MONTREAL – With her rent-free $2.5-million mansion, two nannies, a chef
and a chauffeur, Lola seems an unlikely champion of downtrodden single
But the 35-year-old woman Wednesday won what is being hailed
as a major legal victory for common-law spouses, who under Quebec’s
Civil Code have enjoyed no right to alimony in the event of a break-up.
The Quebec Court of Appeal ruled unconstitutional a clause of the
Civil Code that blocked common-law spouses from seeking alimony after
the end of a relationship. The three-judge panel found that the
provision discriminates against common-law spouses, perpetuating a
prejudice that such relationships are “less durable and serious” than
those sanctioned by marriage.
Guy Pratte, a lawyer representing Lola (that is a pseudonym; under
Quebec family law, the former couple cannot be identified), said the
decision represents important progress: “It recognizes that families in
Quebec are protected when it comes to alimony, whether the couple is
married or not. It puts Quebec couples in tune with those in other
The court suspended application of the decision for one year to give
the provincial government time to adapt its legislation. The ruling will
have broad implications in Quebec, which has the highest proportion of
unmarried couples in the country. Figures from 2006 cited by the court
show 35% of Quebec couples live common-law, compared with 18% in the
rest of the country, and 60% of children in Quebec are born to unmarried
parents. Quebec is the only province that does not recognize the right
of common-law spouses to sue for alimony.
A Quebec federation representing single-parent families called the
ruling “a major advance” for the rights of common-law spouses and their
children. “It was time to bring an end to this injustice,” the
federation said in a statement. “With this ruling, the Court of Appeal
finally recognizes the urgency of reforming family law in Quebec.”
Lola brought the issue to the fore with a lawsuit against her
billionaire ex, known as Éric, seeking a $50-million lump-sum payment,
in addition to monthly payments of $56,000 per month.
They had been together nearly 10 years and had three children before
their 2002 split. The Civil Code does provide for child support even
when parents are not married, and Éric has agreed to pay $411,000 a year
in support, in addition to covering the cost of their schooling, riding
courses and other household expenses. Éric also provides Lola with a
$2.5-million home, although he remains the property’s owner.
Quebec Superior Court ruled last year that Lola had no right to
alimony. Justice Carole Hallée found that the distinction made in the
law between common-law and married couples was intended to preserve the
freedom of choice of people who prefer not to assume the legal
responsibilities of marriage.
The Court of Appeal did not give Lola complete victory, rejecting her
bid for a share of Eric’s property. It will be up to Superior Court to
determine the appropriate level of alimony.
Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier called the ruling “very
important” but did not indicate whether the government would appeal to
the Supreme Court of Canada.
In a brief statement, Éric said he will respect the court’s decision
and made an appeal to the media to respect his private life and those of