What’s The Difference Between Marriage & Common Law?


Posted by heritagelawoffices on Mar 7, 2020 in Blog, Family Law

It’s a common question – what’s the difference between being married and being in a common-law relationship? While there are many similarities, there are some differences that are worth noting! Read on for Heritage Law’s guide to the two relationship types and how they differ from one another.

Common-Law (Adult Interdependent Relationship)

In Alberta, a common-law relationship is actually called an Adult Interdependent Relationship (AIR). Common-law relationships are similar to marriages in many ways, including:

  • Spousal Support – While claims for spousal support are brought under different pieces of legislation, the same rules apply to both types of relationships.
  • Child Support & Custody – Again, while different Acts cover these terms, the laws for child support and child custody are exactly the same for both types of relationships.
  • Estate Rights – A common-law partner will receive the same inheritance as a married partner when someone dies without a will. A common-law partner will also receive the same dependents relief as a married partner.
  • Tax Implications – Canada’s Income Tax Act sees no difference between married couples and AIR – which brings with it both tax advantages and disadvantages for couples.

How To Become Adult Interdependent Partners

There are three basic ways to enter into a common-law or adult interdependent relationship:

  • Live together for three or more years
  • Have a child together and live together
  • Choose to enter an Adult Interdependent Relationship

An AIR will dissolve if the couple is separated for a minimum of one year, or if one of the parties enters into a new AIR or marriage.


In order to marry someone, a couple needs to apply and obtain a marriage license and go through a legal ceremony. While many of the rights and benefits are the same as those afforded in a common law relationship, there are a couple differences that give married couples access to a few more rights.

What’s Different?

  • Property Rights – There is no automatic right to property division in an AIR, as there is in marriage. In an AIR, each party will keep what they own individually, and any joint property is split.
  • Estate Rights – Married couples receive a dower interest in the home they live in when a spouse dies, while AIR couples have no dower rights. Dower interest means that the surviving spouse can live there for the rest of their lives.


If you have questions or would like to learn more about marriages or Adult Interdependent Relationships, give the team at Heritage Law a call!