Criteria For a Marriage Like Relationship-2023

The court in Bellerose v Reda 2023 BCSC 748 reviewed the law re marriage like relationships and concluded in this case that one of the parties never intended to be in a marriage like relationship and made that clear to the other party throughout their relationship on many occasions.

The principles and approach to be applied when deciding whether two persons have been in a marriage-like relationship can be summarized as follows:

a) The burden is on the claimant to prove that they meet the definition of “spouse”. The standard is on a balance of probabilities (Voth v. Martin, 2019 BCSC 834 at para. 8, citing F.H. v. McDougall, 2008 SCC 53 at para. 49).

b) Section 3 of the Act imposes both a two-year continuous “cohabitation requirement”, and a marriage-like “relationship requirement”. The cohabitation requirement is approached flexibly and may be satisfied even if the parties may have lived for extended periods at different locations (Hu v. Lee, 2022 BCSC 56 at paras. 41–42; Thompson v. Floyd, 2001 BCCA 78 at paras. 22–36).

c) The determination of whether a relationship was marriage-like requires a holistic approach in which all of the relevant factors are considered and weighed, but none are treated as being determinative of the question (Austin v. Goerz, 2007 BCCA 586 at para. 62).

d) While a “checklist” approach should not be employed, it can be helpful to consider the presence or absence of commonly accepted indicators of the sorts of behaviour that society, at a given point in time, associates with a marital relationship (Weber v. Leclerc, 2015 BCCA 492 at para. 25).

e) Such indicators of a marriage-like relationship may include: (1) shared shelter; (2) sexual and personal behaviour; (3) services; (4) social activities; (5) economic support and children; and (6) societal perception of the couple (M. v. H., 1999 CanLII 686 (S.C.C), [1999] 2 S.C.R. 3 at para. 59; citing Molodowich v. Penttinen (1980), 1980 CanLII 1537 (O.N.S.C.) at para. 16 – these are sometimes referred to as the “Molodowich factors”).

f) Evidence of the subjective intentions of the parties is important to the determination of whether the relationship was marriage-like. However, this evidence must be tested against objective evidence of their lifestyle and interactions, which will provide direct guidance on the nature of the relationship (Dey v. Blackett, 2018 BCSC 244 at para. 195).

g) A person is either a “spouse” or is not. There is no middle ground. People may live together interdependently and yet fail to establish that they developed the kind of psychological and emotional union associated with marriage (C.F.M. v. G.L.M., 2018 BCSC 815 at para. 10).

h) A marriage-like relationship is akin to a marriage without the formality of a marriage. However, it must be borne in mind that people treat their marriages differently and have different conceptions of what marriage entails (Mother 1 v. Solus Trust Company, 2019 BCSC 200 at para. 143).

See also: Coad v. Lariviere, 2022 BCCA 222 at para. 127; and Jones v. Davidson, 2022 BCCA 31 at paras. 21–24.

They effectively confirm that there is no specific definition of whether marriage-like relationships exist. In particular, such relationships are not simply defined by financial dependence, sexual relationships, or the mingling of property and finances. In sum, their existence ought not to be determined through a formulaic “checklist” approach, but rather through a contextual and holistic examination of all of the relevant aspects of the parties’ relationship.

Recommended Posts