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For many couples, the path to a long-term relationship does not involve marriage. Some opt for a common-law relationship, also called a civil union, or domestic partnership depending on where you live.

If a Canadian wants to sponsor their common-law partner for permanent residence, they will need to prove to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that they are in a bona fide relationship. For some people, getting married and being able to produce a marriage certificate is the easiest way to do this. However, it’s not the only way.

In this article, we’ll talk about the different types of partnerships recognized by IRCC and what documentation may be required if you decide to pursue an immigration opportunity in Canada.

What is a common-law relationship?

Common-law couples can be eligible for spousal sponsorship so long as IRCC recognizes you as a common-law partnership.

According to IRCC, “a common-law partnership means that a couple have lived together for at least one year in a conjugal relationship.” Unlike a marriage, the onus is on each common-law couple to prove that they are in a relationship and are cohabitating. As soon as they can provide evidence, their relationship is considered legitimate.

The gender of the spouses is also irrelevant. Every province in Canada recognizes same-sex marriage. Even if you are immigrating from a place that does not recognize same-sex partnerships, marriages, or civil unions, you can sponsor your spouse as a common-law relationship.

When providing proof of the legitimacy of your common-law relationship, immigration officials are looking to see that your relationship is legitimate and not a relationship of convenience.

What is a relationship of convenience?

A relationship of convenience is a situation where the couple is suspected of setting up a marriage or relationship simply to immigrate to Canada. This is considered fraud and could lead to consequences like deportation or being banned from travel to Canada for five years.


Providing proof for your common-law relationship

To prove that the relationship is legitimate, immigration officers will ask to see evidence that can demonstrate the couple’s partnership and prove that they are cohabitating (living together permanently).

What is cohabitation?

A couple must be living together for at least one year if one spouse is sponsoring the other for permanent residence. For immigration purposes, cohabitation means that these two people have “combined their affairs and set up their household together in one dwelling.” Any separation between the two must be temporary and short, like for vacations or business trips.

Proof of cohabitation

Some common documents that can be used to give evidence for cohabitation include:

  • A lease with both names
  • Joint bank account statements
  • Joint rental receipts
  • Evidence of joint purchases, such as household goods
  • Letters or bills addressed to both parties at the same address
  • Official documents from both parties showing the same address (individual bank statements, phone bills, etc.)

Proof of the relationship

Some evidence that couples can show to prove a common-law relationship include:

  • If they have children, long-form birth certificates listing both parent’s names
  • Joint vehicle insurance
  • Photos of the applicants together
  • Medical information listing each spouse as the emergency contact of the other
  • Evidence of financial support or shared expenses
  • Letters from family members and friends vouching for the validity of the relationship

These lists are by no means exhaustive. Many documents can be shown to immigration officers to demonstrate that your relationship is valid – take a look at the complete list here.

Prohibited relationships

As long as you can prove that your relationship is legitimate, Canadian immigration officials are comfortable giving common-law spouses the same rights and privileges as married spouses. However, there are some prohibited relationships.

These include:

  • Individuals in an incestuous relationship
  • Relationships where one partner is under the age of consent in Canada (18 years old)
  • A relationship where one partner is legally inadmissible to Canada

Even common-law spouses who are legally married to other people are considered admissible. In this situation, couples must prove that the married spouse has separated from their legal spouse, using evidence like a separation agreement, a custody-related court order, or a change in beneficiary form.

Be prepared for your application filing

If you are planning on filing for permanent residence or another type of immigration status and you and your spouse are not married, don’t worry. In Canada, sponsoring a common-law spouse or filing as a common-law partnership is permitted as long as the couple is in a legitimate relationship and has been living together for at least a year.

If you want to learn more about the process of immigrating to Canada as a common-law spouse or partner, reach out to one of our immigration partners to discuss your needs today.

Citation "What is a common-law relationship for Canadian immigration?." Moving2Canada. . Copy for Citation