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A couple for more than a decade, Maddison Spenrath and Kyle Eerbeek are, by all accounts, in it for the long haul. The two started dating in high school and, in 2008, moved from Calgary to Vancouver, settling into an apartment in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. In 2011, they toured Hawaii’s Big Island, navigating mountains, beaches and tropical rainforests on their first big vacation together – an experience Ms. Spenrath recalls as “amazing.”

There has been passing talk of marriage, but both agree now is not the time.

“We don’t see a benefit of getting married [over] our own relationship,” said Ms. Spenrath, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia. “I wouldn’t rule it out entirely, but definitely not in the near future.”

But on Monday, Ms. Spenrath, 26, and Mr. Eerbeek, 28, will be married – in virtually every legal sense. That’s when B.C.’s new Family Law Act comes into effect, granting couples who have lived together for two or more years the same rights and regulations as married couples. So while no ink has hit a marriage certificate, one partner’s new car suddenly becomes “family property”; student debt accrued by the other during the course of the relationship becomes “family debt.”

more; and below the cut, more from a gay paper.

In a little more than a month, British Columbia’s 160,000 common-law couples, including nearly 7,000 gay couples, will wake up sharing finances. They will not have signed contracts or put on wedding rings, but the law will have quietly changed around them. To understand why, you might well ask Margaret Kerr.

In June 1991, Kerr was a secretary at the Port of Vancouver when she suffered a stroke. At home and in a wheelchair, she bought groceries with her disability pension and cooked and cleaned for her common-law spouse, Nelson Baranow, while he worked as a longshoreman. Baranow took on more shifts and used the money to pay off the mortgage on his five-storey house overlooking Vancouver harbour.

When Kerr and Baranow’s 25-year relationship fell apart in 2006, Kerr asked for an interest in the house. Baranow refused. The resulting court case dragged on five years and went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada before Kerr received a share.

Even as Kerr v Baranow plodded through the courts, the BC legislature took steps to stop similar litigation from happening again.

BC’s new Family Law Act, which replaces the 1978 Family Relations Act, will give common-law spouses living together in “marriage-like” relationships for two years or more an automatic right to wealth or property accumulated during their time together. ...

But family lawyer Dennis Dahl says many gay couples choose not to marry in order to avoid property-sharing laws.

Nearly a decade after the legalization of gay marriage here, 66 percent of BC gay couples in the 2011 census remain in common-law relationships, compared to only 15 percent of straight couples.

“The vast majority of my clients have absolutely no intention of sharing absolutely everything they own starting from the time they get together,” says Dahl, whose clientele is 80 percent gay.

Dahl says gay couples are less inclined to share assets because their relationships do not suffer from gender imbalance. ...

The qualifications for a common-law relationship, Dahl says, are much lower than they once were. To have a “marriage-like” relationship in BC, you do not have to share a bank account, call yourselves married, be sexually monogamous, file taxes together, or even cohabit all the time. To “hold yourself up to the community as a couple” and share a home is probably enough.


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