What is the government waiting for to give common law spouses the same rights as a married couple?
It has been more than a decade since the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Eric v. Lola. A decade during which the Quebec government did not realize that common-law spouses deserved to be recognized by Quebec civil law.
Thousands of women (because they are most often women) and children in Quebec are living in alarming situations because of this inertia. If François Legault’s government really believes in secularism and gender equality, let it prove it by finally amending the Civil Code to grant common-law couples the same rights as married couples.
Quebec is justifiably proud of its affordable child care and shareable parental leave. But these successes should not obscure the statistics that remind us that more women work part-time than men, earn less than men, and spend more time doing household chores. .
Even today, many women put their careers on hold to take care of their families.
During a separation, the future of these women depends, in Quebec, on a single question: are they married? If the answer is yes, the law will protect them by providing access to alimony, family patrimony and partnership of acquests. If the answer is no, they will have no right to any of this, with sometimes dramatic consequences for the future of their children.
It is for this reason that I accompanied “Lola” to the Quebec Court of Appeal and that I am still fighting to end this inequality before the law, which does not exist in any other province.
The law is not set in stone: it must evolve with society.
The Supreme Court decided that the Quebec regime, which ignores common-law spouses, was unconstitutional. But the chief justice ruled that it was the responsibility of the National Assembly to rectify the situation, which the government of the time undertook to do. His promise remained a dead letter.
The latest sign of an attempt at reform dates back to the work of the Family Law Advisory Committee, whose 2015 report revealed an incomplete view of the issues. His unnecessarily complicated proposals were fortunately shelved. Maybe it’s time to tap into the expertise of lawyers who witness real family dramas in real time every day to tackle the problem?
But that may be being too optimistic.
The CAQ government should tackle an outdated Civil Code, which still places marriage above free union, which reflects Catholic mores. Remember that in Quebec, marriage has been a purely religious institution for much longer than elsewhere in Canada. By eliminating this imbalance, the government would recognize the secularization of Quebec society and would be truly committed to secularism.
He would also work for the well-being of children born out of wedlock (a majority in Quebec!). The child support scale in Quebec is still the least generous in the country, which makes it difficult to maintain their quality of life after a separation, regardless of the status of the parents.
When the latter are de facto spouses, the consequences are felt even more harshly, in particular because of the absence of a pension between spouses. A child should never have to drop out of a school or activity because their parents are separating. And yet, let’s face reality: if there is not enough money for housing and food, there will be no money for “extras”.
In my role as a lawyer, I learned something that goes beyond the law: the grief of separation is universal, gay or straight, married or common-law.
We are all equal in pain. This truth helped advance the law for same-sex couples. It must also be heard for de facto spouses.