Cohabiting or AIR Partners May Not Have Property Rights

You didn’t get married, and your relationship has ended. Under Alberta family law, do you have property rights?

The Adult Interdependent Relationship (‘AIR’)

Adults over the age of 18 can form an Adult Interdependent Relationship with another adult. This doesn’t have to be a sexual relationship; parents and their adult children, or two friends, can also form AIRs. There are two ways to do this:

  • If you and your partner are related by blood or adoption and make a formal and valid Adult Interdependent Relationship agreement to become Adult Interdependent Partners; or
  • You and your partner may become Adult Interdependent Partners if you have
    • Lived together in a ‘Relationship of Interdependence’ for at least three continuous years; or
    • Lived with the other person in a ‘Relationship of Interdependence’ of some permanence where there is a child of the relationship (either by birth or adoption).

People 16 or 17 years of age may join an AIR if they have a guardian’s consent.

Adult Interdependent Partners’ Rights

Adult Interdependent Partners do have some similar rights to married couples:

  • Partners can apply for financial support if the relationship ends;
  • Partners can be covered together under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan;
  • Upon the death of a partner
    • The survivor may be able to claim benefits
    • If the partner died intestate, the other partner may receive all or part of the deceased partner’s estate; and
    • If the partner made a will before ending the agreement, the surviving partner must be named in the will to receive benefits from the estate.

Adult Interdependent Partners’ Rights Do Not Include Property Rights

An Adult Interdependent Partnership is not a marriage. Property brought into an AIR, or acquired during the AIR, belongs to the person who purchased it. A partner in an AIR cannot claim the other partner’s property.

As ever, there are exceptions to this rule. If a partner directly or indirectly contributes to the other partner’s property, they may be able to claim rights in it:

  • Direct contributions include making mortgage or utility payments, or for renovations.
  • Indirect contributions include child care, housekeeping, or decorating the house.

A partner should seek legal advice to determine if they can make a claim to the other partner’s property.

Property that both parties purchased and have joint title in legally belongs to both parties. A partner cannot use or sell jointly-owned property without the other partner’s permission. One partner can offer to buy the property from the other partner, or they can agree to sell the property and divide the proceeds equally.

Cohabiting Couples’ Property Rights

People who are cohabiting but aren’t eligible to become Adult Interdependent Partners have the same problems with property. Again, property belongs to the partner who bought it, and that partner will get the property unless the other partner can make a claim to the property because:

  • The other partner helped pay for the property even though their name wasn’t attached to it; or
  • There is ‘unjust enrichment’: the other partner maintained the household, allowing the first partner to work and use their salary to pay for the house, make investments, or save money for retirement.

Cohabitation Agreements

Both Adult Interdependent Partners and cohabiting couples should prepare cohabitation agreements that state the ‘status, ownership and division’ of the property they own or acquire separately or together during their relationship. In Alberta, cohabitation agreements follow the provisions set out in the Matrimonial Property Act for pre-nuptial agreements, though they do not formally apply to them. This helps avoid property disputes and ease tensions during a trying time for both partners.

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