Marriage-Like Relationships Come in Various Shapes

By Angela Price-Stephens

Connor Estate 2017 confirms that marriage-like relationships can exist where one member of such relationship is already married.

Patricia Colleen Connor was not legally married at the time of her death, nor did she have any children.  Although her immediate family predeceased her, Ms. Connor’s father had five children from a subsequent marriage whom she did not know.  From 1993 until Ms. Connors death in 2015, she maintained an intimate and sexual relationship with a married man, Mr. Chambers, that lasted a little over 21 years.

For much of the long-time relationship, Mr. Chambers lived with his wife and family and saw Ms. Connor when he could.  Although the judge found that Ms. Connor had passed away intestate (without a valid will), he acknowledged that she has prepared a will that left Ms. Connor her $410,000 RRSP even though the will could not be located.

The application to determine if Mr. Chambers was in fact the common law spouse of Ms. Connor was opposed by her five half siblings whom she did not know. If Mr. Chambers was found not to be the common-law spouse of the deceased, the half siblings would inherit her estate.

The half siblings characterized the relationship as a long-term affair and adduced evidence of the following:

  • the parties maintained two entirely separate residences and did not live under the same roof;
  • each undertook their own separate domestic tasks such as meal preparation, shopping, tending to clothing and household maintenance;
  • no mingling of finances occurred;
  • sexual relations between them in their respective households were significantly reduced in the last two years;
  • Connor’s hospital records identified her marital status as single and indicated Mr. Chambers as an alternative contact identifying him as a “friend”;
  • Connor identified herself as “single” on her tax returns and Mr. Chambers identified himself as “separated” after 2012;
  • Chambers identified his wife as his “current spouse” in the spousal declaration for his municipal pension plan application in September 2011, a designation that was never changed;
  • In August 2013 Mr. Chambers declared for the purposes of his group benefits with Manulife Financial that he had no common-law spouse and he did not declare Ms. Connor as a beneficiary;
  • Chambers’ children had no involvement in the life of Ms. Connor and indeed the son was never introduced to her; and
  • neither Mr. Chambers nor Mc. Connor displayed photographs of each other in their respective residences.

The court looked to s.22 of Wills, Estates and Succession Act, S.B.C. 2009, c.13 (WESA) for further clarification:

[5]          While it might be unusual, it is possible for a person who dies without a will to leave behind two or even more persons who might quality as a “spouse” under WESA for the purposes of intestate estate distribution.  S.22 of WESA provides:

Two or more spouses

22(1)      If 2 or more persons are entitled to a spousal share of an estate, they share the spousal share in the portions to which they agree, or if they cannot agree, as determined by the court.

(2)          If 2 or more persons are entitled to apply or have priority as a spouse under this Act in respect of an intestate estate, they may agree on who is to apply or who is to have priority, but if they do not, the court may make the decision.

The court also looked to the judgment in Yakiwchuk v. Oaks, 2003, a case out of Saskatchewan, which further established that the presence or absence of any particular factor cannot be determinative of whether a relationship is marriage-like:

“Spousal relationships are many and varied.  Individuals in spousal relationship, whether they are married or not, structure their relationships differently.  In some relationships there is a complete blending of finances and property – in others, spouses keep their property and finances totally separate and in still others one spouse may totally control those aspects of the relationship with the other spouse having little or no knowledge or input.”

The respondents, the half-siblings of Ms. Connor, argued that it was not legally possible for Mr. Chambers and Ms. Connor to have a marriage-like relationship until after Mr. Chambers had separated from his wife. Their primary argument was that “it is a legal impossibility to have two co-existing marriage-like relationships that are recognized by the court.”

In this regard, the court disagreed and referred to Austin v. Georz 2007, a BC Court of Appeal case, to establish that:

[41]        Nothing in the history of the statutory recognition of the common-law relationships, as distinct from common-law marriages, supports the proposition that the legislature intended to restrict these relationships to persons who could legally marry.  Although the terminology has changed over time – living as husband and wife, living together as married, living as spouses, living in a marriage-like relationship – the focus has always been on the nature and character of the relationship.

Justice Kent concluded that the relationship between Mr. Chambers and Ms. Connor was of lengthy duration and was of great importance to them both.  In this respect, Justice Kent expressed that:

[53] Like human being themselves, marriage-like relationships can come in many and various shapes.  In this particular case, I have no doubt that such a relationship existed between Mr. Chambers and Ms. Connor for many years and that it continued to exist right up to the date of her untimely death in January 2015.  I therefore declare that at the time of her death, Mr. Chambers was the “spouse” of Ms. Connor within the meanings of s.2 of WESA.


Angela Price-Stephens is an English and Canadian lawyer who has 25 years experience as a litigator of complex and challenging claims. Whether you are disinherited, a personal representative contemplating litigation or facing a claim brought by a beneficiary, Angela is here to provide cost effective, practical legal advice.

For more information on this article, or for confidential discussion of your claim, contact Angela Price-Stephens at 250 869 1124, or send her a confidential email at price-stephens@pushormichell.com.