Unmarried Couples: Legal Aspects of Cohabitation


249 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-459-34870-1





Reviewed by Sam Coghlan

Sam Coghlan was Deputy Director and Senior Consultant of the Thames Ontario Library Service Board, Southwestern Ontario.


Cohabitation is a situation wherein a “couple of the opposite sex are co-habiting in what may be described as a conjugal, marriage-like relationship as contrasted with a situation involving a casual short-term relationship.” Unmarried Couples: Legal Aspects of Cohabitation discusses the legal implication of such relationships in Canada.

This book is of an interesting type because of its implied audience. The language and the expression are technical although the perspective is general. Familiarity with legal jargon and style is a prerequisite to understanding this book, yet it is not aimed solely at lawyers or law professors.

The publication of this book suggests that Carswell publishers feel that serious legal literature finds an audience that reaches beyond lawyers and law professors. Social workers, family counsellors, and unmarried couples themselves will be interested in this book.

Unmarried Couples is not directed at lawyers. It covers too many areas (such as property, support, wills, taxes, etc.) too generally for the lawyer in practise. Updated digests and encyclopediae offer more specific, and more current, information. However, lawyers who do not usually practise family law would find Unmarried Couples useful as a starting point for research; it provides an overview and through citation (usually of statutes and cases, but sometimes of literature) indicates a direction for further research. It is the sort of book legal scholars write for one another, but its subject has too much general interest and the author indulges in too few nit-picking asides for it to be considered solely academic. It does bear academic scrutiny, though, as the author refers to the law from other countries as well as Canadian legal literature in order to suggest ways in which Canadian laws might, or ought to, develop.

Unmarried Couples covers Canadian law, making necessary discussion of provincial laws where the topic, such as wills or separation agreements, falls within provincial jurisdiction.

Professor Holland demonstrates bias by using Ontario examples, although in many instances each province is discussed separately. The book’s utility as a research aid for non-Ontario users is decreased by the omission in several instances of citations to specific statutes in other provinces parallel to the Ontario example.

The sorts of legal situations considered in the book are quite complete although not exhaustive. For example, the legal ramifications of one partner remaining married (although separated in fact, if not in law) are only obliquely considered. Also, the rights of step-parents where there has been no legal adoption are not considered. These are not faults, however. The book is adequate; it is not an encyclopedia.

The style, as stated above, is scholarly. It is unfortunate that more attention was not afforded the “legal illiterate.” An introductory explanation of some basic principles with suggestions for further reading on legal research would be helpful (although the popular book Living Together: Unmarried Couples in Canada is included in the selected bibliography). One interesting stylistic innovation is the author’s use of an appendix to avoid making one particularly lengthy section even more cumbersome — the author supplies facts of cases discussed therein in the appendix rather than in the text.

The book could use a better index, but at least it has one. Unmarried Couples offers fine coverage of an interesting topic, in spite of its minor flaws.


Holland, Winifred H., “Unmarried Couples: Legal Aspects of Cohabitation,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 29, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/38850.