How to prove your common-law relationship

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If you wish to sponsor a common-law partner to come to Canada, you must prove to immigration authorities that your common-law relationship is a valid one, and not one of convenience. That is, you must convince them that you are not sponsoring someone that you don’t have a genuine relationship with. Not only that, you also must prove that your relationship is not primarily for immigration purposes.

Furthermore, proving the validity of your relationship also applies even when you are legally married. A marriage certificate does not necessarily guarantee that immigration officials will consider your relationship valid.

As we explain below and in our tutorial on Marriage Fraud, Canada’s Immigration & Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) section 4(1) details what are called Bad Faith relationships. IRPR 4(1) lists a relationship entered into for immigration purposes and then lists a non-genuine relationship as the two reasons your common-law relationship or marriage could be considered invalid.

Yes. You could have a genuine marriage to someone you are intimate with or a common-law relationship that you feel is genuine, and still be denied your sponsorship if IRCC considers it to be a bad faith relationship, or more commonly called a marriage of convenience.

So, the question is how do you claim, or prove, a common-law relationship? As well, how do you prove that your marriage is not for immigration purposes?

These are related but not identical questions. Proving one of them doesn’t necessarily prove the other. You have to satisfy immigration authorities on both counts.

Think of it this way. There is a range of common-law relationships and legal marriages as far as validity is concerned. Consider the following table.

Details of Relationship Validity of Relationship
Sponsor and Common-law partner have lived together for slightly over 1 year in partner’s country of residence, but sponsor has travelled frequently back to Canada for work, sometimes for many weeks at a time. What little emails and text messages they have are all about when the partner will get documents enabling them to move to Canada. Sponsor is a permanent resident of Canada and is recently separated but not divorced from Canadian spouse. Very weak.




Sponsor and Spouse were married in spouse’s country of residence a few weeks after meeting when sponsor was travelling in the country. The civil wedding ceremony was not attended by any friends or relatives of either the sponsor or the spouse. There are no photographs from the wedding and no evidence of a wedding party/ceremony afterwards. Sponsor is a recently divorced Canadian who has some remaining obligations under a previous sponsorship of their ex-spouse.


Still relatively weak.




Sponsor and Spouse were married in spouse’s country after living together in a common-law relationship for 18 months. Sponsor has a business they run in spouse’s country which is how they met. Spouse is a university-educated professional with fairly good English-language skills who has visited Canada both on tourists visits with husband and on business trips. Sponsor has business contacts back home in Canada and plans to pursue some opportunities there. Wedding was well-attended with lots of invited guests and plenty of visual evidence like photographs.


Relatively strong.



Sponsor and Spouse were married after several years of common-law relationship in Spouse’s country. They have a child together and have DNA-testing for their child showing it is their biological child. Sponsor worked for a Canadian company while in Spouse’s country and now will be transferred to work at the main office back in Canada. Spouse has fairly good English skills and has visited Canada on many occasions with spouse/partner.


Very strong.



In other words, documentation is always important in convincing immigration authorities of the validity of your relationship, whether you are common-law, or married.


According to the IRPR (Immigration & Refugee Protection Regulations) a common-law couple are one who have:

  • Lived together, or cohabited, for at least one year with both partners being 18 years or older (although they can begin co-habiting at an earlier age, the relationship is only considered common-law after both have turned 18 and have then lived together for at least 1 year as 18-year-olds)
  • Done so in a conjugal relationship.

This means that a common-law relationship is what is called a de facto relationship as compared to a marriage which is a de jure (or legal) relationship. Because it is a de facto rather than a legal relationship, the onus is on the applicant to prove that their common-law relationship is a valid one. The first and principal step is to prove cohabitation.


There are several key aspects of cohabitation, and they are straightforward and common sense:

  • A common law couple lives together in the same dwelling;
  • A common law couple combine their affairs: phone bills, groceries, rent or mortgage and other expenses are shared;
  • A common law couple have continuously (NOT cumulatively) lived together for at least one year and continue to live together – this means any separation must be:
    • Temporary: for some specific short-term reason like work or travel or family affairs,
    • Short-term: for a very brief period of time.

Once a year of continuous cohabitation has been established, the separations can be a little longer if the reason is deemed valid. For example, illness, a period of study at another location, or a death in the family. But the intention on the part of the common-law couple must always be to live together again as soon as possible.

For example, if the couple has cohabited continuously for at least a year and then the Canadian partner (or the partner is someone with PR status in Canada) has had to return to Canada, they must show evidence that the relationship is a continuing one. Letters, emails, text messages, and any documents that indicate they are in constant communication and intend to reunite as soon as possible should be saved for the application.

Remember, the longer the period of temporary separation, the harder it will be to prove to immigration authorities that you are still continuously cohabiting.



In order to prove that you have cohabited for 12 months, some of the documentation you can provide includes:

  • If you own your dwelling together and have deeds or some other legal document showing joint ownership of residential property (strong evidence)
  • Leases or rental agreements in both your names (strong evidence)
  • Joint bank accounts in both your names (strong evidence)
  • Utility bills in both your names like gas or electricity or phone bills
  • Driver’s licenses or insurance policies in both names
  • Any identification documents that list you together.
  • Text messages are surprisingly important. If possible, gather all your text messages from the beginning of your relationship on a flash drive.
  • All emails between sponsor and partner are important as well. Try to gather them.
  • Photos & Social Media posts. Any photographs where the two of you are together are helpful as they tell the story of your relationships as we explain in our Spousal Sponsorship Tutorial.
    • Photos of your first date together
    • Photos of vacations together
    • Photographs with family and friends
  • As well, any other letters from family & friends attesting to your relationship are important.
  • Receipts should always be saved for the following activities:
    • Airline tickets
    • Gifts
    • Money transfers
  • Any postcards or love letters sent between you

Phone bills, letters, or photographs should be copies as they will not be returned to you. As well, send certified copies of documents like marriage certificates or passports unless you are specifically requested to provide original copies.


What kind of documentation helps prove a marriage is genuine?

  • A DNA test of your biological child – if applicable (very strong evidence)
  • Good quality Wedding photos showing spouse/sponsor/family/friends
  • A Spousal Sponsorship Letter written by the sponsor or a family member of the sponsor. Go here to read how to put together one.
  • As well, all the additional evidence listed above obviously is helpful for proving that your marriage is genuine and not for immigration purposes.


People can often have one or marriages in their past, and there are some societies that allow marriage at any earlier age than allowed in Canada or even marriage to more than one spouse. Due to this, it is important to summarize the basics of how immigration authorities will assess the validity of a common-law relationship in several types of situations.


You must have cohabited continuously for 1 year, but then – as explained above – there can be a separation at the time you apply, as long as there is proof that you intend to cohabit together again as soon as possible, and that the relationship is still ongoing. Both parties have to provide evidence that they are continuing the relationship and intend to cohabit as soon as possible.

Both parties have to complete form IMM5532e. Go here to download a copy. If are unable to open it at that link, download it to your hard drive by saving it to your pc. Then open it up from your computer (usually by going to your windows explorer or graphic user interface). You will need Adobe Acrobat to open it.

The longer you are separated with the sponsor in Canada and the common-law spouse abroad the harder it will be to prove you are still cohabiting, so you should apply to sponsor as soon as possible.


For a common-law relationship to end, at least one partner has to no longer intend to continue the relationship. If either the sponsor or the common-law partner has been in a previous common-law relationship, they will have to prove to immigration authorities that the previous common-law relationship has indeed ended and that they intend to continue in the current relationship. To prove that the previous relationship has ended there must be evidence that at least one of the partners in that previous relationship intended to end it.


For this to be accepted by Canadian immigration authorities the following must be true:

  • The person legally married must have lived apart from their legal spouse for at least 1 year.
  • There has been no conjugal relationship with their legal spouse for at least one year.
  • If the information given in form IMM5532 is deemed insufficient to establish if there indeed has been a separation from the legal spouse, immigration officials may ask for further evidence, including:
    • A signed formal declaration that the legal marriage has ended, and that the person has entered into a common-law relationship;
    • A separation agreement;
    • A court order dealing with the custody of children from the marriage
    • A change of beneficiary document, removing the married spouse from things like insurance policies.
  • The legal spouse will not be examined (will not have their case reviewed by immigration officials). This spouse will NOT be able to be sponsored at some point in the future by the principal applicant.


In general, a legally separated spouse of a sponsor who was not an accompanying family member and was not disclosed or examined (as in the case mentioned directly above) cannot be sponsored. In order for the sponsor to try and sponsor a formerly separated spouse or common-law partner the onus is on the sponsor to show that:

  • The former conjugal or common-law partnership was not dissolved solely for immigration purposes. That is, you must prove you didn’t end the relationship only in order to marry a Canadian, for example, and thus gain access to immigrating to Canada.
  • The new relationship with the previously separated spouse or partner is genuine and is not for immigration purposes only.
  • If the information you both provide on form IMM532 is deemed insufficient you may have to provide additional documentation to prove your renewed relationship is genuine, such as:
    • A mortgage or lease in both of your names
    • Documents that show both your addresses (like a driver’s license or insurance policy, for example)
    • Bank statements showing joint bank accounts
    • Canada Revenue Agency documents that show a relationship between the two of you.

Even if you are legally remarried after having been legally divorced, if your formerly separated and now-current spouse was not examined at the time a sponsor, for example, applied for permanent residence in Canada, they may be rejected.


The following relationships, while perhaps acceptable in some societies, are prohibited in Canada and cannot be the basis for a common-law or any other relationship:

  • Incestuous relationships: There are prohibited degrees of consanguinity in Canada. Distant relations (distant cousins) may be able to be common-law spouses but any near relation is not eligible to be a common-law partner.
  • Both partners must be at least 18 and have lived together for a year since they turned 18, although the relationship can have begun at an earlier age.
  • Neither partner can have been detained or incarcerated for offences that would be considered crimes under Canada’s criminal code.

So, in conclusion, the shorter any period of separation after having lived continuously for 1 year, and the more evidence you have documenting your cohabitation, the more likely your common-law spouse will be successfully sponsored to come to Canada.

Remember, however, a legal marriage is also subject to scrutiny by immigration authorities. Keep as much of your emails and text messages and gather sufficient documentation – whether you are married or in a common-law relationship – in order to give your sponsorship application the best chance possible.

Finally, the likelihood of a successful sponsorship may be less if you have previously separated and then got back together again with your common-law partner or even with your wife. This is especially true if your partner was not previously examined by authorities.