The Supreme Court of Canada put an end today to the long running saga of Quebec’s most famous common law spouse when they confirmed that neither she nor any other common law spouse in Quebec is entitled to spousal support.
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, unlike the rest of Canada, legal matters concerning persons, relationships and property are subject to a code of law based on French Napoleonic law.
The dilemma Ms. A faced is that the Quebec Civil Code did not make provision for spousal support after unmarried couples separate, while married spouses and spouses joined in a civil union have that benefit.
In every other province in Canada she would be entitled to apply for support and so, Ms. A. tried to persuade a judge that the Quebec Civil Code was discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedom because it treated married and unmarried couples differently.
The Court acknowledged 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%.
Ms. A. argued that the Civil Code should 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. She audaciously sought $56,000 a month in spousal support, together with $5 million dollars.
The Quebec Court disagreed, holding that an amendment to the Code was not within their purview, rather it was up to legislators to change the law if they so desired.
The Court also found that the Civil Code was not discriminatory, emphasizing 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.
Quebec’s Court of Appeal saw it differently, finding that no support for common law spouses was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
In today’s decision, the Supreme Court of Canada issued diverse opinions dismissing Ms. A’s appeal, but confirming that Quebec’s law was either not discriminatory, or if it was, it was a reasonable intrusion, justified by the well-established regime of legal marriage and civil unions in Quebec.
While Ms. A’s loss today in the highest court will no doubt be disappointing, the good news is that her legal journey has been relatively comfortable as she resides in a $2.4 million dollar home and enjoys the benefits of her ex-boyfriend’s largesse, which reportedly includes $34,000 per month in child support, travel reimbursement, the provision of a driver, use of a Lexus automobile, and the payment of taxes, insurance and general maintenance and renovations of her home.
The term “gold digger” suddenly comes to mind…
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang