Don’t Feel Sorry for the Uber-Wealthy…

It’s not just Joe-Six -Pack who is reeling over the audacious court action brought in Quebec by Cirque de Soleil founder, Guy Liberte’s ex- girlfriend. She wants $56,000 per month in support, together with a quick five million to boot!

The story is classic. Wealthy thirtyish businessman falls for 15 year- old -Latino bombshell, has three children with her, and calls it quits after a seven year extravaganza of “champagne wishes and caviar dreams”. The titillating tale unfolds in the Reasons for Judgment from the Quebec Superior Court in A. v. B. 2009 QCCS 3210.

In Quebec, legal matters concerning persons, relationships and property are subject to a code of law based on French Napoleonic law. One of the exceptions is in the area of criminal law, where the federal Criminal Code of Canada applies, as in every other province.

The dilemma facing Ms. A. is that the Quebec Code does not make provision for spousal support after unmarried couples uncouple. Every other province in Canada does. Ms. A. spent eight days in court trying to persuade a judge that the Quebec Code was discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedom because it treated married and unmarried couples differently.

The Court found that Quebec has the largest population of unmarried couples, rising from 8% to 35% between 1981 and 2006 and 60% of children born in Quebec are the offspring of unmarried parents. The Canadian average for common law unions is a mere 18%.

It was a hard-fought battle, indeed, as the participants lined up, including lawyers for the Attorney-General for Quebec, who were backing Mr. B’s position. Ms A. was not completely on her own however, as the Federation Parents Association of Quebec, a single-parent interest group, supported her challenge.

As in most family law litigation there was a thwarted attempt to engage in some mudslinging. Mr. B. sought to introduce evidence of the nature of a relationship that Ms. A. had with a Mr. C. and several other love relationships Ms. A. maintained after their love tryst concluded.

Ms. A. argued that the Code be changed to accommodate unmarried spouses by introducing a law that would provide equal treatment if a couple had cohabited for three years or had a child and lived together for at least one year. But it was not to be.

The Court said that an amendment to the Quebec Code was not within the purview of the Court, rather it was up to legislators to change the law, if they so desired. The judge also found that the Code was not discriminatory. She summarized the legal test that applied: Does the Code create a distinction based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental and physical disability and does the distinction create a disadvantage by the perpetuation of prejudice or stereotyping? The answer to both was “No”. The Court emphasized that the objective of Quebec’s support law is to preserve freedom of choice and respect the dignity and autonomy of common law relationships. Simply put, if a person desires the legal treatment afforded married couples, then that person should get married.

In British Columbia our legislature reviewed all provincial laws to determine if there was discrimination against unmarried couples. Our spousal support law has covered common law spouses for decades, however, certain other laws were amended to ensure that there was no differentiation in the law based on marital status. That review culminated in changes to a number of statutes, including the Wills Variation Act, that before the review, did not permit common law spouses to challenge their partner’s will.

Ms. A. has now appealed from this disappointing ruling indicating that she will take her case to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary. The good news is that her legal journey will be relatively comfortable as she resides in a $2.4 million dollar home and enjoys the benefits of billionaire Liberte’s largesse, including $34,000 per month in child support, travel reimbursement, the provision of a driver, use of his Lexus automobile, and the payment of taxes, insurance and general maintenance and renovations of her home.

Don’t feel too sorry for him though because, after all, he is still #261 on Forbes list of the richest people in the world. And I hear that with $35 million dollars in spare change, he’ll be the next civilian in outer space.

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