Marriage Like Relationship Expanded

Marriage Like RelationshipRe Coombes Estate 2015 BCSC 2050 has expanded the definition of marriage like relationship by finding a young couple to be in such a legal relationship despite the fact they only physically co habited for approximately 18 of the 24 months required , with the other 6 months or more being physically separated by reason of employment and schooling. The couple  continued to keep in close contact in a committed relationship, albeit long distance, thereafter until the untimely death of the male.


The next of kin of the deceased claimed to inherit on an intestacy, but the Court found that the surviving spouse since she was in a marriage like relationship was entitled to the entire estate. the court found as a fact that parties remained committed and exclusive to each other and expressed a shared intention of a long time future together. Their absence apart was a temporary one, and there was no evidence to the contrary.



42      This issue has posed problems for the courts in the recently. See Neufeld v. Dafoe, 2015 BCSC 1898. The issues facing the courts were nicely summarized Yakiwchuk v. Oaks, 2003 SKQB 124at para. 10:

Spousal relationships are many and varied. Individuals in spousal relationships, whether they are married or not, structure their relationships differently. In some relationships there is a complete blending of finances and property — in others, spouses keep their property and finances totally separate and in still others one spouse may totally control those aspects of the relationship with the other spouse having little or no knowledge or input. For some couples, sexual relations are very important — for others, that aspect may take a back seat to companionship. Some spouses do not share the same bed. There may be a variety of reasons for this such as health or personal choice. Some people are affectionate and demonstrative. They show their feelings for their “spouse” by holding hands, touching and kissing in public. Other individuals are not demonstrative and do not engage in public displays of affection. Some “spouses” do everything together — others do nothing together. Some “spouses” vacation together and some spend their holidays apart. Some “spouses” have children — others do not. It is this variation in the way human beings structure their relationships that make the determination of when a “spousal relationship” exists difficult to determine. With married couples, the relationship is easy to establish. The marriage ceremony is a public declaration of their commitment and intent. Relationships outside marriage are much more difficult to ascertain. Rarely is there any type of “public” declaration of intent. Often people begin cohabiting with little forethought or planning. Their motivation is often nothing more than wanting to “be together”. Some individuals have chosen to enter relationships outside marriage because they did not want the legal obligations imposed by that status. Some individuals have simply given no thought as to how their relationship would operate. Often the date when the cohabitation actually began is blurred because people “ease into” situations, spending more and more time together. Agreements between people verifying when their relationship began and how it will operate often do not exist.

43      As Meredith said in her submission, this case is not about who has the stronger claim or is the most deserving. If Meredith is a spouse in law, then she is entitled to Gareth’s estate under the Estate Administration Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 122 (Gareth died before the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, S.B.C. 2009, c. 13 came into force; thus, the matter is governed by the Estate Administration Act). If Meredith is not a spouse under the Estate Administration Act, then the estate will be distributed in accordance with the Act on an intestacy. If she is a spouse, then she is entitled to receive the estate. Under the Estate Administration Act, a common-law spouse is defined as:

… either

(a) a person who is united to another person by a marriage that, although not a legal marriage, is invalid by common law, or

(b) a person who has lived and cohabited with another person in a marriage-like relationship, for a period of at least 2 years immediately before the other person’s death;

. . .

“spouse” includes a common-law spouse; …

44      In Austin v. Goerz, 2007 BCCA 586, at paras. 26 through 32, the court canvassed the history of the expression marriage-like relationship. In Molodowich v. Penttinen (1980), 17 R.F.L. (2d) 376 (Ont. Dist. Ct.), several of the generally accepted characteristics of the conjugal relationship were set out. At para. 16, the court consolidated various statements from previous cases as a means of analyzing whether or not the plaintiff was a spouse under the applicable Ontario legislation. The categories included shelter, sexual and personal behaviour, the conduct of the parties with respect to carrying on their lives together, their social lives, how they were viewed by their friends and the community, and economic support.

45      The leading case in British Columbia is the case of Gostlin v. Kergin, [1986] B.C.J. No. 365. In that case, Lambert J.A. stated:

The legislature has accommodated the diverse interests of different couples by use of the words “who lived together as husband and wife” in the definition of “spouse”. If a couple marry, then they are committed to the maintenance and support obligations of s. 57, no matter on what terms they live together. But if they do not marry, they are not committed to those obligations unless they live together for not less than two years, and unless they do so as husband and wife.

In deciding whether a couple lived together as husband and wife, I would be guided by the scheme and intention of the Act itself. The purpose of the legislative scheme is to impose on an unmarried couple the same obligations under s. 57 as are voluntarily undertaken by a married couple. So I would ask whether the unmarried couple’s relationship was like the relationship of the married couple in that the unmarried couple have shown that they have voluntarily embraced the permanent support obligations of s. 57. If each partner had been asked, at any time during the relevant period of more than two years, whether, if their partner were to be suddenly disabled for life, would they consider themselves committed to life-long financial and moral support of that partner, and the answer of both of them would have been “Yes”, then they are living together as husband and wife. If the answer would have been:No”, then they may be living together, but not as husband and wife.

46      In J.J.G. v. K.M.A., 2009 BCSC 1056, at para. 37, Dardi J. stated:

In summary, in undertaking an analysis of whether persons are living together as spouses, the court must examine the relationship as a whole and consider all the various objective criteria referred to in the authorities. The presence or absence of one particular factor will not be determinative. The court must recognize that each relationship is unique and, in applying a flexible approach within the context of the particular relationship, make a determination as to whether the parties intended to and were living in a marriage-like relationship.

47      Dardi J. also commented at para. 39 that:

In analyzing whether a couple had ceased living in a marriage-like relationship, the key factors included the absence of sexual relations, a clear statement by one of the parties of his or her intention to terminate the relationship, the physical separation of the parties into different rooms of the same house or different residences, and the cessation of a presentation to the outside world that they are a couple: Eisener v. Baker, 2007 BCSC 83.

48      David and Murray emphasize in their submission that the common goals and intentions of the parties must be more than plans and dreams. See Takacs v. Gallo, [1998] B.C.J. No. 600, at para. 57. They argue that is not sufficient to be a loving couple and they emphasize the relative youth of Gareth and Meredith and the relatively short time that they had known each other.

49      They referred to Ring v. Bourgeois, [1998] B.C.J. No. 2576where Bauman J. (as he then was) stated that his decision in that case at para. 8:

… reflects an application of the law. At law, human relationships sometimes must be placed on a continuum which ranges from “single and dating” to “meaningfully involved” to “marriage-like”. The placement, in any given case, by definition, is arbitrary even if it is principled.

50      In that case, the parties were clearly in a meaningful relationship and had presented themselves as a couple to their family and to friends. They had discussed marriage, but had not progressed beyond that. There were factors suggesting the commitment of the deceased had waned somewhat after they had moved in together for a time. She had decided to move to Calgary to pursue a medical degree and there was no firm commitment by either party to reunite. See also Janus v. Lachocki, 2001 BCSC 1702.

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