Report on Family Law Research in Nunavut

3. RESEARCH RESULTS: MAIN ISSUES

In order to develop strengthened legislative or service options for the territory, there is a need for basic information about current family life: what is a typical family in Nunavut? Especially significant issues were the composition and size of Nunavut families. The study also addressed marriages and common-law relationships, both their prevalence and people's experience entering such relationships. The second major mode of family formation, adoption, must also be studied, and in particular, custom adoption. Finally, the research reviews a number of issues relating to separation and divorce, including economic issues and facts about the households of children, both after separation and in "intact" families.

The major source for this section is the household survey. When appropriate, problems with the data and any limits on findings are noted in the text or notes. All percentages are expressed in whole numbers, which may occasionally result in figures that do not add up to 100 percent. One frequent problem was cases in which respondents who should have answered questions did not answer them. In our tables, those responses are reported as "missing data" to allow the reader to draw their own conclusion about the significance of non-response. Apart from the survey results, findings from other research and anecdotes are incorporated to illustrate or explain certain findings.

3.1 The Family Unit in Nunavut

The basic structure of the family unit in Nunavut reflects Inuit cultural norms. The family structure is extended, flexible and more dynamic in its composition than in the rest of Canada. Household structure can be contrasted with the "norm" of families in Canada, which is that the dominant household form is a group of one or more parents and their birth children. The results of our survey show a much more varied household composition in Nunavut, including a wide number of family members with different relationships with children and non-birth parents, parents and their adult children, and siblings all living in the same household far more frequently.

Census data reveal that the average household size in Nunavut is slightly greater than in Canada as a whole. In our survey, we found that although most people live in households of between three and five persons, almost one third of respondents lived in households with more than six people (see Table 1). Relatively few households include only a single person or couple (of course, two-person households may or may not be made up of couples). These two household types combined constitute only about 15 percent of Nunavut households.

What is more remarkable is the varied composition of households in Nunavut. Current households reflect the extended family structure that is constantly referred to in oral histories and anthropological studies.[55] The results from the household survey suggest that a very large number of households include individuals other than parents and their biological children. A significant percentage of households include grandparents, adopted children and the respondents' adult siblings. Indeed, Inuktitut terminology differentiates between qatangutigiit, or "immediate families," which include the mother, father, son, daughter, grandparents, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and ilagiit or "extended families," including uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great uncles, great aunts and, again, grandchildren.[56]

Table 1:
Distribution of Nunavut Households by Number of People
Number of people
per household
Number of
households (N)
Percent of
total households(%)
1 19 6
2 32 10
3 53 17
4 59 19
5 52 16
6 40 13
7 39 12
8 7 2
9 or more 16 5
No answer 25 7
Total 342 100

Table 2 provides an overview of the range of relationships within Nunavut households. Several issues stand out. First, adoption is very common and far above the Canadian norm. A full 15 percent of respondents reported that their households include at least one adopted child (a fuller discussion of adoptions will follow).

Table 2:
Distribution of Nunavut Household Members by Relationship to Respondents
Respondent* and at least One. Gender of respondent Total
  Female Male  
1 husband or wife of respondent 68
35%
50
34%
118
35%
1 common-law partner of respondent 51
26%
36
24%
87
25%
1 birth-child of respondent 140 73% 77
52%
217
64%
1 adopted child of respondent 30
16%
22
15%
52
15%
1 stepchild of respondent 6
3%
14
9%
20
5%
child of guardian respondent 3
2%
3
2%
6
2%
1 birth father or mother of respondent 15
8%
20
13%
35
10%
1 adopted father or mother of respondent 1
1%
  1
0%
1 stepparent of respondent 2
1%
5
3%
7
2%
1 birth-sibling of respondent 21
11%
23
15%
44
13%
1 stepsibling of respondent 6
3%
6
4%
12
4%
1 half-sibling of respondent      
1 adopted sibling of respondent 2
1%
1
1%
3
1%
grandchild of respondent 18
9%
13
9%
31
9%
1 grandparent of respondent 1
1%
2
1%
3
1%
1 son/daughter-in-law of respondent 6
3%
10
7%
16
5%
1 parent-in-law of respondent   1
5%
1
3%
1 sibling-in-law of respondent 5
3%
4
3%
9
3%
1 nephew/niece-in-law of respondent 7
4%
6
4%
13
4%
1 uncle or aunt of respondent 2
1%
1
1%
3
1%
1 cousin of respondent 1
1%
2
1%
3
1%
1 same-sex partner of respondent      
1 other relative of respondent 1
1%
  1
1%
1 non-relative of respondent 7
4%
4
3%
11
3%
Total respondents 193
100%
149
100%
342
100%

*The characteristics of each respondent differ. One respondent may be a dependent 16-year-old, another a resident grandparent. However, this table shows the wide variety of household composition in Nunavut.

Second, there are a large number of households in which respondents reported living with either a parent or a sibling. This is notable, since all the respondents in this survey are older than 15 years of age. Thirteen percent of households include a parent, stepparent or adopted parent or parent-in-law of a respondent. Just under one fifth of respondents reported the presence of a sibling or stepsibling. Almost 10 percent of respondents were living with a grandchild (9 percent) and just over 10 percent of households included some other type of relative. Finally, very few people (only 3 percent of respondents) reported living with a non-relative.

It is difficult to compare these results with Canadian averages because there are few reports on the prevalence of extended families. It is clear that the composition of families in Nunavut is quite different from the typical family in southern Canada. Figures for Canada show that slightly more than half of families fall into the parent/spouse/child type.[57] By contrast, almost a third of Nunavut respondents reported living with relatives in addition to, or instead of, a spouse or children.

Table 3:
Distribution of Respondents by Household Composition
Respondent lives with... Gender Total
  Female Male  
Spouse only 7
4%
  7
2%
Spouse and own children only (Classic Nuclear Family) 95
49%
65
44%
160
47%
Spouse and own children and other relatives 16
8%
17
11%
33
10%
Spouse and other relatives only   4
3%
4
1%
Own children only (classic single parent) 22
11%
5
3%
27
8%
Own children and relatives 19
10%
5
3%
24
7%
Other relatives only 16
8%
26
17%
42
12%
With non-relatives only 2
1%
3
2%
5
2%
Alone or unknown 16
8%
24
16%
40
12%
Household Totals 193
100%
149
100%
342
100%

Note that percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number and may not add up to 100.

These results are even more marked when respondents were asked about the structure of the household into which they were born (see Table 4). As is clear from the table, one generation ago the extended family was even more a part of Nunavut households. This suggests a trend towards increasingly nuclear family units in Nunavut over the lifetime of our respondents. However, there is little evidence that the norm in Nunavut has changed so dramatically that there should be any concern about the extended family form becoming significantly less prominent.

Table 4:
Distribution of Respondents' Household Composition at Birth
At birth respondent lived with... Gender of respondent Total
Female Male
Both birth parents only, no extended family 37
19%
30
20%
67
20%
Both adoptive parents only,
no extended family
26
14%
14
9%
40
12%
Birth mother only, no father,
no extended family
8
4%
7
5%
15
4%
Adoptive mother only,
no father, no extended family
  1
1%
1
0%
Birth father only, no mother,
no extended family
1
1%
1
1%
2
1%
Mother and extended family, no father 3
2%
  3
1%
Father and extended family,
no mother
1
1%
  1
0%
Both birth/adoptive parents
and extended family
91
47%
85
57%
176
52%
Mixed birth/adoptive/
step parents, no extended family
3
2%
4
3%
7
2%
Extended family only, no mother/father/siblings 16
8%
6
4%
22
6%
Siblings only, no parents/extended family 3
2%
  3
1%
Other/no answer 4
2%
1
1%
5
2%
Totals 193
100%
149
100%
342
100%

Finally, it is important to note that Inuit recognize an additional layer of family type relationships, which are developed through namesake relationships or tuqlluraniq. Children, when they are born, are always named after another person, usually one who has died recently. Once named, they take on all of the relationships of their namesake. Accordingly, a small child will be called "husband" by the widow of the namesake, and "father" by the children of the namesake. These relationships, cemented by names, are widely recognized and observed today.[58] A name is thought to carry with it characteristics of the namesake as well. As well, two people named after the same person will have a special relationship. The research was not directed at questions of namesake relationships, nor their relationship to family law, but several people commented on the importance of these issues from an IQ perspective. It would be worthwhile to explore the implications and responsibilities that go with these namesake relationships in order to better understand the complex dynamics of these extended family memberships and their implications in cases of relationship difficulties.

3.1.1 Multigenerational Families and Caregiving

In our community meetings and in interviews, we were repeatedly told that extended family members frequently have considerable caregiving responsibility for the children in their households. We heard countless stories of grandparents who act as the primary caregiver for one or more of their children's children. In some cases, grandparents will adopt the child through custom adoption. In other cases, grandparents will step in during a difficult period of their children's life to look out for the grandchildren. We also heard similar accounts of siblings stepping in to look after children during a crisis. Of course, we also heard of involvement by relatives that consisted of general assistance, such as helping out with after-school care, or simply providing a friendly household where kids of all ages might stop in.

A clear factor contributing to the active role of extended families in raising children is the young age at which many Nunavummiut are becoming parents. The statistics on youth pregnancy suggest childbearing is happening much earlier in Nunavut than in the rest of Canada, including in the other territories. A recent article in the Iqaluit Nunatsiaq News stated there were as many as 25 grandmothers who were only 30 years of age in the town of Arviat (population 1,676).[59] Our research clearly demonstrated the youth of first-time parents in Nunavut. Seventeen percent of respondents had their children when they were seventeen or younger; more than half of the respondents were parents before they were 21 (see Figure 1).[60]

The role of extended family, especially grandparents, in raising children draws attention to a number of issues. From a custody and access point of view, some of the people in our meetings questioned the presumption that only parents automatically had a right to custody without a court order. Participants in meetings were not aware of the provision in the legislation that permits any person (including non-parents of the child) to apply for custody with leave.[61] They also raised questions about social supports for grandparents. Several community members were concerned about the strain, financial and otherwise, on those who were raising their relatives' children. In cases where family members were not working in the wage economy, people were unclear about their eligibility to receive public assistance for additional children living in their homes.

Figure 1: Distribution of Age at Which Respondents Became First-time Parents

Figure 1: Distribution of Age at Which Respondents Became First-time Parents

N=248 all respondents who were birth, adoptive or step parents.

[ Description ]

From the perspective of issues typically of concern to family law, these findings suggest that family breakdown will tend to affect a larger number of people than just the parents and children. Further, it suggests a broader support structure when people separate. The circle of people who have significant involvement in the raising of a child is large and, accordingly, so is the circle of those who have a real interest in ensuring a continuing relationship with that child after family breakdown. An important area for further qualitative research would be to consider the ways in which extended families stay involved in the lives of children after separation, the types of support they provide, and issues for both parents and other relatives in maintaining these relationships.

The relative youth of parents has other implications as well. Young parents, as a group, are characterized by greater poverty, greater probability of spending at least some time as a lone parent, and disproportionately less access to justice than parents who wait until their late twenties. In terms of family law strategies, it is clear that close cooperation with social services to ensure that younger parents have access to support and education about their family law rights will be required. There is a strong interest in working with others to help encourage young people to wait longer before taking on parenthood.

3.2 Custom Adoption

One of the most dramatic differences between Nunavut and the rest of Canada is the prevalence of custom adoption. In the introduction, we pointed out the unique statutory regime for the recognition of custom adoption, the Aboriginal Custom Adoption Act, which was introduced into law in 1996. Custom adoption represents the most common point of contact between families and the legal system in Nunavut. Since 1996, it is estimated that nearly 2,000 custom adoptions have been formalized by the courts, almost all of them from in the Eastern Arctic.[62] By contrast, during that same period, there were an average of five departmental adoptions a year (in which the child is permanent ward of the government) and perhaps 35 private adoptions to non-Inuit. As noted above, 22.5 percent of respondents in our survey reported having raised adopted children. In fully half the cases (40 of 77) respondents had raised more than one child. Another 26 percent 62 of 237 reported having given a child up for adoption; fully one third of women respondents reported that they had "adopted out" a baby (51 of 150). Twenty-three percent of respondents reported they were adopted themselves. And of those, 93 percent (69) said they were adopted through custom adoption and only 7 percent (5) reported use of a court process.

There has been only one case on the legal effect of an adoption under the Aboriginal Custom Adoption Act, S.K.K. v. J.S.[63] In that case, a maternal grandmother who had adopted her granddaughter sought to obtain child support from the girl's birth father. Justice Schuler of the Northwest Territories Supreme Court ruled at para 30:

The consequences of adoption will depend on Aboriginal customary law. Those consequences may in fact be the same as the consequences provided under. the Adoption Act or they may be different. They may also vary as between the communities or regions of Nunavut.[64]

She further held that the court was required to apply Aboriginal customary law, and would require expert evidence on the requirements of that law in order to make a determination about child support.

It would appear that there are several substantive characteristics of custom adoption that are notably different from court-ordered adoption under the Adoption Act.[65] First, custom adoptions are almost invariably open adoptions, where everyone concerned, and often the whole community, knows the different parental relationships involved. Most often, the birth parent will continue to have a relationship with the child, and will even refer to the adopted child as their son or daughter. The term qiturngaqati has been used to mean "having the same child" and it is used to refer to the relationship between birth and adopted children.

Second, most (but by no means all) custom adoptions occur between relatives; parents, siblings and cousins all adopt on a regular basis. This was reflected in our data, where 70 percent of our adopted respondents reported adoption by relatives (see Table 5 below).

Third, it appears that custom adoptions only take place between Inuit. Non-Inuit may adopt by custom adoption if they are married to an Inuk. Effectively, this guarantees that an Inuk who marries a qallunaat does not lose her right to custom adoption.

Table 5:
Distribution of Respondents by Relationship to Adoptive Parents, by Gender of Respondents
Adoptive parent's relationship to the birth parent Gender of respondent Total
Female Male
Birth mother's parents 17
34%
8
29%
25
32%
Birth father's parents 6
12%
2
7%
8
10%
Other relative of birth mother 6
12%
4
14%
10
13%
Other relative of birth father 7
14%
4
14%
11
14%
Non-relative 5
10%
7
25%
112
15%
Unknown 9
18%
3
11%
12
15%
Totals 50
100%
28
100%
78
100%

N=78 Respondents who reported being adopted as a child (custom or court adoptions)

Fourth, in most cases it is those who are "adopting out" who take the initiative and seek a family to "adopt in" the baby. It is not uncommon, especially with the considerable amounts of inter-community travel these days, that someone will be adopted out to a friend or relative who does not live in the community.

In general, we found that adoption decisions are not made on the basis of a single standard, such as the "best interests of the child." According to one elder and many people in discussions with the MQ Commissioners, there is a widespread view that "a child should not be fought over or it will have a short life."[66] There are many reports that adopted children are "more loved" or particularly doted on. The child's welfare is certainly taken into account, but decisions about adoptions are more likely to be taken in light of explicit consideration of the situation of the family as a whole. Custom adoption takes place in a number of circumstances. The most common situation is one in which a young woman gives birth, and her parents adopt the child and raise it as their own. Very often, this type of arrangement occurs while the birth mother is still living in the parental home, and the birth mother will have a significant caregiving role with respect to the adopted child. In other cases, adoptions will be used as a type of family planning, for example, to ensure that there is enough space between children if one is born too close to another in time. Adoption may also be a way of helping a relative or friend who does not have any children, or does not have any children of a certain gender. There are also reported cases of older people adopting to ensure they have a caregiver as they age.

There are reports of custom adoptions that, like some court-ordered adoptions, do not go as parties expected; either the adopting-out changes their mind, or the family adopting-in has difficulties they did not expect. The legal remedy in these cases is not to undo the adoption, but to have another adoption. A person can be adopted back by their birth parent, or could be adopted by a third party. In our data, approximately 5 percent of people reported being adopted more than once.

Procedurally, custom adoption differs significantly from the process under the Adoption Act. First, the custom adoption is formalized between the parties. A local adoption commissioner-who invariably speaks Inuktitut-will record the parties' intent and collect all the information necessary to process an adoption using a single form. There is a custom adoption commissioner in each community, although not all of them are active and concerns have been expressed about the training of some of them. When all the information has been collected, the commissioner will send it to the court to be registered. The role of the court is to ensure that all the formalities have been observed, but not in any way to consider the merits of the adoption. When satisfied, the court will register the adoption. Once the adoption is registered, the commissioner will apply to amend the record at Vital Statistics and get an amended birth certificate.

By contrast, both private and departmental adoption are more typical of the southern norm. These adoptions require an application to the court. Due to the relative complexity of the process, in most private adoptions the person applying to adopt is represented by a lawyer, whether the adoption is contested or not. It is required that the consent of the birth parent (or, in departmental adoptions, the Director of Child and Family Services) be clearly documented. Except in the case of a stepparent adoption, it is required that a social worker complete a home study. Final decisions about adoption remain in the hands of the judge, who also has the power to impose terms on the adoption; for example, continuing access to the child for the birth parent may be sought and ordered. Ironically, the orders may attempt to replicate the terms of a custom adoption.

In summary, the institutionalization of custom adoption in Nunavut is unique in Canada.[67] It is also unique in family law processes within Nunavut. Custom adoption appears to be a well-understood legal institution that is accessible and commonly used across the territory. Decision making is seen to vest in families and within the communities, not in outside institutions. There appear to be relatively clear parameters for decisions about adoptions, and a relatively strong understanding about the responsibilities of different parties in the process. While custom adoptions are much more open than judicial adoptions, there does not appear to be a tendency to impose parental obligations on parents who have adopted out, so there has been little intersection between custom adoption and the rest of family law. Over time, it will be interesting to see whether and how other family law institutions can adapt to reflect some of these successes.

It is important not to idealize custom adoption. The Law Review Commission has been consulting on community perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the process. They have identified numerous concerns with adoptions, and are in the process of identifying appropriate approaches to "regulating" these adoptions to prevent problems (see report of Law Reform Commissioners, forthcoming). They are also consulting further on community understandings about the obligations of all parties. Their recommendations could reflect lessons-positive and negative-learned from this important aspect of family law in the territory.

3.3 Marriage and Common-Law Relationships

Census data show that 50.3 percent of Nunavut families are made up of married couples, while 31 percent of families include common-law couples. These data are broadly consistent with our survey results. We asked survey participants directly about their marital status and their participation in common-law relationships.Note that there was a significant rate of non-response in the parts of questionnaire relating to marriage.[68]

As the data in Tables 6 and 7 suggest, a large number of Nunavummiut live in common-law relationships. The prevalence of common-law relationships is far above the Canadian norm,[69] although it is somewhat lower than the rate among Aboriginal peoples across Canada.[70] At the same time, fewer people are married than the Canadian norm (and again, the rate of marriage is higher than among Canadian Aboriginal peoples generally). More strikingly, a very significant number of people reported that they had, at one time, been part of a common-law relationship: 63 percent of respondents.

Table 6:
Distribution of Respondents by Marital Status at Time of Interview
Legal marital status Gender of respondent Total
Female Male
Legally married and not separated 62
41%
47
42%
109
41.3%
Legally married and separated 7
5%
7
6%
14
5%
Divorced 5
3%
7
6%
12
5%
Widowed 11
7%
5
5%
16
6%
Never legally married 68
44%
45
41%
113
43%
Totals 153
100%
111
100%
264
100%

N=264 Respondents reporting marital status (missing data = no answer or not applicable).

Table 7:
Distribution of Respondents by Current Marital or Common-law Status
Current status Gender of respondent Total respondents Percent of total sample
Female Male
Now married, not separated, divorced or widowed 62
38%
47
39%
109
38%
32%
Married, and separated, divorced or widowed not common law 21
13%
14
12%
35
12%
10%
Common law 49
30%
38
32%
87
31%
25%
Never married and not common law 32
20%
21
18%
53
19%
16%
Missing data - - - 58
17%
Totals 164
100%
120
100%
284
100%
342
100%
Table 8:
Distribution of Respondents Ever Participating in a Common-law Relationship
Ever common law? Gender of respondent Total respondents Percent of total sample
Female Male
Yes 8
50%
58
59%
126
54%

37%
No 68
50%
40
41%
108
46%

32%
Missing data - - - 108
32%
Totals 136
100%
98
100%
234
100%
342
100%

3.3.1 Age on Beginning of Spousal Relationships

From our survey results, it was possible to observe a number of differences between respondents who were married and those who were currently in a common-law relationship. Married respondents tended, on the whole, to be older (average age 31) than respondents in a common-law relationship (average age 24).[71] Moreover, if we compare the average age at which people report entering into this marriage (mean age 24) with the age they report starting this common-law relationship (mean age 21), it appears that people are waiting longer to marry.[72] This trend is all the more notable, as it also appears that respondents are not waiting to have children.

Our statistics, while they should be viewed with some caution, also show that marriages in general last longer than common-law relationships. Among our respondents, the mean length of marriage was slightly more than 17 years, while the mean length of common-law relationships was just over seven years (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Distribution of Current Relationships by Type and Length

3.3.2 Prior Relationships

This appeared to be one of several areas in the survey in which some respondents were uncomfortable answering questions. Significant numbers of people who ought to have answered these questions did not.[73] As a result, it is hard to get a strong quantitative picture of how many people had previous relationships before their current marriage or common-law relationship. It would be interesting to know why this information was considered so sensitive that people preferred not to talk about it.

There were slightly better results when we asked about the marital and relationship status of current spouses, rather than the respondent's own history. The overwhelming response of both married and common-law respondents was that their partner had been single before the current relationship.

As tables 10 and 11 show, a higher percentage of people currently in common-law relationships reported that their partner had another major relationship before the current one; however, the numbers are very low. Fewer than 10 percent of respondents in common-law relationships reported that their previous partner was married, widowed, divorced or separated. Under 5 percent of married people reported that their partner was previously married, although there is some doubt about the result, since nearly 15 percent did not answer the question. Fifteen percent of common-law respondents knew their partner had been involved in a previous common-law relationship, but only about 2 percent of married people answered that they knew their partner had been in a previous common-law relationship.

Table 9:
Distribution of Respondents by Partner's Previous Common-law Relationship and by Current Relationship Status
  Currently married, separated or divorced
Female Male Total respondents Percent total sample
Previous common-law relationship 2

3%
1

2%
3

3%


2%
No previous common-law relationship 59

88%
44

88%
103

88%


76%
Unknown to respondent 6
9%
5
10%
11
9%

8%
Missing data       18
13.3%
Totals 67
100%
50
100%
117
100%
135
100%

  Currently common law
Female Male Total respondents Percent total sample
Previous common-law relationship 9

18%
4

11%
13

15%


15%
No previous common-law relationship 39

80%
34

90%
73

83.9%


83.9%
Unknown to respondent 1
2%
0 1
1%

1%
Missing data       0
Totals 49
100%
38
100%
87
100%
87
100%

Note: The data are non-cumulative. Some people presently in a common-law relationship may also be included in the married, separated or divorced category.

Table 10:
Distribution of Relationships by Partner's Marital Status at the Beginning of the Relationship
  Currently married, separated or divorced
Female Male Total respondents Total sample
Widowed 0 0 0 0
Separated 0 0 0 0
Divorced 2
3%
2
4%
4
4%
4
3%
Single 62
95%
48
96%
110
96%
110
82%
Unknown to respondent 1
2%
0 1
1%
1
1%
Missing data - - - 20
15%
Totals 65
100%
50
100%
115
100%
135
100%

  Currently common law
Female Male Total respondents Total sample
Widowed 0 1 1 1
Separated 3
6%
2
5%
5
6%
5
Divorced 2
4%
0 2
2%
2
Single 44
90%
35
92%
79
91%
79
Unknown to respondent 0 0 0 0
Missing data - - - 0
Totals 49
100%
38
100%
87
100%
87
100%

Note: The data are non-cumulative. Some people presently in a common-law relationship may also be included in the married, separated or divorced category.

3.3.3 Children from Previous Relationships

It is revealing to contrast these results with the much higher overall number of cases in which respondents reported that their partners had children from previous relationships. In addition, the higher response rates indicate that people are more comfortable discussing this subject.

The data in Table 11 suggest that Nunavummiut living in common-law relationships are more likely to have children from a previous relationship than those living in marital relationships. Notably more men reported that their female partners brought children from prior relationships to their current ones (about twice as many).[74] Taken together with the data on previous relationships, it suggests that, in a significant number of these cases, parents have children outside of any relationship. There will be more discussion of this in the section on children.

Table 11:
Distribution of Respondents' Partners with Previous Children
  Currently married, separated or divorced
Female Male Total respondents Total sample
Children from previous relationship 3
5%
9
18%
12
11%

9%
No children from previous relationship 55
90%
39
81%
94
86%

74%
Unknown to respondent 3
5%
1
2%
4
4%

3%
Missing data - - - 25
19%
Totals 61
100%
49
100%
110
100%
135
100%

  Currently common law
Female Male Total respondents Total sample
Children from previous relationship 9
20%
13
38%
20
28%

23%
No children from previous relationship 34
74%
20
59%
54
68%

62%
Unknown to respondent 3
7%
1
3%
4
5%

5%
Missing data - - - 7
8%
Totals 46
100%
34
100%
80
100%
87
100%

Note: The data are non-cumulative. Some people presently in a common-law relationship may also be included in the married, separated or divorced category.

As noted above, recent legislative reforms in Nunavut (and legislation throughout much of Canada) recognize the prevalence of common-law relationships by providing almostequal entitlement to spousal support, division of matrimonial property, and a wide variety of public benefits.[75] This recognition is an effort to ensure that individuals in this very common form of relationship are not deprived of legal means to ensure that the benefits of the relationship are equally shared upon its breakdown. However, as discussed below, this legal framework appears to be of limited practical application in reality.

3.3.4 Marriage Expectations

It is interesting to question whether the legal equality between married persons and common-law couples affects the perception that marriage is still a desirable, or at least probable, state in which many people expect to find themselves at some time.

The largest group of respondents said they expected to be married one day; however, they made up less than half of the total number of unmarried people. Of the remainder, just over a quarter of respondents have no expectation of being married, and a significant number are uncertain about what their future holds (see Table 12). These results are open to a range of interpretations.

Table 12:
Marriage Expectations of Unmarried and Common-law Respondents
Expect to marry? Female Male Total
Yes 35
39%
36
54%
71
46%
No 26
29%
17
25%
43
28%
Maybe 8
9%
3
5%
11
7%
Don't know 20
23%
11
16%
31
20%
Total 89
100%
67
100%
156
100%

N=156, single and common-law respondents and not any person who has ever been married.

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