Supreme Court will settle issue of rights for common-law spouses: lawyer
Published Monday, August 17, 2009 4:32PM EDT
MONTREAL - The Supreme Court of Canada will end up resolving the issue of rights for common-law spouses, predicts the lawyer for an unmarried woman who is appealing a court verdict denying her the right to alimony from a wealthy ex.
The case pits a woman and her former lover, a prominent Quebec businessman who contends he should not have to pay alimony because they were never legally married.
Lawyer Anne-France Goldwater says the high-profile Quebec case has everything to do with common-law spouses having the same legal rights and protections as married couples.
"A lot of couples today, of all ages, believe that because at the end of the day they are in an intimate and committed relationship . . . they feel they have all the rights and protections of the law, but they don't," Goldwater told a news conference at her office Monday.
"We think this is not only unfair but we think it is unconstitutional."
Goldwater represents the woman in what is widely known as the Eric and Lola case, because the pair can't be identified under a provincial family law aimed at protecting the identity of the children.
The veteran family lawyer said the appeal likely won't be heard until next year and, regardless of the outcome, the case will likely end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.
"It takes the Supreme Court to solve this problem," Goldwater said.
Suzanne Pringle, one of the lawyers representing the defendant, said Monday her client regrets the case is continuing and worries about the impact on their three children.
The arguments in appeal were already rejected in the Quebec Superior Court ruling, Pringle added.
Statistics Canada figures show there are slightly more couples in common-law relationships in all of the rest of Canada than there are in Quebec alone.
Common-law couples have varying rights depending on where they live in Canada. In some provinces, they have alimony and property rights.
But despite the fact that one-third of all Quebec couples are unmarried, it remains the only province that does not recognize common-law unions.
"Society has evolved, but the Civil Code has not," Goldwater said of Quebec's rules.
The attorneys general of Quebec and Canada are also named as defendants because Goldwater wants changes to the laws for all of Canada.
Justice Carole Hallee ruled in July that the couple's relationship could not be called a marriage under the wording of federal or provincial legislation.
She said Quebec deliberately chose to not subject live-in couples to the same obligations as those faced by married couples, especially with regard to spousal support and the sharing of assets.
The nine-day trial last January took place in a circus-like atmosphere at the Montreal courthouse.
The couple, who met in her native Brazil in 1992 when she was 17 and he was 32, lived together for seven years before they split up in 2001.
The wealthy defendant testified he told the woman during their relationship he didn't believe in the institution of marriage.
"It's not my cup of tea," he said when asked for his opinion on holy matrimony.
The woman was seeking a monthly payment of $56,000 for herself, a share of the family estate and a lump sum payment of $50 million.
The 49-year-old businessman argued he bought her a $2.5-million home and pays many of her other bills, which totalled more than $200,000 last year.
A court ruling from 2006 forced him to give her a car and to pay for a chauffeur, a cook and two nannies. He also pays plane tickets for the children and nannies for two trips a year as well as a daily allowance of up to $1,000 for the holidays.
Hallee did uphold the $34,000 a month she currently receives in child support.
But Goldwater says the astronomical figures are not what's important.
"The point is in this case she has no right to ask for anything no matter how economically dependent she is," Goldwater said.
"What this case is about is the right to ask."