National Post

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Common-law families on the rise

Account for 13.8% of households with children

Tom Arnold
National Post

Joann Hussey and Doug Clapp have been happily together for more than 10 years. They have two young children, own a house as well as a business, but have no anniversary to celebrate.

The common-law couple first met and lived together in Japan. There they began an exporting business together, but eventually decided to return to Canada, get married and start a family. They purchased a house in Toronto.

"But before that happened, I ended up getting pregnant in Japan," Hussey said. "So I wasn't going to get married then. I was going to wait until I had the baby, then it just gets away from you. You own a house. You own a business. You got a kid. It just sort of escaped us, I guess.

"Really, the whole idea about getting married was so that we could have children. It's not that we aren't going to get married or that we didn't get married. We just never got around to it."

The couple have two children, Liam, 4, and Brenna, 2.

"On a day-to-day basis, it doesn't make a difference to me," she said. "You are going to be as committed as you're going to be. We have a business, we have two children, we own a home -- all of those things are exactly the same."

Hussey was married briefly in her early twenties and had a church wedding. She was not interested in having another one.

"However, I am not so certain it is going to reflect on our children that well. Most of the couples we [socialize with] have wedding pictures and an anniversary. That type of thing we don't have. I wonder about the kids and how they are going to feel about it."

The Hussey-Clapp family is among 1,158,410 common-law unions recorded in the 2001 census, rising to 13.8% of all families from 5.6% in 1981.

The proportion of married- couple families was 70% in 2001, down from 83% in 1981. The census counted 5,901,420 married families. The 1,311,190 lone-parent families represented 16% of families in Canada.

According to the latest figures, the trend toward common-law was once again strongest in Quebec, where 508,520 common-law families represented 30% of all couple families in that province.

A recent study based on Statistics Canada's General Social Survey showed common-law unions have become increasingly popular in Quebec and that trend has started to take hold among younger people in other provinces.

Statistical trends suggest about 40% of Canadian men and women aged 30 to 39 are more likely to start their conjugal life through a common-law relationship. However, most will eventually marry (approximately 75%) if trends continue.

The prevalence of common-law couples is roughly twice as high in Canada as it is in the United States. This is mostly because of the higher number of common-law unions in Quebec. The other provinces and territories still have a higher proportion of common-law couples than the United States (11.7% versus 8.2%).

Common-law couples with children younger than 25 at home are also increasing. They accounted for 7.4% of all couples in 2001, compared to 2.1% two decades earlier. About 520,735 couples were raising children in common-law relationships in 2001.

By contrast, married couples with children declined significantly, from 60% of all couples in 1981 to 44% in 2001.

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