Understanding Dower Rights in Alberta

Rights and Obligations Under the Alberta Dower Act

Anna Dunaeva DLegal Anna Dunaeva June 20, 2023
DLegal Law Office - Rings

If you are married, it is crucial to understand dower rights. They ensure that both spouses have a claim to a portion of the family home or matrimonial property, regardless of ownership stakes.

Dower rights in Alberta are governed by the Dower Act and have been established to ensure that the non-owning surviving spouse has a secure place of residence and financial stability in the event of the owning spouse’s death or the breakdown of the marriage. Dower rights acknowledge the contributions of both spouses, prevent complete disinheritance, and protect vulnerable spouses while providing clear guidelines for determining property rights within a marriage.

Understanding Dower Rights Alberta

Dower rights, established and protected by the Alberta Dower Act, are designed to safeguard the interests of spouses, particularly in cases of death or divorce. The Act outlines the rights of a spouse, specifically the one who does not hold title to the property, commonly referred to as the dower interest holder. Under the Dower Act, this spouse is entitled to a dower interest, which is the right to stay in matrimonial home or homestead, and to prevent its disposition, such as transfer, sale, or mortgage without the spousal consent.

Dower rights serve several vital purposes within the framework of family law. First, the Dower Act protects spouses financially, particularly for the spouse who does not hold the title to the property. The dower interest ensures that this spouse has a claim to a portion of the property’s value, providing a measure of financial security.

Second, dower consent rights aim to prevent unfair disposition of the matrimonial home or property. The Dower Act requires the spouse who holds the dower interest to agree to any transfer, mortgage, or sale of the family house, or homestead. This consent requirement acts as a safeguard, ensuring both spouses have a say in significant decisions involving the family home and promoting fairness in property-related matters.

Dower rights provide a legal framework and guidelines for determining the non-owning spouse’s rights in real property. By establishing clear rules and requirements, they can help reduce potential disputes and uncertainties related to property rights within a marriage.

The History Of the Alberta Dower Act

Dower rights in Canada have their roots in English common law and the historical customs that governed property ownership and inheritance. In the early days of Canada’s colonial history, the British legal system, including dower rights, was imported and applied.

Traditionally, dower rights were established to protect the economic interests of married women. Under the concept of dower, a wife was entitled to a life interest in a portion of her husband’s real property upon his death, ensuring her financial security and housing stability.

Over time, the specific laws and regulations regarding dower rights evolved and varied across the provinces and territories of Canada, and in 1917 the Alberta Dower Act was introduced.

In modern times, the Act has undergone several amendments and revisions to reflect changes in societal norms, gender equality, and property ownership in an effort to modernize the legislation and ultimately ensure more equitable outcomes for both spouses. However, if you have questions about the latest iteration of the Alberta Dower Act, contact an estate planning lawyer from DLegal to learn more.

Dower Rights In the Context Of Common Law Relationships

Common law relationships do not have dower rights in Alberta. The dower rights only apply to legally married couples, where one spouse has a life interest in a portion of the other spouse’s property. In Alberta, common law couples and partners may be recognized as adult interdependent partners by the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act (AIRA), and if so, they are governed by the Family Property Act (FPA).

The property rights and entitlements of adult interdependent partners are distinct from dower rights. While common-law relationship partners may have rights and obligations related to property division and support, these rights are not referred to as dower rights. The FPA provides guidelines for property division and financial matters specific to adult interdependent partners. However, individuals in common law relationships in Alberta need to understand their legal rights and obligations by referring to AIRA, family law, or seeking legal advice to navigate issues related to property, support, and other matters specific to the person and their situation.

Dispensing with Spousal Consent

In cases where separated spouses are not amicable or when one spouse unreasonably withholds consent for the disposition of the matrimonial home from the other spouse, obtaining a court order to dispense with the other spouse’s consent may become necessary. This allows the spouse seeking to sell the property to proceed with the transaction without the other spouse’s approval.

To start this process, it is advisable to seek legal advice from a qualified lawyer who specialises in Alberta dower rights law. They will be able to provide guidance and expertise throughout the process, as well as assess the feasibility of obtaining a court order to dispense the property with spousal consent.

If the court finds that dispensing with spousal consent is justified based on the evidence and arguments presented, an order will be issued. This order will enable the disposition of the house, homestead, or other family real estate without the need for the other spouse’s approval.

Dower Release

A dower release is a legal document or agreement that relinquishes or waives the dower rights of a spouse. It is typically used when the non-owning spouse voluntarily gives up their entitlement to a life interest in the real property owned by the other spouse.

By signing a dower release, the non-owning spouse effectively renounces their right to claim a portion of the property upon the owning spouse or husband’s death or in property transactions. The release document acknowledges that the non-owning spouse has no further claim to the property based on dower rights.

A dower release is often used in situations where both spouses agree to waive dower rights, such as when they have made alternative arrangements for financial support or property division through a separation agreement, marriage contract, or otherwise. It provides legal certainty and protects the interests of the owning spouse when dealing with the property, as it removes any potential claims or disputes regarding dower rights.

Protection of Dower Rights and Land Titles Office

It is important to note that dower rights are protected by the Dower Act, and the Land Titles Office checks for them in case of any disposition of a residential real estate property. This ensures that the owner of the dower interest is recognized and acknowledged by the government.

Dower rights continue to exist until they are specifically addressed and released through legal means (dower release or dispensing of spousal consent). It is important to note that even if couples are separated, regardless of how long, and purchase their own real property in the meantime, dower rights will still apply. This means that if the purchaser wants to sell, even if their spouse has been out of their life for a long time, they will still need the consent of their spouse.

DLegal has extensive experience navigating your rights and obligations within the Dower Act. As a trusted legal firm in Alberta, we can provide the necessary guidance and support throughout this complex process. We are here to assist you in obtaining a dower release from your spouse or a court order dispensing with the consent of your ex-spouse to the sale of your home. Get in touch today. Together, we can work towards a fair and favourable outcome.


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