The Family Law Act – Changing the Definition of Spouse

Family Law Act – Expanding the Definition of Spouse

On the 18th of March, 2013 the Family Law Act came into force in BC, replacing the older Family Relations Act. Under the new act the definition of spouse is much broader; any couple that have been living together in a “marriage like relationship” for a continuous period of two years will be considered spouses.  They will have the exact same rights as a married couple, meaning certain assets will be considered joint assets.

So what defines living together in a “marriage like relationship”? This question was the key point at issue in Trudeau v. Panter, 2013 BCSC 706.  In that case the judge declared that though the couple had been living together their relationship had not been marriage like.  He did not outline a hard and fast test but suggested some indicators to consider including whether the couple:

  • Voluntarily embraced permanent support obligations
  • Referred to themselves as spouses to friends and family
  • Shared legal rights to their living quarters
  • Shared their property
  • Shared their finances and bank accounts
  • Shared vacations
  • Whether one party surrender financial independence and become economically dependent on the other, in accordance with a mutual agreement

If you are living with a person and you do not wish them to be considered your spouses it is important to be clear.  Your best option is to prepare and sign a cohabitation agreement – akin to a pre-nuptial agreement – which sets out how the dissolution of the relationship will proceed. Having everything in writing goes a long way to proving what you are saying if something ever ends up in court. To find out more about cohabitation agreements visit

If you are unable, unwilling or just too much of a romantic to create a cohabitation agreement then there are a few things you can do to keep yourself spouse free

  • Keep your finances separate, and keep clear records of who pays for what
  • Avoid using language like “our savings” or “our car” if they are in fact registered solely in your name
  • If you receive an inheritance do not spend it paying down jointly owned items, but instead consider separate savings or investments
  • If you agree to financially support another person it goes a long way to making out a claim for “marriage like”.  Make sure whoever you are living with has a separate source of income and contributes to bills

A copy of the Family Law Act can be found at:






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