Does Your Definition of a Spouse Mean You Sleep on the Couch?

Learning about the definition of a spouse is important in family law. This is because if you are someone's spouse, they may have rights to your property and be eligible for support. Of course, there are the obvious cases where someone is a spouse, like when people are married. Then there are the cases where people are not formally married but live together, and there is much more of a grey area.

The Family Law Act of British Columbia sets out that the definition of a spouse is someone who has lived with another person in a "marriage-like" relationship for a continuous period of at least two years. This leads to the next obvious question. What makes a marriage-like relationship?

Let's look at Kevin and Tracey. Tracey says that she and Kevin were spouses for six years. Kevin says, no way. He says that even though they remained living under the same roof for six years, that they stopped being spouses way before then. Kevin says their marriage-like relationship ended by year three.

The whole issue about whether or not they conformed to the definition of a spouse for each other is important because, now that they are separated, Tracey wants Kevin to pay her spousal support. Kevin makes a lot of money and does not want to pay Tracey spousal support for a second longer than he has to. 

Both Kevin and Tracey agree that shortly after they moved in together, Tracey revised their sleeping arrangements and started sleeping down the hallway in a different bedroom from the one she had shared with Kevin. They never again slept in the same bed. From that day forward they maintained separate bedrooms. Kevin says this was when they were no longer living in a marriage-like relationship. At this point, he says they were roommates only. Tracey said she only moved her bedroom down the hall because Kevin snored, and it was the only way she could get any sleep. Tracey says they were a typical couple in every other way. So, what is a typical couple anyways?

Although both of Kevin and Tracey say it was very infrequent, they agree that they were sexually intimate from time to time. Kevin says Tracey was a roommate with benefits. Tracey disagrees wholeheartedly. Kevin says their sexual relationship was not exclusive and that they slept with other people. Tracey disagrees and says that although Kevin was a hopeless cheater, that the expectation of monogamy was their agreement with one another.

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What Will a Judge Say About Kevin and Tracey and Their Definition of a Spouse?

Because Kevin and Tracey cannot agree as to when they stopped being in a marriage-like relationship, they are bringing this issue up before the court so a judge can decide. 

The thing is that every relationship is different. People who are in a spousal relationship may not share the same bedroom. People who are in a relationship but sleep with other people may also consider themselves as a spouse to someone. So how do we know if someone falls under the definition of a spouse?

What we did at Hemminger Law Group Westshore is look at various cases and ask questions about Kevin’s and Tracey’s relationship in relation to the cases that have previously been determined by the courts. These are the kinds of questions courts have asked when deciding about the definition of a spouse. 


a.    Did the parties live under the same roof? 

b.    What were the sleeping arrangements? 

c.    Did anyone else occupy or share the available accommodation? 


a.    Did the parties have sexual relations? If not, why not? 

b.    Did they maintain an attitude of fidelity to each other? 

c.    What were their feelings toward each other? 

d.    Did they communicate on a personal level? 

e.    Did they eat their meals together? 

f.    What, if anything, did they do to assist each other with problems or during illness? 

g.    Did they buy gifts for each other on special occasions? 


What was the conduct and habit of the parties about:

a.    Preparation of meals, 

b.    Washing and mending clothes, 

c.    Shopping, 

d.    Household maintenance, 

e.    Any other domestic services? 


a.    Did they participate together or separately in neighbourhood and community activities? 

b.    What was the relationship and conduct of each of them towards members of their respective families and how did such families behave towards the parties? 


What was the attitude and conduct of the community towards each of them and as a couple?


a.    What were the financial arrangements between the parties regarding the provision of or contribution towards the necessaries of life (food, clothing, shelter, recreation, etc.)? 

b.    What were the arrangements concerning the acquisition and ownership of property? 

c.    Was there any special financial arrangement between them which both agreed would be a determinant of their overall relationship? 


a.    What was the attitude and conduct of the parties concerning children?

The British Columbia Court of Appeal states that for people to fit the definition of a spouse, they do not have to qualify as such under a stringent checklist per se. Because every relationship is unique, when looking at the definition of a spouse, we need to look at the characteristics of the relationship as a whole. 

Although they did not have children together, Kevin and Tracey shared meals together, holidayed together, presented as a couple at family gatherings, shared finances, grocery shopped together, etc. 

When we applied the case law in Kevin and Tracey’s situation and asked questions about their circumstances and all of the factors, our analysis demonstrated that Kevin and Tracey were indeed spouses in a marriage-like relationship. Ultimately Kevin and his lawyer agreed. We had a very happy Tracey and a very unhappy Kevin.

Kevin conceded that he and Tracey were spouses.

Written by Val Hemminger, lawyer at Hemminger Law Group Westshore.

Hemminger Law Group Westshore - Lawyers with heart! Providing Family law and Personal Injury law services to the Westshore and beyond (Langford, Westshore, Colwood, View Royal, Sooke, and Victoria)!