OTTAWA - The fight to determine the legal rights of people in unmarried couples in Quebec is moving to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The case centers on the legal battle between a wealthy Quebec entrepreneur, referred to as "Eric" and his ex- girlfriend.

The woman, simply identified as "Lola," wants alimony and division of assets - a right which only exists for legally married couples.

The case could have consequences on all unmarried couples in Quebec, governed by the province's Civil Code.

The province presented its views to the Supreme Court justices today.

Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier stated that the province is governed by the Civil Code, something which distinguishes it from the rest of the country.

Fournier also noted that the province has all the competences required to legislate in the area of unmarried unions, something which it has done five times since 1980.

It has always chosen to avoid imposing the same obligations on such unions as on married couples.

It leaves individuals the choice to determine how they want to separate belongings and wealth in the case of a split.

However, the lawyers representing "Lola," as well as many women's groups say that women are at a great disadvantage in the Quebec system.

It's estimated that 60% of children in Quebec are born to unmarried couples.

35% percent of all couples in the province are said to be living outside of wedlock.

As a result of such figures, the outcome of the Supreme Court decision could affect as many as a million people.

It's anybody's guess as to how judges will side but one observer points out that most come from provinces where unmarried woman can already claim alimony support payments.

"There are six judges out of nine who are from other provinces where there are laws protecting common-law spouses," said Sylvie Schirm, family law expert.

Unlike the rest of Canada, Quebec does not practice common law, therefore no common law couples exist here. The common legal term for such couples in Quebec is conjoint de fait

But the lawyers supporting Lola are arguing that the women are no different from other Canadian women who benefit from the right to claim alimony.

"Families are families are families. We say the conjoints de faits are families just as married couples are families," said Johanne O'Hanlon of the Women's Legal Education Action Fund.

Quebec mothers have, of course, been eligible for child support payments upon separation, regardless of marital status.