Top court upholds Quebec's civil law that denies ex sharing assets after break-up

The Supreme Court of Canada building in Ottawa. (JOHN MAJOR/QMI Agency Files)

The Supreme Court of Canada building in Ottawa. (JOHN MAJOR/QMI Agency Files)

Jessica Hume, Parliamentary Bureau

, Last Updated: 3:05 PM ET

OTTAWA — The breadwinner in a live-in relationship in Quebec has no legal obligation to support his or her partner after a breakup, the Supreme Court ruled Friday.

In a complex ruling, five of nine justices found that the inability of unmarried spouses in Quebec to claim financial compensation once the relationship has ended isn't discriminatory against the poorer individual, but rather respects the autonomy of both parties to determine the degree to which family laws apply to them.

The Quebec-based case of Eric v. Lola began in 2002 when a Brazilian woman separated from her billionaire partner of seven years and attempted to secure compensation for their three children and herself.

She has received $35,000 monthly in child support since 2006, but was denied any compensation for herself on the grounds that, as an unmarried spouse, none of the protections for married couples applied to her.

"Lola" challenged Quebec's Civil Code, arguing it discriminated against her based on her marital status, violating Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The majority of justices rejected this argument, though for different reasons.

"In Quebec family law, these rights and obligations are always available to everyone but imposed on no one," one judge wrote in the decision. "Their application depends on an express mutual will of the spouses to bind themselves."

Court documents show "Lola" wanted very much to marry "Eric," but he opposed the union.

Justice Rosalie Abella acknowledged that the decision to live together as unmarried spouses "may not be a choice at all."

Pierre Bienvenu, lawyer for "Eric," told reporters his client is "relieved" and "satisfied" the ordeal is over.

But the 5-4 ruling exposes disagreement among the justices. Three of them found Quebec's Civil Code is constitutional except when it comes to spousal claims. One found its treatment of non-married spouses to be unconstitutional. The five justices who found its rules constitutional each had different rationales.

Bienvenu said a range of views was expected.

"It's not unusual that the Supreme Court would find themselves divided over difficult issues."

Guy Pratte, lawyer for "Lola," wasn't surprised either. But he said many people, especially in Quebec, feel there is "not enough protection" for unmarried spouses and he hopes the courts will continue to pursue this debate.

"Every other province affords a minimum of protection and support for these couples."


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