Spouses who have separated are still legally married, even if there is a court order of separation, called a non-cohabitation order under Manitoba law. Manitoba law covers separation matters between spouses or between common-law partners, such as parenting arrangements (custody and access), financial support for separated spouses and common-law partners or their children, and division of property. Information about family law that uses the term spouses will usually apply to common-law partners as well, however the legal term in Manitoba for two unmarried persons in a common-law relationship is common-law partner, so it is important to be aware of the different terms.
A court order or formal separation agreement is not required for spouses to separate — they may simply live separate and apart. However, particularly when there are children or issues relating to property or financial support, it is wise for separating spouses to have a written separation agreement, family arbitration award, or court order.
Many people think that after a couple lives together for a certain number of years, they become legally married, although they have never formally married. This is not true. These kinds of relationships are often called common-law relationships. They are not the same as legal marriages.
However, in certain circumstances, the law does give unmarried partners or common-law partners many of the same rights and responsibilities that married couples have. These rights and responsibilities are given to both same-sex and opposite-sex common-law couples. How the law affects any person will depend on the facts of the particular case. If you have a legal problem or need specific advice, it is best to consult a lawyer who practises family law.
When Do Couples Become Common-Law Partners?
People who live together in a conjugal or marriage-like relationship are often referred to in Manitoba family laws as common-law partners. There is no single definition of common-law partners or a common-law relationship in Manitoba law.
Some laws say that common-law partners must live together for a specified period of time before each partner acquires certain rights or responsibilities. Other laws require that the two people must intend to live together in a conjugal relationship on a permanent basis, but do not set out a specific length of time.
However, every Manitoba law that includes a definition of common-law partner, includes couples who have registered their relationship with the Vital Statistics Agency, no matter how long the registered couple has lived together. It is important to look at the particular law to find out whether or not a couple qualify as common-law partners under that law.
Registering a common-law relationship is completely voluntary. Common-law couples are not required to register. A common-law relationship may be registered by completing and filing a simple form with the Vital Statistics Agency. For information on registering a common-law relationship, the fees for registering, and certificates proving registration, contact:
Vital Statistics Agency
254 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, MB R3C 0B6
Service en français: 204-945-5500
Toll free: 1-866-949-9296
Website: Vital Statistics
How are common-law partners treated under Manitoba Law?
Common-law partners who have:
- registered their common-law relationship with the Vital Statistics Agency
- lived together for at least one year and have a child together
- lived together for at least three years if there are no children of the relationship
Have the same rights under The Family Maintenance Act as legally married spouses, including the right to seek spousal support.
Children born to married spouses and those born to common-law partners have equal legal status and rights. The Family Maintenance Act gives unmarried parents certain rights respecting custody of their children. If the parents have lived together after the birth of their child, they have joint custody of the child, unless a court orders otherwise. If the parents have never lived together after the child’s birth, the parent with whom the child lives has sole custody, unless a court orders otherwise. The Family Maintenance Act also has provisions for determining the parentage of a child when this is in dispute. These provisions are discussed in the Parentage section of this website.
Court applications for orders relating to parenting arrangements, also referred to as custody of, or access to, children of common-law relationships, are no different from applications involving children of married parents. The court’s decisions are based on the best interests of the children involved, and the court must consider a number of specific best interests' criteria in deciding cases involving parenting arrangements.
Similarly, parents have equal responsibilities to support their children, whether married to the child’s other parent or not. Manitoba’s Child Support Guidelines Regulations are equally applicable to unmarried parents and to those who are married.
A common-law partner who is seeking protective relief under The Family Maintenance Act does not need to show the relationship has lasted any particular amount of time. Under The Domestic Violence and Stalking Act, people who have lived together in a spousal or intimate relationship are able to seek relief from domestic violence. Family members and people in dating relationships can also apply, whether or not they have lived together. Anyone who is being stalked and who fears for their safety is able to seek relief under this Act, and it will not be necessary to show that there has been a relationship between the parties.
Please visit the Abusive Behaviour section of this website for more information.
Manitoba’s family laws dealing with property apply to people in married and common-law relationships. The Family Property Act and many other property laws apply to common-law partners who have either registered their relationship with the Vital Statistics Agency or who have lived together for a specified period of time. The Homesteads Act also applies to common-law partners.
A person may be entitled to a share of their common-law partner’s pension credits under the Canada Pension Plan or under The Pension Benefits Act of Manitoba. In the case of a pension governed by The Pension Benefits Act, if the common-law partners separated before June 30, 2004, the pension-owning partner must have filed a declaration with the pension plan administrator, opting in to the sharing provision, for the pension to be shared.
Unmarried partners may have rights to information about partners’ pension plans under both the federal Pension Benefits Standards Act, (1985) and The Pension Benefits Act of Manitoba. Both Acts also may give a common-law partner rights to survivor’s benefits on a partner’s death.