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

3. Learn which rights might be the same

Some rights might be the same whether you are or in a . It depends on how long the common-law partners lived together or if they had a child together.

Spousal support

If you were married, you can apply to a court for .

If you were in a common-law relationship, you can also apply to a court for spousal support if you and your partner:

  • cohabited, or lived together as a couple for at least 3 years, or
  • were in a relationship of “some permanence” for any length of time and had a child together.

Even if you were married or in a common-law relationship for many years or had a child together, you don't automatically have a right to spousal support when you separate from your partner.  You have to show why you should get spousal support.

If you can prove that you should get spousal support, the court decides how much support you should get, and for how long. The amount and how long you get support doesn't depend on whether you were married or not.

Welfare and disability benefits

If you have a low income or no income, you might be able to get help from one of these social assistance programs:

  • Ontario Works (OW): Some people call this program welfare. This program is run by the local government of the town, city, county, district, or region you live in.
  • The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP): Some people call this program disability benefits. This program is for people with serious health problems or disabilities that make them unable to work. It is run by the Ontario government's Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

If you have a spouse, OW or ODSP looks at your combined income and to decide if you can get assistance as a couple.

They consider someone to be your “spouse” if:

  • you are married, or
  • you have been living together for at least 3 months, share finances, and you live together as a couple in a relationship that is like marriage.

The amount of income support you get as a couple is less than the total amount you would get as two single people.

Income taxes

If you are married, you have to report information about your spouse when you file your taxes.

If you are in a common-law relationship, you might also have to report information about your partner. You have to report it if, on December 31 of that year:

  • You lived with your partner in a relationship continuously for one year, even if you were apart for up to 90 days,
  • You and your partner are parents of a child, either by birth or adoption, or
  • Your partner has , which used to be called , of your child and your child depends on them for support.

Sometimes it is helpful to have a married or common-law partner because you can transfer tax credits to your partner, like the disability tax credit or age credit for people over 65.

Other times it is not helpful to have a married or common-law partner because the government looks at both incomes and you might get less tax credits than if you were single.

Immigration sponsorship

You can sponsor your married partner to immigrate to Canada.

You can sponsor your common-law partner if you lived together for at least one year. You could have lived together in Canada or in another country.

If you didn't live together, you might be able to sponsor your partner if you can show that you were conjugal partners.

Health care

If you don't have the mental capacity to make a decision about your health, the law says who can make a decision for you. For example, if you are in a car accident and are unconscious, someone else might need to decide what kind of medical treatment you should get.

The person who makes a decision for you is called a “substitute decision-maker” (SDM).

If you still have the mental capacity, you can decide who will be your SDM. This is usually in a separate document called a power of attorney for personal care, and not included in a or .

If you haven't made a power of attorney for personal care, the law says your SDM is assumed to be your “spouse” or “partner” unless someone has been appointed by the court or the Consent and Capacity Board.

For health care decisions, a person is your “spouse” if any of the following things is true:

  • you are married to them
  • you have lived together common-law for at least one year
  • you have a written cohabitation agreement with them
  • you have a child together

A person stops being your “spouse” if you have separated from them because your relationship has ended.

A person is your “partner” if you have lived together for at least one year and you have a close personal relationship of primary importance to both of you.

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