Types of Relationships

There are two legally recognized types of relationships in Canada (marriage and common-law, both opposite-sex and same-sex) and although being married and living common law have certain similarities there are also important differences. From the point of view of the Canada Revenue Agency and the Income Tax Act, however, both types of relationships are viewed as the same.

Here is a brief summary of some of the areas that differ depending on the type of relationship you have. Your advisor and competent legal counsel should be consulted to determine how your relationship structure will affect you and your family.

The federal government has jurisdiction over marriage and divorce while the provinces and territories have jurisdiction over the solemnization of marriage. If the relationship does break down there are three main considerations:

Child Support

Legislation and the courts are first and foremost concerned with the ongoing welfare of dependent children after a relationship breakdown. The Federal Child Support Guidelines are in place to ensure that dependent children of legal marriages are properly taken care of. Although couples may choose to structure the child support privately, the courts reserve the right to cancel or amend agreements if they decide it is in the child's best interests. Provincial/territorial law will provide for child support where there is no legal marriage in place.

Spousal Support

For married couples the federal Divorce Act intends to provide an equitable ongoing arrangement for both parties and the courts have broad discretion in making awards. Factors such as the relative contributions and sacrifices of the parties during the marriage, ongoing economic self sufficiency, and prevention of economic hardship will be considered. Most provinces have specific legislation dealing with spousal support in situations where there is no legal marriage.


Division of family property is a provincial/territorial concern and as such there will be different approaches depending on where the couple lives. Although there are specific differences, all of the jurisdictions have adopted some variation on the approach of the ‘community of property' for married couples whereby the intent is to divide the assets of the family equally between the partners. Generally, the property to be divided will be the property acquired during the recognized relationship but there are definitely jurisdictional variations. The situation for common-law and same-sex couples varies by jurisdiction.

Quebec recognizes three different spousal arrangements: De Facto Unions (common-law), Civil Unions, and Marriages. Common-law relationships are called de facto unions in Quebec and spouses in such a relationship, called conjoint de fait, have the same rights and responsibilities as married or civil-union couples, regardless of the number of years the couple has lived together – with two exceptions. Firstly, they do not share the ownership of the family residence. It can be sold by its owner without the permission of his or her partner. Secondly, conjoints de fait are not legal heirs. If one person dies without a Will, his or her estate will be divided among the legal heirs, according to the succession rules of the Civil Code of Quebec. This can be remedied by both partners having Wills naming the other as heir. De facto union partners (conjoints de fait) have no legal rights between them.

Note: A further point in regards to De Facto (common law) relationships in Quebec relates to the breakdown of that relationship. The law as it stands in Quebec accords no rights to spousal support for De Facto partners. This law has recently been challenged in the courts as being unconstitutional. After contrary rulings in the lower courts, the Supreme Court of Canada recently made a ruling that the law as it stands is not contrary to the constitution. However, the government of Quebec is left with the right in the future to draft laws to allow spousal support in this situation.

Your advisor or other qualified person should be consulted to determine your specific rights and obligations under Quebec law.

The Marriage License/Certificate

The solemnization of marriage is a provincial/territorial concern and you will therefore need to obtain a license or certificate through the appropriate government department. There will be a cost, usually between $50 and $150 and it is a good idea to arrange for the license well before the wedding, perhaps two months.

Choose your province or territory below for more details:

Changing Your Name

Traditionally, when a couple married, the wife assumed the surname of her husband. Although this is still a very common practice, more women are choosing to keep their maiden name or are adopting a hyphenated last name incorporating both her husband's name and her maiden name. Some husbands are choosing to use the hyphenated version as well.

Whenever a name or names are being changed there are numerous implications, both legal and practical. Here is a checklist of documentation that must be changed when a name is changed. Many of these changes will require a copy of your marriage certificate, and in some cases, an original marriage certificate.

The Province of Quebec

Under the laws of Quebec, since 1981 both spouses keep their birth names after marriage for official purposes such as for contracts, credit cards, etc. People can use their spouse's name socially. The rule applies to couples living in Quebec even if they were married elsewhere. If a person living in Quebec wants to change their name for official purposes they would have to go through the formal legal process to do this.