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What is a Spouse?

In the recent Ontario court case of Climans v Latner, 2019 ONSC 1311, the Court revisited the age old question of “What is a spouse?.” While for most legally married couples, the answer is just that: a marriage ceremony – but for common law couples the court has historically chosen to adopt a flexible approach to the question, which can lead to surprising results.

In this case, the parties were together for 14 years, and both had children from previous marriages. They were never legally married, and never even lived together full time – so how would they be considered spouses?

In this case, the parties were together for 14 years, and both had children from previous marriages. They were never legally married, and never even lived together full time – so how would they be considered spouses? 

Well, Justice Shore took a flexible and nuanced approach, and stated it was generally a fact driven exercise. She looked at things such as them holding themselves out as a married couple, exchanging rings, Mr. Latner proposing multiple times, Mr. Latner paying for all of Ms. Climan’s expenses, having a sexual relationship, travelling together, and living at Mr. Latner’s cottage together all summer. When the judge looked at the factual matrix, she concluded that the couple indeed did live as spouses, even though both had separate addresses for the duration of their relationship. Living at separate homes was simply due to child-related obligations both parties had. 

So, when determining whether someone is a spouse or not, a Court will have to look at all aspects of the relationship, and not living together is not an ultimate bar to being considered a spouse under the law.

Once again, the court confirms there is no “bright line” test for what is and is not a spouse, and in fact, a spouse can be someone you have never fully lived with, and is extremely fact specific.

What does this mean for the future of family law in Ontario? Separating couples should be aware that even if they do not live together in the regular sense, other factors such as finances blending, seasonal cohabitation, and other factors could have a court finding they were common law spouses, and the answer to whether you are a spouse may not be as cut and dry as you would think. 

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