Most Canadian citizens and permanent residents who fall in love with and get married to a non-Canadian understand that they can sponsor their spouses to immigrate to Canada, and will often do so shortly after they get married. Many Canadians also understand that they don’t have to be technically married; they can sponsor common-law partners to immigrate to Canada, too. However, many do not fully understand the definition of a common-law partner for Canadian immigration purposes (as opposed to family law and tax purposes) or understand the documentation requirements. So many people apply for sponsorship later than they could have.
What is a common-law partnership?
Canadian immigration law defines a common-law partner as being a person who is cohabiting with a person in a conjugal relationship, for a period of at least one year. So, in order to sponsor a common-law partner to immigrate to Canada, you must demonstrate that you have cohabited for one year and that you are in a conjugal relationship.
Cohabitation must be continuous
Cohabitation means that you are living together, and to qualify under Canadian immigration law, the cohabitation must be continuous for one year. It cannot be intermittent, adding up to one year.
Of course, it is permissible for you to temporarily leave the home for work or business travel, family obligations and so on, from time to time. But there is no fixed rule on how short such trips must be. So you must make a judgment call on how long one of you can be away, so as not to jeopardize meeting the 12-month cohabitation rule.
You must also live together full time. Couples who live together, say, five days a week, but maintain separate residences and live apart two days a week are not considered cohabiting.
Proof of living together
The onus is on the prospective immigrant to demonstrate that they are cohabiting with their Canadian sponsor, but what constitutes proof? Many people mistakenly delay submitting their application if they do not have a joint lease or rental agreement, or own their home together.
This is a mistake. In addition to such proof, other acceptable evidence of cohabitation can include joint utility accounts (e.g., electricity, gas, telephone, internet), joint credit card accounts, joint bank accounts, vehicle insurance papers showing both partners as living at the same address, or copies of government-issued documents showing that both people reside at the same address. Indeed, cell phone bills, pay stubs, tax forms, bank or credit card statements, insurance policies, etc., which show that you live at the same address, are acceptable. And, in some situations, even reference letters from friends confirming the cohabitation may be sufficient.
After the one-year mark
It is also important to note that the one-year cohabitation requirement only needs to be strictly interpreted for one year. From that date on, couples are considered to be in a common-law relationship until the relationship is ended. So, while you must still cohabit after the initial year, you may live apart for periods of time without legally breaking the cohabitation requirement. Acceptable reasons for living apart can include work and educational requirements. In such circumstances, Canada’s immigration department requires evidence that you are continuing the relationship, such as visits and correspondence, and intend to live together again as soon as possible.
Conjugal relationship, too
In addition to demonstrating cohabitation, common-law partners must demonstrate that they are also in a conjugal relationship. A conjugal relationship is one in which there is a significant degree of attachment between two partners. Factors that are considered include sleeping arrangements, fidelity, commitment, sharing household responsibilities, and whether family and community members view the two individuals as being a couple. All conjugal relationships should feature some degree of mutual commitment to a shared life, exclusivity, intimacy, permanence and interdependency.
In order to demonstrate that a cohabiting couple is in a conjugal relationship, Canada’s immigration department accepts as proof the existence of children resulting from the relationship, photos, important documents showing that the couple are recognized as common-law partners (such as insurance or tax documents), evidence of financial support or shared expenses, reference letters and social media posts about the relationship.
The best proof
In the modern digital age, social media posts and email archives are often the best source of evidence to demonstrate both cohabitation and the existence of a conjugal relationship. It seems that posts about a couple on Facebook will generate dozens of likes, demonstrating that the relationship is public. With such proof, people often meet the definition of common-law partner much sooner than they think.
Steven Meurrens is an immigration lawyer with Larlee Rosenberg in Vancouver. Contact him at 604-681-9887, by email at email@example.com, or visit his blog at smeurrens.com.