If you’re applying for a temporary or permanent immigration status to Canada through Quebec or at the federal level, you’ve probably seen the expression “common-law partners” (“conjoints de fait” in French).

But what does it mean, exactly? How does the Canadian government legally define it?

It’s worth investigating, because being married or in a common-law relationship (as defined by the Canadian government) can be helpful if one of you secured a work or study permit—for instance, an open work permit could be an option for the accompanying spouse or partner. Read IEC Canada – Spouse or Common-Law Partner Open Work Permit 101 for more details!

Now, let’s focus on the definition of “common-law partner”…

What’s a common-law partnership in Canada?

To be considered common-law partners, a couple—same or opposite sex—must have lived together for at least 12 consecutive months in a conjugal relationship. Evidence to support their cohabitation in a conjugal relationship may be required, e.g. both names on bills, joint lease, bank account, etc.
Two roommates will not be considered common-law partners, for instance.

What’s the difference between spouses and common-law partners?

Married couples have the same “privileges” as common-law partners. The only difference is that you don’t have to prove that you have lived together for at least 12 consecutive months—just being married is enough, even if you haven’t lived together for at least 12 months yet.

Do we have to prove that we’re in a common-law partnership?

You may have to prove it in certain situations. Let’s look at two examples:

  • If both of you are going to Canada on a Working Holiday Permit, you will not be asked to prove common-law partnership. It’s irrelevant since you both have your own permit.
  • If one of you is going to Canada on a Young Professionals Work Permit to work in a skilled occupation and the other half of the couple is planning to apply for an open work permit as the spouse or common-law partner of a skilled worker, you will have to prove that you are common-law partners or spouses.

How are we supposed to prove we’re spouses or common-law partners?

Married couples can provide a copy of their marriage certificate.
Common-law partners will have to provide evidence supporting cohabitation in a conjugal relationship for at least 12 consecutive months. Acceptable proof includes:

  • a joint lease or rental agreement
  • a joint bank account,
  • bills for shared utility accounts (electricity, gas, telephone, taxes, etc.)
  • official documents showing the same address (passport, ID card, driver’s license, homeowner or renter insurance)

This evidence must show that you have been living together for at least 12 months, so make sure to send older documents, not just recent ones.

Read How can my common-law partner and I prove we have been together for 12 months? for more details.

Are other forms of civil union (like the French PACS or the Civil partnership in the UK) enough proof that we’re common-law partners?

You still have to prove that you’ve been living together for at least 12 months. It can be a piece of evidence, that’s it.

And what if we’re apart for a few months during the course of a 12-month common-law partnership?

If one of you has to go to Canada, for instance, a few weeks or months before the other partner:

  • This is not a problem for married couples.
  • For common-law partners, the Government of Canada specifies that the “separation must be temporary and short.” Generally speaking, you shouldn’t be apart for more than 90 consecutive days otherwise you may no longer be considered common-law partners by Canada and you must live together again for 12 consecutive months to regain that status.

If you have any other questions about common-law status in Canada, feel free to leave a comment!


Cofondatrice de pvtistes.net, j'ai fait 2 PVT, au Canada et en Australie. Deux expériences incroyables ! Je vous retrouve régulièrement sur nos comptes Insta et Tiktok @pvtistes avec plein d'infos utiles !
Cofounder of pvtistes.net. I went to Canada and Australia on Working Holiday aventures. It was amazing!

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EmmaCaliota I |
If my partner is abroad for work reasons for 4 months, but I visit him during this time for 2 weeks, can we consider this visit as cohabitation?