Adult Interdependent Relationships
How is a common law relationship defined in Alberta Laws?
The term living ‘common-law’ is often used in everyday language to describe a couple that lives together, with or without children, but is not married. -
The term living ‘common-law’ is no longer used in Alberta laws. The law with regard to common law relationships in Alberta was changed in June 2003 with the introduction of the concept of ‘adult interdependent relationships’. This is called the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act (the Act).
The term living ‘common-law’ is, however, still used by the other governments in Canada. For example, in order to be considered a ‘common-law’ couple for income tax purposes, and/or for the purposes of receiving benefits under federal government programs, there is a time requirement of only 1 year of living together (as opposed to the 3 years required under the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act ).
What is the significance of the new law?
The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act provides for legal recognition of the relationship between two people who are not married. However, in order for the relationship to be recognized by the law, the relationship must have certain characteristics that are set out in the law.
The significance of a couple being recognized as an adult interdependent relationship is the rights, benefits and responsibilities that will then arise under other laws. Those rights, benefits and responsibilities will be similar to – and in some cases, the same as – those extended to spouses who are married.
For example, the Alberta Family Law Act will allow adult interdependent partners to apply for a support order where the relationship has broken down. Furthermore, an adult interdependent partner is now a “dependant” for the purposes of the Wills and Succession Act, meaning that they can apply for relief from the terms of a Will or intestacy where inadequate provision has been made for them.
There are many Alberta laws that were amended following the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act coming into force. In any situation where there are rights and obligations granted to married spouses, it is important to look into which of those rights are also extended to adult interdependent partners.
What is an adult interdependent relationship?
The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act outlines two possible ways for such a relationship to exist.
- If you have entered into a written Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement with the other person. (Please note: if two people are related by either blood or adoption, they must enter into such an Agreement in order to be considered adult interdependent partners.)
- If you are not related by blood or adoption, and you have:
- a.lived with the other person in a ‘relationship of interdependence’ for at least 3 consecutive years; or
- b.lived with the other person in a ‘relationship of interdependence’ for less than three years, but the relationship is of some permanence and there is a child of the relationship (either by birth or adoption).
The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act defines a ‘relationship of interdependence’ as a relationship outside of marriage in which two people:
- share one another’s lives;
- are emotionally committed to one another; and
- function as an economic and domestic unit.
The relationship does not have to be conjugal (sexual) to meet these criteria; it can be platonic.
How would anyone determine whether a couple is functioning as an economic and domestic unit?
The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act states that all the circumstances of the relationship must be looked at to see if it is indeed an adult interdependent relationship. The Act also states some factors that could be relevant when determining whether the couple functions as an economic and domestic unit include:
- whether the couple have a conjugal (sexual) relationship;
- how exclusive the relationship is (for example, do they each have conjugal relationships with others);
- how the couple habitually acts and conduct themselves with regard to household activities and living arrangements. This might include matters such as whether they live together, share rooms, or share chores;
- the extent to which the couple portray to others that they are an economic and domestic unit;
- the extent to which the couple formalize their legal obligations, intentions and responsibilities toward one another. This might include matters such as whether they have completed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement ,or made provision for each other in their Wills;
- the extent to which direct and indirect contributions have been made to each other or for their mutual well-being. This might include items such as payments into joint bank accounts or providing health benefits for each other;
- the extent to which they are financially dependent on each other;
- how the couple might care and support any children;
- whether the couple has bought, owns, or uses property together.
What is an adult interdependent partner agreement?
This is a formal document that two people complete to indicate that they are each other's adult interdependent partners. The document must be in the form that is provided by legislation called Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement Regulation, and it must include the following details:
- the names and addresses of the two people who are becoming adult interdependent partners;
- a paragraph that states they understand that by making the agreement they will become each other's adult interdependent partners and, as such, will have all the benefits and obligations that are then provided under Alberta law;
- a paragraph that states that the parties are each aged 16 or older, neither is married or has an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement with someone else, and that they intend to live together in a relationship of interdependence;
- a statement that the parties understand that the agreement will expire if they become former adult interdependent partners;
- the date of the agreement;
- the signature of parties to the agreement, each witnessed by two other people (and the printed names and addresses of those 2 witnesses);
- if either partner is under 18 years of age, the guardians of that person must indicate their consent by signing the agreement on the appropriate line; and
- if the people making the agreement are related by blood or adoption, they must both be 18 years old or older.
The Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement Regulation provides a form for this and is available online from the Queen's Printer (see External Resources list)
Can anyone make an adult interdependent partner agreement?
No. You cannot make an adult interdependent partner agreement if:
- you are already a party to an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement with someone else;
- you are married;
- you are under 18 years of age and related to the other party (either by birth or adoption);
- you are not related to the other party by birth or adoption, but you are under 16 years old;
- you are not related to the other party by birth or adoption, you are 16-17 years old, but your guardians have not given written consent to you entering the Agreement;
- at least one party has not freely given his or her consent to entering into such an agreement. If s/he was induced by fraud into the Agreement, or experienced duress or was pressured into entering the Agreement, the Agreement would not be valid;
- the parties were neither living together nor intending to live together at the time the Agreement was made.
Can a minor enter into an Adult Interdependent Agreement?
There are certain circumstances under which a minor may enter into an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement. There are two conditions that must be met before a minor may enter into this agreement: 1. the minor must be at least 16 years of age; and 2. the minor’s guardian(s) signed the Agreement indicating their consent of the minor entering into an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement.
I am in a relationship with another adult and we have not made an adult interdependent partner agreement. Does this mean that we are not adult interdependent parties?
Not necessarily. Making an Agreement is simply one way to determine that a valid adult interdependent situation exists. It is also possible that, even without an Agreement, your conduct shows that you share each other's lives, are emotionally committed to each other, and function as an economic and domestic unit. You must also have either:
- lived continuously with the other person in a relationship of interdependence for at least three years ,or
- lived with that person in a relation of interdependence for less than 3 years, as long as it is a relationship of some permanence and there is a child by birth or adoption.
Yes, provided you are both over 18 and you complete an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement. People who are related to each other by blood or adoption must complete such an agreement in order to be treated by the law as adult interdependent partners. Anyone who is under 18 cannot be in an adult interdependent relationship with someone who is related to them by blood or adoption.
I am 17 and I live with my boyfriend who is 19. We do not want to get married but we want to be recognized as a unit. Can we be treated as being in an adult interdependent relationship?
As a minor, you can be considered as being in an adult interdependent relationship as long as you are over 16 years old, and your relationship satisfies the criteria set out in the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act. However, if you are 16-17 years of age and you wish to enter into an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement, your guardian must give their written consent.
My friend told me that if we made an adult interdependent partner agreement we could get an apartment in a building where they only allow couples to rent. I made the agreement, but I found out that my friend made up the story about the building. Am I stuck with this agreement now?
No. An Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement is not valid if one person was persuaded to make the agreement by fraud, duress or undue influence. ‘Duress’ means that someone put a lot of pressure on you to enter into the agreement. ‘Undue influence’ means that someone used their power over you to make you enter into the agreement.
When my friend induced me to enter into an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement because he told me we could rent an apartment together in a particular building that only allowed couples, I gave him money for a deposit. Now he won't give me the money back. Can I take legal action against him?
Yes. If what he told you was untrue, the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act states that your friend is liable for monetary and non-monetary losses that you have suffered because you were induced to enter into the agreement by fraud, duress or undue influence.
Your friend would also be liable to you for losses if he persuaded you to enter into an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement when he could not make the agreement because he was already married, under 18 (or over 16 but had no guardian consent), or was already a party to an agreement with another adult.
Can same sex partners be adult interdependent partners under the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act?
Yes, provided that the relationship fulfills the requirements of the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act in one of the following ways:
- the couple have lived with each other in a relationship of interdependence for at least three years continuously;
- the couple have lived with each other in a relationship of interdependence for less than 3 years, but the relationship is of some permanence, and there is a child of the relationship (either by birth or adoption); or
- the couple has entered into an adult interdependent partner agreement with each other.
My son had a close relationship with a friend. Six months ago my son went to work abroad. His friend came to see me recently and showed me an adult interdependent partner agreement that he said my son and he had signed. He asked me for money to help him set up a business. I gave him some money, but I wasn't sure and so I checked with my son. My son told me there never was an agreement and that the relationship ended before my son left. How can I get my money back?
The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act specifically provides that where someone falsely uses an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement to claim that an adult interdependent relationship exists with someone, they are liable to anyone else who suffers loss because they rely on the Agreement. They are also liable if they allege that an adult interdependent relationship exists and in reality, it does not.
You can therefore take legal action against the friend to claim your money. Your action would be processed through the civil courts. For any amount up to $25,000, you can claim through Provincial Court. For an amount over $25,000, you must claim through Court of Queen’s Bench.
Because it is possible that the criminal offence of fraud has been committed, you can also make a complaint to the police.
Are there other circumstances when an adult interdependent partner agreement will not be valid?
Yes. In addition to being invalid if one person was persuaded to make the agreement by fraud, duress or undue influence, the agreement will also be invalid if, at the time the agreement was signed:
- one of the parties did not have the mental capacity to understand what they were agreeing to;
- the parties were not living together and did not intend to live together in an interdependent relationship when they made the agreement;
- one of the parties was married;
- one of the parties was already a party to an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement with someone else;
- one of the parties was a minor, or was over 16 ro17 but had no written consent from a guardian to make the agreement; or
- if the parties are related by blood or adoption and one or both of the parties are under 18.
I made an adult interdependent partner agreement with someone, but now we are no longer together. I do not want to be a party to the agreement anymore. Do I have to do anything formal to signify that the agreement is over?
It is possible for you to formally indicate in another written agreement with your former partner that the interdependent relationship is over, that you intend to live separate and apart and that there is no possibility of reconciliation. Making such an agreement is the clearest way to signify the end of the relationship.
Other ways in which an interdependent relationship will be treated as ended are:
- you live separate and apart for one year, and one or both of you intends that the adult interdependent relationship is over;
- you marry each other, or one of you marries a third person;
- you and your partner have lived together continuously for three years or you have lived together for a time of some permanence and you have a child together by birth or adoption, but you have no formal agreement indicating that you are adult interdependent partners, and one of you enters into an adult interdependent partner agreement with a third person;
- one or both of you obtain a declaration of irreconcilability under the Family Law Act.
Even if you did not make an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement for the time when you were together, you can still make a written agreement to signify that the adult interdependent relationship is over.
Once the adult interdependent relationship is ended in any of the above ways, you become “former adult interdependent partners”.
I was living with a partner in an adult interdependent relationship for five years. I wanted to end the relationship, but my partner did not. We split up for three months and then I agreed to try to live together again. We tried living together for eight weeks but have now split up again. Do I now have to wait for a year from the eight weeks for the partnership to be formally considered as ended?
Not necessarily. You can still count the year of being separate and apart from the time when you first split up. If you get back together for 90 days or less for the purpose of reconciliation, that period is not counted as part of the one-year separation. If you were together for a period of more than 90 days, you would have to start the calculation of one year after that period.
You could also ask your former partner if s/he is willing to sign a written agreement that the adult interdependent relationship is over. This way, you do not have to wait for a year to pass.
I have lived with a partner for eight years, but I want to end the relationship. I cannot yet afford to move out of the house we own together, but we live separately in the house. My partner does not want the relationship to end and is being difficult about dealing with dividing up the house or selling it. There is no possibility of signing a written agreement to end the relationship. In these circumstances, how can I fulfill the requirement that we live separate and apart for one year in order for the adult interdependent partnership to be over?
The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act provides that, even though one partner does not intend to live separate and apart, the one-year separation period is disrupted. In any dispute over this matter, your partner would have to establish that you did in fact live as partners for one year even though you wanted to separate. The onus of proof would be on your partner to show that the adult interdependent relationship existed throughout this period. It would therefore be important for you to ensure that your lives are as separate as possible, even while living in the same house. For example, you should have separate financial arrangements, provide no benefits to each other, and not have sexual relations.
I have been in a relationship and living with someone since 1994. As the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act did not become effective until June 2003, does this mean that I cannot claim to have been in an adult interdependent relationship until June 2003?
No. The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act applies to adult interdependent relationships that began before the act came into force, as long as the criteria set out in the Act are satisfied.
My elderly father has had a close companion for the last ten years. She started out as a housekeeper and although he still pays her for services she has also become a close friend. They do not live together. Just lately I heard from someone else that she has been saying that she is my father's adult interdependent partner and will be able to claim from his estate when he passes away. Is this right?
The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act provides that there is no relationship of interdependence where one person provides another with domestic support and care for a fee or other favours. This is also true if the person providing the service did so on behalf of an agency or government. If the friend tried claiming that she is your father’s interdependent partner by relying solely on the fact that she provides services to your father, her claim would fail.
I have two close personal relationships that I would like to formalise under the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act. Can I do this?
No. The Act provides that a person can only have one adult interdependent partner at a time.
Are there still common law rights now that there is an Adult Interdependent Relationships Act?
The law regarding ‘common law’ rights in Alberta is not entirely clear at the present time.
The term "common law" is often used in everyday language to describe a couple that lives together, with or without children, but is not married. In Alberta, the term ‘common law’ is no longer used, and has been replaced with ‘adult interdependent relationship’. However, such an adult interdependent relationship generally requires a continuous relationship of at least three years or an adult interdependent partner agreement.
The Supreme Court of Canada has said that laws that discriminate against those living in common law relationships - as compared to those who are married - may be invalid. Often, when considering common law rights, the courts have required that people show that their relationship has some ‘degree of permanence’. This is different than the Alberta definition.
There are, therefore, a number of questions that might arise concerning the status of some relationships. For example: if a couple has been together for two years, and they do not have a child by birth or adoption or an adult interdependent partner agreement, they will not be considered adult interdependent partners according to the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act; yet, as noted above, discriminating against them on this basis may be problematic. Questions such as what are the rights, if any, in childless common law relationships that are less than three years, have yet to be definitively answered.
Which laws have been changed to take into account the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act and are these changes significant?
The Alberta laws that have been amended are set out in the Act. They include:
- Alberta Evidence Act,
- Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped Act,
- Change of Name Act,
- Dependent Adults Act,
- Domestic Relations Act,
- Employment Pensions Plan Act,
- Family Relief Act,
- Human Tissue Gift Act,
- Maintenance Enforcement Act,
- Mental Health Act,
- Matrimonial Property Act (this was a word change only; the MPA does NOT apply to AIRs),
- Métis Settlement Acts,
- Municipal Government Act,
- Protection Against Family Violence Act,
- Protection for Persons in Care Act,
- Personal Directives Act,
- Power of Attorney Act, and
- Wills Act.
Some of these changes are more significant than others. One of the legal areas most affected is that of estate planning, that is, planning how you are going to distribute your property when you die. The effect of changes in the legislation means that your property may not actually end up with the people you intend it to go to.
In the situation where someone dies intestate, or without having made a will, there are now some complicated situations that can arise. For example, there may be a spouse and an adult interdependent partner, or one child and a parent may be adult interdependent partners. In the latter situation, the child who is an adult interdependent partner could end up with more than other children because of the adult interdependent partnership status. In order to avoid such difficulties it is a good idea to make a will and have some control as to where your assets and property will go. This will also avoid some later difficulties for your family.
My mother lived with her friend Jean for fifteen years before she died last year. It was a platonic relationship based on friendship and the convenience of sharing a home with someone else. My mother did not leave a will so that everything she left, including the house, was dealt with under the rules relating to intestacy. My siblings and I were amazed when we heard that Jean was entitled to get a grant of administration from the court for my mother's estate on the basis that she and my mother were adult interdependent partners. Is that right?
Yes. Even though your mother and Jean were just friends, they lived together long enough to qualify as an adult interdependent partners. Even though they made no formal agreement, if Jean could establish that their lives were interdependent as defined by the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act, there would likely be enough evidence to presume an adult interdependent relationship existed.
The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act changed who can apply for a grant of administration when someone dies without a will. An adult interdependent partner may now make the application as a "next of kin". The Surrogate Court Rules now give an adult interdependent partner the same priority as a spouse to apply for the grant.
We were further amazed when we learned that Jean was entitled to a large sum from my mother's property under the intestacy rules. Is this right?
Yes. The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act affects the Wills and Succession Act, which establishes the rules for how a deceased person's property is to be disposed of if the person did not make a will. An adult interdependent partner is now eligible to receive property in the same way as a surviving spouse. So even though your mother may not have intended this result, the fact that she lived with Jean for so many years in a close relationship resulted in this outcome.
Is there any way in which my mother could have still lived with Jean but prevented her from receiving property after her death?
Not really. Your mother could have made a Will directing where her property was to go when she passed away. However, even with careful estate planning, a person cannot contract out of his/her obligations to his/her dependents. Even if you leave a will, someone who can claim they were your adult interdependent partner could challenge your will in court and possibly obtain property or money.
My mother passed away twelve years ago and my father has been living with someone else for ten years. I know my father made a will right after my mother passed away. My father's second partner is younger than him and has children from a former relationship. My siblings and I are concerned that the will my father made will no longer be valid. Is this right?
No. The Wills and Succession Act states that entering into an adult interdependent relationship does not revoke or cancel any part or all of the Will.
Has the Dower Act been changed by the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act?
No. The Dower Act gives a married person the right to live in the matrimonial home and makes sure that the home will not be mortgaged, sold or transferred without the spouse agreeing. The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act has not amended the Dower Act because that Act only applies to spouses, which are a different group from adult interdependent partners. Therefore, this right still only extends to those who are married.
If I enter into an adult interdependent relationship can I insure the life of my partner?
Yes. The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act has amended the Insurance Act to allow for a person to insure the life of an adult interdependent partner. There are also rules which allow for an adult interdependent partner to receive certain insurance benefits under the law.
I made an Enduring Power of Attorney some years ago that was witnessed by my friend Tom. Since that time Tom and I have become adult interdependent partners. A friend of mine mentioned that my Power of Attorney may not be valid. Is that right?
An Enduring Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to give someone, called ‘the Attorney’, the power to look after your property. The Adult Interdependent Relationships Act has amended the Power of Attorney Act to provide that an adult interdependent partner cannot witness a power of attorney (in the same way that a spouse cannot). There is no provision for documents created before the amendments came into effect, but the presumption is that it applies to all powers of attorney whenever they were made.
You should therefore make a new power of attorney witnessed by someone other than your adult interdependent partner. The same is true for personal directives made under the Personal Directives Act.
Mike, my adult interdependent partner, is severely handicapped. I heard that the provisions for AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) have been changed to allow for benefits to an adult interdependent partner. Is this right?
Yes. The law that sets out the provisions for AISH now states that benefits available to a spouse of a severely handicapped person are now also available to the cohabiting partner of that person. (Source: Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped General Regulations, s 1(2).) A cohabiting partner includes someone who is an adult interdependent partner. The income and assets of the cohabiting partner will be taken into account in the financial assessment. (Source: Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped General Regulations, s 5.)
For more information, see these other Canadian Legal FAQs.
- Alberta Justice, Alberta's Adult Interdependent Relationships Act and you
- Queen’s Printer, Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement Regulation
This page was last updated in September, 2012.