Important changes are coming to family law and to the lives of unmarried, cohabitating couples beginning in January, 2020. Currently in Alberta, unmarried couples do not have legislated property rights upon a separation. The current Matrimonial Property Act, which governs property division for married couples does not apply to unmarried couples.
Unmarried, or “common-law” couples currently have to rely on the legal principle of “unjust enrichment” contained in case law to claim a right to their spouse’s property. Under this scheme, common law claims were typically fact-dependent and yielded uncertain and wide-ranging results.
Family Property Rights And How They Work
Under the new Family Property Act which comes into effect January 1, 2020, unmarried couples will have the same property rights as married couples. A couple will qualify under the new FPA if they are considered “adult interdependent partners”. This term already exists in Alberta under the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act – the definition for “adult interdependent partner” under the AIRA is a person who has lived with another person in a relationship of interdependence for at least 3 years or potentially less than 3 years if there is a child, OR if the couple has signed an adult interdependent partner agreement. The same definition will be used under the new FPA.
Family Property Act Replaces Matrimonial Property Act
The new FPA replaces the current Matrimonial Property Act. Property division for married couples does not change under the new FPA. The court has the jurisdiction to order property to be divided in a “just and equitable” way after considering each party’s exemption claims and the factors allowed under the old MPA. In general, this means a presumption of equal division of property after accounting for exemptions unless the court finds it would be unfair to do so. Starting in January, the property division rules that have applied to married couples will now apply to include adult interdependent partners.
Impact of Family Property Act
The new Family Property Act is a significant development in family law and for the rights of adult interdependent partners going forward. If two people are living together in a romantic relationship, friends or even that of two blood relatives, so long as they are in a relationship of “interdependence” according to the definition in the ARIA, they will have new legislation apply to them that treats their property from that period of time the same as though they are married.
If you have a question about the Family Property Act, connect with us today to schedule an initial consultation.