Relationships can come in many different forms. In many common-law relationships, parties rely on each other for their finances and operate as an economic unit. In these situations, Alberta’s family law recognizes that a party may need to pay the other partner support after separation. This is to recognize that after the breakdown of a relationship, one party may be significantly disadvantaged after depending on the other for financial support. For example, the parties may have had an understanding that one party would be the primary provider of financial resources while the other would play a role in maintaining the household or taking care of children. However, partner support is not necessarily available in all cases, so it is important to understand when it applies in common-law relationships

This post will discuss when partner support may be payable in a common-law relationship. In Alberta, common-law relationships are referred to as adult interdependent relationships, and there are particular rules to define if a relationship is considered an adult interdependent relationship. A party may be entitled to partner support similar to spousal support in a marriage if this type of relationship is found. This post will examine the factors that determine whether partner support is payable. In this post, we will provide key takeaways for parties in adult interdependent relationships who are seeking clarity on whether partner support may be available or payable by a party. 

What is an adult interdependent relationship?

As relationships take many different forms, it is important to consider the criteria for finding that there is an adult interdependent relationship. Rights to partner support, for example, are only applicable where there is a valid adult interdependent relationship. The legislation and case law also set out criteria for finding that an adult interdependent relationship has ended, as this will affect the parties’ legal rights arising from the relationship. 

Under section 3 of the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act in Alberta, adult interdependent partners are defined as those who:

  1. Have lived with each other in a relationship of interdependence for a continuous period of 3 or more years; 
  2. Have a relationship of some permanence if they have not lived together continuously for 3 or more years, such as if the parties have a child together by birth or adoption;
  3. Have entered into a valid adult interdependent partner agreement under s. 7 of the Act.

The first category of adult interdependent relationships involves more analysis of whether the parties had a relationship of interdependence. Under section 1(1)(f) of the Act, a relationship of interdependence involves a relationship outside marriage in which 2 people:

  1. Share one another’s lives;
  2. Are emotionally committed to one another; 
  3. Function as an economic unit and domestic unit.

Section 1(2) of the Act provides further clarification to determine whether there is an economic and domestic unit. In particular, the court must consider all the circumstances of the relationship, including the following factors:

  1. Whether they have a conjugal relationship; 
  2. The degree of exclusivity of the relationship;
  3. The conduct and habits of the parties regarding household activities and living arrangements; 
  4. The extent to which parties hold themselves out to others as an economic and domestic unit; 
  5. The extent to which the parties have formalized their legal obligations, intentions, and responsibilities toward each other; 
  6. The extent of direct and indirect contributions by either party to the other or towards their mutual well-being; 
  7. The degree of financial dependence or interdependence and any arrangements for financial support between the parties; 
  8. The care and support arrangements of the children; 
  9. The ownership, use, and acquisition of property by the parties. 

Adult interdependent partners are considered separated when the earliest of the following occurs:

  1. The parties entered into a written agreement as evidence that the parties intend to live separate and apart without the possibility of reconciling; 
  2. The parties live separate and apart for more than a year, with an intention by one or both that the relationship would not continue; 
  3. One of the partners marries or enters into an adult interdependent partner agreement with a third party; 
  4. One or both parties have obtained a declaration of irreconcilability under s. 83 of the Family Law Act.

What are the factors to determine if partner support is available in an adult interdependent relationship?

Adult interdependent partners are obligated to support the other partner based on certain factors. The court will consider the same factors as when making a spousal support order between married parties, including:

  1. The conditions, means, needs, and other circumstances of each party, such as:
    1. The length of time the parties lived together; 
    2. The role that each party played while they lived together; 
    3. Any order or arrangement regarding support;
  2. The extent to which the partner receiving support had contributed to household expenses, which would have increased the payor’s ability to provide support, and vice versa.

Notably, child support obligations will take priority over partner support where applicable and where the payor can only pay for child support and not both. However, if child support is later reduced or terminated, there may be grounds to increase partner support through a variation order.

Then, the court must decide if a party has an entitlement to support, whether on compensatory, non-compensatory, or contractual grounds. 

A compensatory entitlement would arise where one party had been put at a disadvantage to support the relationship as a whole. For example, this would include situations where a party had given up their career to support the other party’s professional endeavours to contribute to the relationship’s well-being as a domestic unit. 

Non-compensatory entitlement arises when a party needs support after facing significant economic hardship upon the breakdown of the relationship. After separation, the court will assess their current circumstances compared to the other party’s living standards. 

A contractual obligation to partner support would arise if the parties had an agreement specifying the terms of partner support. 

Key Takeaways 

To determine if partner support is payable in an adult interdependent relationship, it is important to consider if the parties were in such a relationship. Then, the court must assess whether there were grounds for compensatory, non-compensatory, or contractual partner support. Partner support amounts will be determined by factors such as the length of the relationship, each party’s role in the relationship, and their respective contributions to the relationship. 

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 in Calgary and Canmore, 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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