Family Law – Who qualifies as a Spouse?


In BC, “spouses” are entitled to certain rights upon separation including support and a shared interest in “family property”.  Two people will qualify as spouses in BC if they live in a “marriage-like relationship” for a period of two years.

Whether or not two people qualify as one another’s “spouses” under the Family Law Act requires a legal analysis.  In the recent case of CFM v. GLM, 2018 BCSC 815 [CFM], Justice Baird adopted Dey v. Blackett, 2018 BCSC 244 for the principles used to determine whether a couple is in a marriage-like relationship:

[192]     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 of them are treated as being determinative of the question: Austin v. Goerz, 2007 BCCA 586 at paras. 58 and 62.

[193]     While a “checklist” approach to this question is not appropriate, it can still be helpful during the analysis 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. A frequently-cited authority has identified these indicators as including “shared shelter, sexual and personal behaviour, services, social activities, economic support and children, as well as the societal perception of the couple”: M. v. H., [1999] 2 S.C.R. 3 at para. 59, citing Molodowich v. Penttinen (1980), 17 R.F.L. (2d) 376 at para. 16 (Ont. Dist. Ct.).

[194]     While financial dependence was at one time considered an essential aspect of a marriage-like relationship, this is no longer so: Austin at paras. 55-56.

[195]     The intentions of the parties, particularly whether they saw the relationship as being “of a lengthy, indeterminate duration”, will be important to the determination of whether the relationship was marriage-like. However, evidence of their intentions must be tested against objective evidence of their lifestyle and interactions, which will provide direct guidance on the nature of the relationship: Weber, at paras. 23, 24. In other words, “subjective or conscious intentions may be overtaken by conduct such that whilst a person living with another might not say he or she was living in a marriage-like relationship, the reality is that the relationship has become such”: Takacs v. Gallo (1998), 48 B.C.L.R. (3d) 265 (C.A.) leave to appeal to SCC ref’d, [1998] S.C.C.A. No. 238, at para. 53.

[196]     In weighing the various factors, it is also an error to give undue emphasis to the future plans of a couple, in contrast to the current realities of their respective situations: Takacs at para. 58.

Applying these principles, Justice Baird found the Claimant and Respondent did not qualify as spouses because:

  • The parties’ relationship was a tumultuous liaison frequently interrupted by sometimes lengthy hiatuses brought on by illicit infidelities and betrayals that were divisive and hurtful;
  • The parties did not live together for a period of two years;
  • The Respondent had a “leading female” in his life who was not the Claimant in the two years prior to the parties’ final separation.

Noteworthy is that the Claimant sought that certain corporations in which the Respondent had an interest be considered “family property” in which the Claimant could also claim an interest.  As a result of the decision, the Claimant was incapable of advancing her claim against the property of the Respondent.

If you would like to book an appointment with any of our family law lawyers, namely Kathleen Sugiyama, Christopher Murphy or Nathan Seaward, please contact Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202.