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Separation and Divorce or Death of a Spouse: Property Division

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Married or common-law — does it make a difference?

When couples separate, the way they have to divide their property depends on whether they were legally married or in a common-law relationship.

The reason why a couple decides to separate does not affect how they divide their property.

In this booklet, "married" means a couple who had a legally recognized marriage. This means they had a marriage ceremony performed by someone with the legal power to marry them, for example, a judge, justice of the peace, or religious official.

For family law issues like spousal support, child support, decision-making responsibility, and parenting time, it does not matter if you and your spouse were legally married or living common-law. The rules are the same.

Decision-making responsibility and parenting time used to be called custody and access.

But the rules are different for other issues like:

  • dividing property
  • who can stay in or sell the family home
  • dividing property in your spouse's will

For these issues, being married or common-law makes a difference. For example, married couples automatically share the value of their property if they separate or if one spouse dies. This is not true for common-law couples.