High-profile businessman bankrolls Quebec common-law case
MONTREAL — Montreal scrap-metal king
Herbert Black isn't one to shy away from a good fight.
entrepreneur, art collector and philanthropist has tussled with - and won
against - the giants of the international auction business, Sotheby's and
Christies, over price- fixing.
He was awarded a handsome monetary settlement in 2002 from a prestigious
London trading house in a case related to the brokerage's improper
transactions in copper futures trading.
Now Mr. Black, 64, is taking a stand on an another front altogether. He's
bankrolling a Montreal woman's court fight to obtain alimony from her
multimillionaire former partner.
Mr. Black says he knew the woman.
The couple's identities cannot be disclosed under Quebec law.
Mr. Black says his goal in the case is to secure protection for all of
Quebec's common-law spouses.
"What I'm concerned about is the big picture and the law in Quebec," he said
in an interview yesterday.
"Whoever, whether it's the woman or the man, is the weaker one in a
common-law union in Quebec gets shafted," he said.
He vowed to finance the woman's battle all the way to the Supreme Court of
Canada if need be.
So far, her bid has cost him about $1.2-million, he said.
The woman, a native of South America who is in her 30s and who had three
children with her ex, is challenging federal law as well as the Quebec Civil
Code and seeking $50-million of her former common-law husband's fortune,
alleging she was unfairly penalized because she never tied the knot.
She already receives $35,000 a month in child-support payments, but wants a
separate sum of $56,000 a month for herself.
She is seeking the same financial support as an ex-spouse in a formal
marriage would get. After common-law couples split in Quebec, a spouse is
required to give financial support only to the couple's children.
Unlike the other provinces, however, Quebec does not extend the same
protection to partners, because spousal support is mandated only for couples who
The woman's lawyers were back in Quebec Superior Court yesterday arguing her
They say it requires deep pockets to launch the legal challenge, which they
expect to take to the Supreme Court of Canada.
While the woman has described a lavish lifestyle of sailboats, mansions and
jet-setting, she is fighting on behalf of all women, her lawyers argue.
Most could never afford to take on an enormously wealthy ex.
"The case isn't about her," said Marie-Hélène Dubé, one of the woman's
Quebec legislators came up with the rules on common-law marriage based on the
notion they were giving couples the freedom to forgo the obligations of
marriage; Quebec feminists supported the move, arguing that it gave women
freedom from a patriarchal institution.
However, legal experts say that the freedom has left many former spouses -
overwhelmingly women - impoverished, because they were unaware of their legal
status when they decided to "shack up" without a ring.
Lawyer Anne-France Goldwater, who is fighting the woman's legal challenge,
said in court yesterday the notion of granting women autonomy in a common
relationship was utopian, while in reality it has condemned many women to
"Sorry," she told the judge, "but I never thought that being poor is noble."
With a report from Ingrid Peritz