Common Law Spouse Expanded

Common Law Spouse Expanded

Connor estate 2017 BCSC 978 could be a bit of a game changer for common law WESA spouses in the sense that the court finding that the parties were spouses could be an “expansion” of the concept of common law spouse.

Kent J found a long time couple to be common law spouses despite:

  • the parties maintained two entirely separate residences and did not live under the same roof;
  • each undertook their own separate domestic tasks such as meal preparation, shopping, tending to clothing and household maintenance;
  • no mingling of finances occurred;
  • sexual relations between them in their respective households were significantly reduced in the last two years;
  • Ms. Connor’s hospital records identified her marital status as single and indicated Mr. Chambers as an alternative contact identifying him as a “friend”;
  • Ms. Connor identified herself as “single” on her tax returns and Mr. Chambers identified himself as “separated” after 2012;
  • Mr. Chambers identified his wife as his “current spouse” in the spousal declaration for his municipal pension plan application in September 2011, a designation that was never changed;
  • in August 2013 Mr. Chambers declared for the purposes of his group benefits with Manulife Financial that he had no common-law spouse and he did not declare Ms. Connor as a beneficiary;
  • Mr. Chambers’ children had no involvement in the life of Ms. Connor and indeed the son was never even introduced to her; and
  • neither Mr. Chambers nor Ms. Connor displayed photographs of each other in their respective residences.

The application to determine if  Chambers was a common law spouse was opposed by her five half siblings whom she did not know.

For much of the long time relationship the male partner Chambers  lived with his wife and family and saw the female Connor when he could.

The Judge found that they never lived together under the same roof as a result of Connor being a hoarder and there was no room for her partner Chambers to reside in her residence.

She had left him her $410,000 RRSP and the Judge found it likely that while she died intestate, that she had prepared a will that had left  him a substantial bequest, but the will could not be found.

Molodov/lch v. Penttinen (1980), 17 R.F.L. (2d) 376 (Ont. Dist. Ct.), which was also relied on in the case referred to above, was invoked in a recent WESA decision to identify generally accepted characteristics of a “marriage-like relationship”, Richardson Estate (Re), 2014 BCSC 2162:

[22]  A leading authority with respect to the meaning of “marriage-like relationship” (sometimes also referred to as “cohabitation”, Campbell v. Campbell. 2011 BCSC 1491 at para. 80) is Molodowich v. Penttinen (1980), 17 RFL (2d) 376 (ONDC):

[16] I propose to consolidate the statements just quoted by considering the facts and circumstances of this case with the guidance of a series of questions listed under the seven descriptive components involved, to varying degrees and combinations, in the complex group of human inter­relationships broadly described by the words “cohabitation” and “consortium”

7 Guidelines to Common Law Relationships

(1) SHELTER:

(a) Did the parties live under the same roof?

(b) What vie re the sleeping arrangements?

(c) Did anyone else occupy or share the available accommodation?

 

(2) SEXUAL AND PERSONAL BEHAVIOUR:

(a) Did the parties have sexual relations? If not, why not?

(b) Did they maintain an attitude of fidelity to each other?

(c) What were their feelings toward each other?

(d) Did they communicate on a personal level?

(e) Did they eat their meals together?

(f) What, if anything, did they do to assist each other with problems or during illness?

(g) Did they buy gifts for each other on special occasions?

 

(3) SERVICES:

What was the conduct and habit of the parties in relation to:

(a) Preparation of meals,

(b) Washing and mending clothes,

(c)  Shopping,

(d) Household maintenance,

(e)  Any other domestic services?

 

(4) SOCIAL:

(a) Did they participate together or separately in neighbourhood and community activities?

(b) What was the relationship and conduct of each of them towards members of their

respective families and how did such families behave towards the parties?

 

(5) SOCIETAL:

What was the attitude and conduct of the community towards each of them and as a couple?

 

(6) SUPPORT (ECONOMIC):

a) What were the financial arrangements between the parties regarding the provision of or contribution towards the necessaries of life (food, clothing, shelter, recreation, etc.)?

(b) What were the arrangements concerning the acquisition and ownership of property?

(c) Was there any special financial arrangement between them which both agreed would be determinant of their overall relationship?

 

(7) CHILDREN:

What was the attitude and conduct of the parties concerning children?

[23] Other authorities have emphasized that this is not a checklist and “these elements may be present in varying degrees and not are all necessary for the relationship to be found conjugal” (M. v. H. [1999] 2 S C R. Sat para. 59; cited in Austin v. Goerz 2007 BCCA 586at para. 57: the Court of Appeal equated “conjugal” with “marriage-like” in the same paragraph).

8    In Weber v. Leclerc 2015 BCCA 492, leave to appeal to SCC refused, [2016] S.C.C A No 19, the Court again reviewed the case law respecting “marriage-like relationships”, noting:

[23]     The parties’ intentions — particularly the expectation that the relationship will be of lengthy, indeterminate duration — may be of importance in determining whether a relationship is “marriage-like”. While the court will consider the evidence expressly describing the parties’ intentions during the relationship, it will also test that evidence by considering whether the objective evidence is consonant with those intentions.

[24]     The question of whether a relationship is “marriage-like” will also typically depend on more than just their intentions. Objective evidence of the parties’ lifestyle and interactions will also provide direct guidance on the question of whether the relationship was “marriage-like”.

Trevor Todd

Trevor Todd is one of the province’s most esteemed estate litigation lawyers. He has spent more than 40 years helping the disinherited contest wills and transfers – and win. From his Kerrisdale office, which looks more like an eclectic art gallery than a lawyer’s office, Trevor empowers claimants and restores dignity to families across BC. He is a mentor to young entrepreneurs and an art buff who supports starving artists the world over. He has an eye for talent and a heart for giving back.

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