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Is there a legal difference between being married and living together?

Question
Is there a legal difference between being married and living together?

Glossary

Clear language definitions to common legal terms. 

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Reviewed: 
July, 2016
Answer

Yes. You have more rights and responsibilities when you get married. If you are not married, you don’t get some rights no matter how long you and your partner have lived together. You have to go through a legal marriage ceremony to be married.

Living together in a marriage-like relationship without getting married is often called “living common-law” or “cohabitation”. In Ontario, there’s no formal or legal step you have to take to start a common-law relationship. In some parts of Canada, you can register a “domestic partnership”. This is not available in Ontario.

People who are engaged to be married have no special legal status. You might have some rights if you are already common-law partners. But you don’t get any more rights just because you plan to marry.

Married couples and common-law couples usually have different rights to:

  • property and debts
  • the family home
  • inheritance

Only married couples can get a divorce.

Married couples and common-law couples usually have the same rights related to their children. This includes their rights to:

Sometimes common-law partners are treated the same as married partners if they have lived with their partner for a certain amount of time, or if they have a child together. For example, they may have the same rights in the following areas:

  • spousal support
  • welfare and disability benefits
  • income taxes
  • immigration sponsorship
  • health care decisions

Married partners and common-law partners can sign an agreement if they want to change some of their rights.   

Learn more about this topic
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario/Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
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