Spousal Sponsorship Simplified: The Key Differences Between Spouses, Common-Law, and Conjugal Partners.

Published on: July 28th, 2023
Last updated: April 8th, 2024

When searching for information about Canadian sponsorship for you or your partner, you will likely come across different terms to classify a relationship. To sponsor a romantic partner to Canada, the government recognizes three types of relationships: Spouse, Conjugal partner or Common Law partner.

Who Qualifies as a Spouse?

When both people (of the opposite or same gender), are in a legal marriage recognized in the country where it took place or in Canada.

It is important to remember that IRCC does not recognize marriages performed outside of Canada where one or both persons weren’t physically present at the ceremony. This also includes ceremonies that were conducted by proxy, for example online or via telephone. The only exception to this role is marriages to members of the Canadian Forces. 

Which documents do I need when applying to sponsor a spouse?

  • Completed application forms
  • Proof of status in Canada
  • Identity documents
  • Marriage certificate
  • Police Certificate and Clearances from all countries your spouse has lived in for six months or longer past the age of 18
  • Medical certificate for your spouse
  • Proof of payment for applicable government fees
  • Digital photo
  • Relationship Information and Sponsorship Evaluation Questionnaire
  • Wedding invitations and photos
  • When having children you and your spouse together, Birth certificates or adoption records for any children have to be submitted
  • Proof of registration of marriage with a government authority

What is a Common Law Partner?

It is a person who you are not married to but you have been living continuously for more than one year, in a conjugal relationship. Your partner can be of the opposite or same gender as you for immigration purposes. You must also demonstrate a significant degree of commitment between two people.

How to prove a common-law partnership

For you to prove that you are in a common-law relationship, you must submit proof that you and your partner were:

  • Sharing the same home,  (conduct and habit with respect to the sharing of household chores) 
  • Support each other financially (e.g. financial arrangements, ownership of property) and emotionally
  • Have children together, if applicable.
  • Present yourselves in public as a couple.
  • Sexual and personal behaviour (e.g. fidelity, commitment, feelings towards each other)

Which documents do I need to submit to demonstrate my common-law relationship?

When you apply, you should provide at least two of the following documents as a prove of your common-law relationship:

  • Pay stubs or tax forms that show that you live at the same address Proof that you have lived together for at least one year
  • Proof that you or your partner own property, or share rent
  • Shared bank accounts
  • Utility bills with both of your names,
  • Copies of government-issued IDs,
  • Car insurance
  • Birth certificates or adoption records for any children you and your common-law partner have together
  • Photos of you and your common-law partner that demonstrate that you are in a conjugal relationship
  • Proof that your relationship is recognized by family and friends (letters, emails, social media)

If you can’t provide the documents mentioned above, you must find ways that demonstrate your relationship and provide them. Provide sworn declarations or letters of explanation from family and friends that can attest to your common-law status. The final decision regarding your common-law documents will be at the discretion of the visa officer but the more proof you can provide, the better your chances of being accepted.

Who Qualifies as a Conjugal Partner?

A conjugal partner is someone who is living outside of Canada, and you have been in a romantic, committed relationship with them for at least one year, but there are significant barriers preventing you from living together. This could be  because of reasons beyond their control (e.g. immigration barrier, religious reasons or sexual orientation. etc)

In some cases, they are also not able to legally marry their sponsor and qualify as a spouse. In all other respects, this category is similar to a common-law partner or a spouse, in terms of they have been in a bona fide (genuine or real) conjugal relationship for a period of at least one year.

For example, It is considered a conjugal relationship if you can not marry or live with your partner because you lived in a country:

  • That does not allow same-sex marriage
  • Where divorce is not possible
  • Where your relationship is against the law.

How to prove a conjugal relationship

A Canadian citizen or permanent resident intending to sponsor their partner to immigrate as the conjugal partner must provide evidence such as:

  • They have maintained a conjugal relationship with their sponsor for at least one year
  • They are in a committed and mutually interdependent relationship of some permanence and have combined their affairs to the extent possible
  • The couple must submit proof of the obstacles or restrictions that are preventing them from living together or getting married.
  • This is because usually, a conjugal partner is someone who you could not marry or live with. For example, this might be because you lived in a country:

When there are no legal documents that prove your relationship

For both conjugal and common-law relationships, if there is no legal documentation or a specific event that can prove the commitment to your partner. In these cases you must provide to the immigration officers, evidence of significant emotional and interpersonal ties that demonstrates that you are in a serious, committed relationship and also with the intention to remain in that relationship long-term.

It’s important to make sure you understand these different terms when looking into sponsoring a partner to come with you to Canada. As each classification has different requirements it’s essential to make sure you understand which category you fall under when applying. It’s also important to note that many other factors affect what documents you will need to provide as well as exactly how the process will look for you. If you still have questions, we recommend reading our dedicated spousal sponsorship page to learn more. 


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