SCC case to test unmarried partners’ rights

The Supreme Court of Canada has decided to take on an appeal over a pivotal Quebec case involving the right of unmarried couples to sue for alimony after a breakup.

The top court will resolve the question of whether the s. 15 Charter rights of de facto spouses in Quebec are being trampled on because the province’s Civil Code fails to provide the right to “support, partition of family patrimony, protection of family residence partnership of acquests and compensatory allowance,” all of which are afforded to married spouses, according to a summary of the case on the SCC web site.

The man and woman involved in the case have been identified only as “Eric” and “Lola,” due to privacy rights afforded to parties in Quebec family law cases. They lived together for seven years and Lola — who was 17 years old when she met a then 32-year-old Eric, who is a wealthy businessman — gave birth to their three children.

After the breakup, Lola initiated a $50-million action seeking a lump-sum payment and $56,000 in monthly alimony payments. The Quebec Superior Court denied her claim in 2009, but the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned that decision last November and ruled against the law that the lower court had said barred Lola from receiving compensation. It instructed the lower court to determine how much Lola should receive from Eric.
Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier has expressed his desire for the country’s top court to offer its thoughts on the issue.

Lola’s counsel, Guy Pratte of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, said in a release that he was “pleased with the decision of the country’s highest court of law to hear this case.”

The Supreme Court’s decision would certainly have major implications for the estimated 1.2 million people in Quebec — which is the only province that fails to recognize civil unions — who live together but are not married. It could be equally as meaningful for the province’s family law practitioners, who could expect to face a surge in business should the Civil Code provision be deemed unconstitutional.

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