Limitation periods for common law couples

The standard limitation period for starting a cause of action against someone is 2 years, under Ontario’s Limitations Act, 2002. However, in a recent family law case, the question was posed as to whether a claim for constructive trust involving real estate properties is also governed by this 2 year rule. In the case of a common law couple in McConnell v. Huxtable, the Court of Appeal addressed the question of whether a constructive trust claim for an equitable interest in real estate could be pursued 5 years after the claim became known to the common law wife.

The Court held that although the 2 year general limitation period had already expired, the Real Property Limitations Act prescribes a limitation period of 10 years for actions involving land. Since the claim was based on the common law wife’s allegations that she had contributed value to the properties owned by her common law spouse, the Court held that the RPLA did allow her claim to proceed.

As many people who are not married have no other way to pursue property claims except through the vehicle of unjust enrichment or constructive trust, this case is significant insofar as it allows a more lengthly limitation period for any claims involving real estate assets.