The Law Is Changing. Are The People?

December 20, 2011
Leisha Murphy

Cohabitation is on the rise, but is it really an alternative to marriage?

According to University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby, cohabitation is predominantly a “premarital, intermarital and post-marital experience.”  Support for Bibby’s position is found in Canadian statistics; common law partners grew at a pace five times faster than married couples between the years 2006 to 2011, with the vast majority of these common law couples either aged 20 to 24 or over age 60.

While 77% of people between the ages of 20 to 24 in the sample pool approved of common law relationships, only 53% were comfortable with common law couples having children. Therefore, young adults’ ideas of family have not changed as much as the statistics would suggest.

The law has changed to supposedly accommodate new societal norms surrounding family and couples; however, our ideas of family may not have progressed as much as the new law suggests.

Interestingly, the pre-marriage deductions contained in the new Family Law Act may be the most beneficial and relevant to common law couples over-60. The reason this age group stands to benefit most from the change in the law is because traditionally they have built up the most assets and as a result have the most to lose when entering a common law relationship.

In contrast, the 20 to 24 age group traditionally has few assets or in many cases is shouldering a huge student debt. Further, according to the stats, this group tends to get married before having children and as a result conflates their assets in any event.

The “jig” may be up before most couples get married, but marriage is definitely here to stay. Unless you are in the infancy of adulthood or in your twilight years (where society gives you some slack), marriage is still an important part of belonging and “fitting in”.

Leisha Murphy
Leisha Murphy
Partner (Vancouver)
Connect Family Law

Leisha has practised exclusively in the area of family law since being called to the British Columbia Bar in 2010. Before opening Connect Family Law in 2015, she practiced in the family law group of a leading British Columbia law firm.