “breaks” have upon the length of time that the couple has to be together? Do you have to re-set the clock of the relationship after every “break”, or can the “breaks” be ignored?
Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act incorporates the definition of “spouse” from section 29 of the Family Law Act. Section 29 of the Family Law Act in turn defines “spouse” as including “two persons who are not married to each other and have cohabited continuously for a period of not less than three years“. This definition is often what is being referred to when someone says that a relationship is “common law”, with significant corresponding legal rights potentially being given to the two individuals if they are found to be “spouses”.
As the word “continuously” is included in the definition, one would be forgiven for thinking that there cannot be any “breaks” in the relationship, and that you must have a continuous three year period of “cohabitation” for two people to be considered spouses. As we will see below however, this may not necessarily be the case.
I have previously blogged about the factors that the court may look to in determining whether two people are “cohabitating”, with the Supreme Court of Canada in M. v. H. having confirmed that you look to the factors listed in Molodowich v. Penttinen to determine whether to individuals are “cohabitating” to the extent that their relationship becomes spousal. For the purpose of this blog however, the interesting question which follows is whether a couple who otherwise meets enough of the factors from Molodowich to be considered to be “cohabitating”, but had a “break” in their relationship during the three year period, could still be considered “spouses”.
In Boothe v. Gore,  O.J. No. 4376, the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division) provides the following commentary regarding the effect of a “break” on a relationship:
“The law in Ontario recognizes that a man and a woman are considered to have continuously cohabitated, despite that while living together, there might have been separations for varying periods of time before reconciling. Cohabitation does not terminate until either party regards it as being at an end, and, demonstrate convincingly that this is the party’s intent. A brief cooling off period does not convincingly show a settled state of mind that cohabitation has terminated…
The effects of temporary separations depends on the intention of the parties. When one party leaves the other and provides an objective basis to believe that they do not intend to resume cohabitation and the separation lasts for a meaningful period of time, the period of cohabitation could well have been interrupted.” [emphasis added]
As Boothe v. Gore suggests, a “break” in a relationship should not necessarily preclude a finding that two persons are common law spouses. Rather, the court is to attempt to ascertain the intentions of the parties at the time of the “break”, with the spousal status only coming to a close if either of the parties regards the relationship as being “at an end“, or the period of separation lasts for a “meaningful period of time“.
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In Michael v. Thomas, 2018 ONSC 3125, Justice Ramsay awarded a dependant support claimant the entirety of the Estate net of all debts and liabilities. The dependant support claimant in this case was a common law spouse of approximately 20 years. Ms. Michael was in her late-fifties/early sixties when Mr. Chambers died suddenly from cancer without a will.
Mr. Chambers and Ms. Michael were not married at the time of Mr. Chambers’ death. Accordingly, Ms. Michael was not a beneficiary of Mr. Chambers’ Estate pursuant to the rules of intestacy. Mr. Chambers did not have any children either so the beneficiaries of his Estate were his surviving siblings and two nephews who were the sons of his predeceased sister.
Justice Ramsay found that Mr. Chambers and Ms. Michael lived modestly during Mr. Chambers’ life. They were joint owners of their home, which Ms. Michael received by right of survivorship. The home was subject to a mortgage of about half its market value in the amount of $150,000.00. Ms. Michael was also the beneficiary of a modest $80,000.00 life insurance policy and her income became supplemented by an additional $3,325 per month through the deceased’s CPP and pension benefits. Ms. Michael worked part-time and has two adult children of her own. Interestingly, Justice Ramsay commented that Ms. Michael should not have to seek support from her adult children under the Family Law Act (even though she could, theoretically) before seeking support from Mr. Chambers’ Estate.
In considering the Respondent’s case, Justice Ramsay found that Mr. Chambers did not have any other dependants and that he was estranged from the only party who responded to Ms. Michael’s claims in Court. Mr. Chambers’ sister argued that Ms. Michael already received $203,965 out of the assets of the Estate, which, including section 72 assets, were worth a total $285,000. She further argued that Ms. Michael would be able to maintain the same standard of living that she used to enjoy if Ms. Michael supplements the pension income by working full-time at minimum wage. In his analysis, Justice Ramsay squarely stated as follows:
 I do not agree. It is not reasonable to expect the Applicant to take an entry level job at the age of 62 when she is already past the point of being able to sustain full time physical labour, even light physical labour. Even if it were possible, it would only raise her earnings to the low $40,000 range, which would still not be enough to continue the modest standard to which she was accustomed. I do not think that the intestate made adequate provision for the proper support of the Applicant.
 The estate is not big enough to make periodic payments. In fact it is not big enough to provide the proper support the Applicant needs. I think that a judicious spouse would have left her the entire estate, such as it is. The Applicant is the only dependant and the only person with any moral claim on the estate. Accordingly I order the trustee to convey to the Applicant the entire residue of the estate after payment of taxes, debts of the estate and his own fees and I declare that the amounts already received or already in the Applicant’s possession are hers to keep.
Ms. Michael was also awarded partial indemnity costs from Mr. Chambers’ sister. Mr. Chambers’ sister was found to have no need for “more found money” from Mr. Chambers’ Estate because of the inheritance that she received from their mother, and that costs from the Estate would have the same effect as awarding costs against Ms. Michael.
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