A wide variety of relationships exist, but for the purposes of relationships with legal consequences, the law has recognized common law partnerships or “adult interdependent relationships,” as referred to in Alberta legislation. For some relationships, the Adult Interdependent Relationship Act (“AIRA”) may apply if the court finds an adult-interdependent relationship, allowing a party to apply for partner support. Adult interdependent relationships can include relationships where the parties are not married. 

In this article, we will discuss the elements required to find that there was an adult interdependent relationship, as well as the legal impact of such a finding. We will discuss the case Ross v. Doehl, 2021 ABQB 1020, to illustrate how the court applies the factors for determining if there was an adult interdependent relationship. Finally, we will review key takeaways for individuals involved in a common law or adult interdependent relationship

What are the elements of an interdependent adult relationship?

According to s. 3(1) of the AIRA is an interdependent adult relationship if the parties lived together in a “relationship of interdependence” for a continuous period of not less than 3 years. 

This means that the relationship must continue for at least 3 years, so any breakups may be considered if the length of the relationship is at issue. However, the courts have noted that brief breaks in the relationship are not necessarily considered the end of the relationship. 

Also, according to the case law, the court may still find that the parties were in an adult interdependent relationship even if they maintained separate households. 

Courts will consider interdependence factors holistically 

Under s. 1(1)(f) of the AIRA:

A “relationship of interdependence” means a relationship outside marriage in which any 2 persons:

(i)share one another’s lives,

(ii)are emotionally committed to one another, and

(iii)function as an economic and domestic unit

The third factor, functioning as an economic and domestic unit, s. 1(2) of the AIRA also considers the following factors holistically, if applicable: 

(a)whether or not the persons have a conjugal relationship; (conjugal meaning marriage-like)

(b)the degree of exclusivity of the relationship;

(c)the conduct and habits of the persons in respect of household activities and living arrangements;

(d)the degree to which the persons hold themselves out to others as an economic and domestic unit;

(e)the degree to which the persons formalize their legal obligations, intentions and responsibilities toward one another;

(f)the extent to which direct and indirect contributions have been made by either person to the other or to their mutual well-being;

(g)the degree of financial dependence or interdependence and any arrangements for financial support between the persons;

(h)the care and support of children;

(i)the ownership, use and acquisition of property

It is important to note that no one factor is determinative, and the court must apply the factors together in the overall context. Also, the court will generally apply the factors with some flexibility, recognizing that various types of relationships and living arrangements exist. 

Under s. 5(2) of the AIRA, a married person cannot be in an adult interdependent relationship with another party while living with their spouse. 

Separation for Adult Interdependent Relationships 

Similar to married couples, parties to an adult interdependent relationship are considered separated when: 

  1. they have lived separate and apart for more than 1 year; and 
  2. one or both of the partners intended to end the relationship. 

The party seeking to rely on the existence of the relationship has the burden of proving such. This typically occurs when that party seeks partner support, as in the Ross case described below. 

Case Example: Ross v. Doehl (2021)

In the Ross case, one of the parties, Ross, was seeking partner support from Doehl, on the basis that they had an adult interdependent relationship. 

First period of relationship did not count towards finding an adult interdependent relationship 

After Ross and Doehl met, they engaged in sexual relations. Ross’s position was that they had a committed relationship from 1991-1997 when they first met, claiming that Doehl spent much of his personal time (i.e. when he was not working) at Ross’s residence, and they would go out for dinners, movies, and other outings. In contrast, Doehl claimed that their relationship was “intermittent and sexually convenient,” as the parties occasionally met at bars for dinner and drinks and would engage in sexual relations at Ross’s residence after. 

During this period of time, the court noted that Doehl was married to his wife, had two young children, and continued to live with them until around 1993 or 1994. Doehl eventually finalized his divorce from his wife in 1995. Therefore the period from 1991-1994 did not count towards the length of the relationship, as per s. 5(2) of the AIRA, in which a party, in this case, Doehl, cannot be in an adult interdependent relationship if they are already married. 

The parties lived together for over three years

The court found that they lived together continuously for at least three years. Doehl moved to Calgary, and Ross did so a few years after and moved in with Doehl. Ross did not pay rent, and Doehl paid for all parties’ expenses. 

Economic and Domestic Unit

1. Conjugal Relationship

The court found that the parties had a conjugal or marriage-like relationship as they cohabited together, engaged in a long-term sexual relationship, attended social and family events together, considered couples counselling, and renovated their home together. 

2. Exclusivity

The court accepted Doehl’s evidence that he had sexual relations with others, but these were unknown to Ross, who believed they had an exclusive relationship. The court did not allow Doehl to rely on evidence of other sexual relations to defeat Ross’s claim for support when Doehl did not disclose this to Ross during their relationship. 

3. Household Activities and Living Arrangements

While there were some inconsistent living arrangements (for example, Ross maintained a separate household to store some of his belongings, and the parties would sometimes stay in separate bedrooms), the court found that they met the requirements to find an adult interdependent relationship. They shared household tasks and also travelled together. 

4. Holding Out to Others

The court considered that the parties were in a same-sex relationship, which they may not have wanted to always openly express to others, given the stigma from society at the time. Eventually, Doehl introduced Ross as his partner during a 2015 Christmas family gathering, and close family members knew of their conjugal relationship. The court found that this criterion was satisfied. 

5. Formalized Obligations

The parties signed a 2001 Agreement that referred to them as “life partners.” Also, there was evidence that Doehl wanted to revise the Agreement, which suggested that he thought their relationship might give rise to claims by Ross. Also, while they lived together, Ross signed no formal lease agreement, and Doehl paid for many of Ross’s expenses. 

6. Direct or Indirect Contributions to Well-Being

The parties took care of each other’s well-being. Doehl attended Ross’s medical appointments following his motorcycle accident, and Ross provided emotional support while Doehl struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. 

7. Financial Interdependence

The court found that Ross was financially dependent on Doehl, who paid for the parties’ expenses and regularly transferred him money, which was an arrangement that the parties accepted. 

8. Care and Support of Children

While Ross was not very involved with Doehl’s children, this was not unusual as his children were from a prior relationship. 

9. Ownership, Use, and Acquisition of Property

The parties did not jointly acquire property or have joint bank accounts or credit cards. However, this was consistent with their relationship, in which Ross was largely dependent on Doehl and having joint property, bank accounts, or credit cards was unnecessary. 

Overall, the court found that the parties operated as an economic and domestic unit. 

The court finds parties shared their lives 

While the court found difficult periods where the parties did not communicate, such as during Ross’s time in jail and Doehl’s rehabilitation, overall, the parties shared their lives and intentionally continued to interact with each other. 

Parties were emotionally committed to each other

The court did not accept that Doehl’s evidence of other sexual relationships indicated that he was not emotionally committed to his relationship with Ross. The court found that there was an emotional commitment due to (at para 133):

  1. “The duration of their sexual relationship; 
  2. [Doehl’s] financial assistance to Ross; 
  3. The reference in the Agreement to them as life partners
  4. [Doehl’s] willingness to engage in couples counselling and financial planning and the activities they shared 

Earlier Separations Considered Involuntary  

The court found that some of the periods of separation were not deliberate, for example, while Ross was in jail and Doehl was engaged in treatment for his addictions. 

The court concluded that there was an adult interdependent relationship in the Ross case. 

Key Takeaways 

As seen in the Ross case, the court will apply the factors for an adult interdependent relationship in consideration of the entire context. The court takes a flexible approach, recognizing that not all relationships are the same and each has unique facts that must be assessed holistically. 

Mincher Koeman Family Lawyers Can Assist with Adult Interdependent Relationship Claims

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the various forms of relationships that exist. Even if the parties are not formally married, legal consequences may arise, including claims for partner support. Given that these findings depend on the case’s unique circumstances, you should contact one of our family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman, who are experienced in assisting parties with issues involving adult interdependent relationships. Our Calgary family law lawyers are dedicated to finding your best resolution. To book a consultation, please contact us online or by phone at 403-910-3000.

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