by Jeremy D Morley
In British Columbia, Canada, unmarried partners may be deemed to be in a “spousal relationship” that entitles them to be treated as spouses for the purpose of securing financial remedies upon the termination of the relationship as if they were actually married. Section 3 of the Family Law Act of British Columbia provides that such a relationship exists if it is a “marriage-like relationship,” but it does not define the term.
For the purpose of being entitled to a division of assets or debt, the relationship must have existed for two years. For spousal support, it can be less than two years if the partners have a child.
In A.J.L v. J.C., 2023 BCSC 664, the Supreme Court of British Columbia analyzed the parties’ relationship in great detail to determine whether their relationship had been “marriage-like.” The claimant asserted that she and other party were together for eight years. However, while they resided in the same home for a few months, they spent most of the time in separate residences. The trial occupied 27 days, much of which was devoted to what the court described as “laboriously reviewing electronic data downloaded from the claimant’s phone so as to detail the parties’ interactions on an almost daily basis.”
The B.C. courts have frequently considered the meaning of the term “marriage-like relationship,” but basically they merely conclude that any and all evidence concerning the nature of the parties’ relationship can be considered and that no one element is necessarily determinative. Indeed, they insist that a court “must take a holistic approach,” recognizing that spousal relationships “are many and varied.” Austin v. Goerz, 2007, BCCA 586.
In A.J.L, the court focused on the following facts: the parties had never commingled their finances, had maintained separate residences, had identified their separate residences as “home,” had never included the other in their estate planning, had filed taxes separately, had mostly kept their possessions in their separate residences, had rarely intermingled their families for joint celebrations or vacations, and had not held themselves out as married to the outside world.
The court held that the totality of such factors led to the conclusion that the claimant had failed to establish that the parties were spouses at any time over the entire eight-year period of their relationship.