Everything You Need to Know About Adult Interdependent Partnerships in Alberta

By David Kim, Alberta Family Lawyer

When two people get married, they enjoy new rights and benefits, such as the right to divide family property upon divorce. Historically, under the law, these rights were exclusively reserved for married people. However, since the introduction of the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act (“the AIRA”) in 2003, Alberta has expanded its recognition of adult relationships beyond traditional marriage. This includes the concept of 'adult interdependent partnerships' (AIPs), commonly known as 'common-law marriage'. It should be noted that in Alberta law, the term 'common-law marriage' has been phased out and replaced entirely by AIPs.
In this blog, we delve into the essentials of AIPs under the AIRA. We'll discuss who qualifies as AIPs, their rights and obligations, the nuances of ending an AIP, and how these relationships differ from traditional marriages. We'll also examine the concept of a 'relationship of interdependence', including how courts interpret various indicators of economic and domestic unity. Whether you're navigating a non-traditional relationship or just curious about how family law is keeping pace with our changing world, this blog is here to clear things up.

Who qualifies as AIPs?

The AIRA is a big deal not only for traditional common-law spouses but also for a wide array of different types of relationships. Under the AIRA, two individuals, whether in a same-sex, platonic, or even blood-relative relationship, can be recognized as AIPs if they meet the following criteria:

  1. They have lived together in a relationship of interdependence for a continuous period of at least three years.
  2. They have lived together in a relationship of interdependence of some permanence, and there is a child of the relationship, either by birth or adoption.
  3. Or, they have entered into an AIP agreement with the other person.
However, it important to note that there are restrictions to this. Specifically:

  1. People related by blood or by adoption have the option to become AIPs, but this is only possible through signing an AIP agreement. However, this option is not available if one of the individuals is a minor.
  2. There is no AIP if one person provides domestic support and personal care for a fee or on behalf of an organization, including government. For example, a professional caregiver hired to support an elderly individual would not qualify as an AIP, as their support is a paid service rather than a mutual interdependent relationship.
  3. A person cannot have more than one AIP at one time.
  4. And, a married person cannot become an AIP to someone else while living with their spouse.

What counts as a relationship of interdependence?

This is an important question because, for most people who do not sign an AIP agreement, what will determine whether they are in fact AIPs is whether there is a relationship of interdependence. The AIRA characterizes a 'relationship of interdependence' as a partnership outside of marriage where any two individuals:

  1. Share their lives by jointly participating in responsibilities and activities that contribute to their household.
  2. Are emotionally committed to each other, providing mutual care and emotional support that demonstrates a dedication to each other’s well-being.
  3. Function together as an economic and domestic unit.
To determine whether there is an “economic and domestic unit”, every relationship must be examined on a case-by-case basis - there is no universal set of criteria. Instead, the courts consider various indicators to make this determination, some of which are:

  • Whether or not they have a conjugal relationship.
  • The degree of exclusivity of the relationship.
  • The conduct and habits of the individuals concerning household activities and living arrangements.
  • How openly they present themselves as an economic and domestic unit to others.
  • The extent to which they have formalized their legal obligations, intentions, and responsibilities toward one another.
  • The extent to which direct and indirect contributions have been made by either person to the other or to their mutual wellbeing.
  • The degree of financial dependence or interdependence and any arrangements for financial support between the two.
  • The care and support of any children.
  • The ownership, usage, and acquisition of property.
Therefore, when cohabitating with someone, it very important to clearly establish whether you intend to enter an AIP or not. This avoids any confusion later about your relationship status, based on the factors mentioned above. The best way to do this is by creating a cohabitation agreement that outlines both parties' intentions.

What are the rights and obligations of AIPs?

The AIRA grants AIPs some of the same rights and obligations enjoyed by married spouse, including:

  1. Property rights – AIPs are entitled to similar property rights to those of married couples, which includes the division of assets upon separation. While the Alberta Family Property Act (the “FPA”) automatically applies to separations that occur after January 1, 2020, AIPs who separated before that date are not covered. However, these individuals can still choose to privately contract and agree to divide their property in accordance with the FPA, even though the Act itself does not directly apply to their situation.
  2. Support obligations – like spousal support in marriages, AIPs may be subject to support obligations upon the termination of the relationship.
  3. Insurance benefits - in an AIP, individuals have the right to insure their partner's life and are entitled to receive insurance payouts in the same manner as a spouse would.
To illustrate how these rights and obligations play out in real-life scenarios, consider the recent Alberta Court of King’s Bench case, Somers Estate (Re). In this case, a man named “DS” died in 2021 and left behind a will made in 1994. Upon his death, a woman named “LK” came forward and made a claim that she was in fact an AIP of DS and was therefore entitled to support from his estate as his will did not provide for her.

The court found that DS and LK were indeed AIPs because they:
i. Presented themselves as a couple to others.

ii. Socialized with common friends and extended family members.

iii. Constructed a new home to live in.

iv. Worked and travelled together.

v. And, shared numerous cards, online photographs, and social media posts that showed their emotional commitment.

Do I have to register my AIP?

There is no requirement to register the adult interdependent relationship when you become an AIP.
If you become an AIP through living together for a continuous period of three years or through the birth of a child, your AIP is recognized automatically. This means it begins either after three years of cohabitation or at the child's birth, without the need for any formal registration.

If your AIP is established through a signed agreement, there's no need to register this agreement with any government body. However, it's important to keep an original copy of your agreement somewhere safe. That agreement serves as proof of your AIP status and may be needed for legal or administrative purposes.

When does the AIP terminate?

Unlike a marriage, terminating an AIP does not require a divorce, which makes the process simpler. An AIP can end in any of the following ways:
  1. The AIPs enter into a written agreement declaring their intention to live separately and permanently apart, with no plans for reconciliation.
  2. The AIPs live separately and apart for more than one year, with at least one of them intending for the relationship to end.
  3. They marry each other, or one of the AIPs marries someone else.
  4. One of the partners enters into an AIP agreement with someone else.
  5. Or, one or both partners obtain a declaration of irreconcilability under the Alberta Family Law Act.

What are the key differences between AIPs and married spouses? 

Although AIPs now largely enjoy the same rights and benefits as married people, there are still a few key differences:
  1. AIPs can be related to each other by blood, but married spouses cannot.
  2. AIPs do not have the legal right to change their surname to their partner’s surname.
  3. The minimum age for entering an AIP in Alberta is 16 years, in contrast to marriage, where one must be at least 18 years old (or have written consent from a legal guardian if they are between 16 and 18 years old). 
As relationships evolve and more people choose paths outside traditional marriage, understanding the nuances of AIPs becomes increasingly important. At Crossroads Law, our team is dedicated to guiding you through these complexities, ensuring that your rights are protected, and your intentions are clearly defined.
Whether it's drafting cohabitation agreements, navigating property rights, or addressing support obligations, our experienced family lawyers have the expertise to assist you. To gain a clearer understanding of how AIPs apply to your unique situation, or to safeguard your interests in such a relationship, schedule a free 20-minute consultation with a Crossroads Law family lawyer today! Empower yourself with the right legal support to navigate these important aspects of your life with confidence.

The information contained in this blog is not legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject. The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only.