Some bad news for couples in long-term relationships who didn’t get the paperwork signed and stamped—your union doesn’t come with the same privileges.
A recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada decided that in Quebec, common-law spouses won’t get the same rights that married couples get.
The case involved a common-law couple—”Eric” and “Lola” who had three children together, and separated in 2002 after seven years together. The man already paid child support, but the woman argued that she was entitled to spousal support, like a married couple would be.
On the surface, this feels like an unfair ruling, one where the court suggests that common law couples aren’t in the same league as those who have a piece of paper legitimizing their union. But “Lola” already receives $460,000 in child support each year, and was given a $2.5 million house. “Eric” also pays for a chauffeur, cook, two nannies, and gave his former partner a car.
It seems that even without the extra spousal support, “Lola” might be just fine. This, however, isn’t truly the typical scenario of common-law couples who separate.
For many unmarried spouses who separate from their partners, they often leave with none or little of the wealth earned during the union. Unmarried women are obviously at a disadvantage, with fewer resources just because they never signed a marriage license.
Unsurprisingly, four out of the five male judges said that excluding common law couples from spousal support didn’t violate the right to equity. All four of the female judges said that it does.
There must be something magical about a marriage license: surely it has some mystical proprieties that, once you sign it, your relationship becomes more legitimate and you’re owed compensation should it end.
The ruling seems to say that marriage is a choice, and couples can choose it for themselves. If you definitively want all the rights and protections that come with marriage, then opt for it. But what this particular ruling ignores is that for women who have no legal grounds when they separate from their partners, they’re left with nothing and have little recourse.
What’s strange is that Quebec can’t seem to make up its mind—on one hand, they’re risking the wrath of the church by looking into an assisted suicide plan, and on the other, they’re staying true to their Catholic roots with this common-law partnership ruling. What is it about the institution of marriage that makes it so tough to change?
It’s more of the traditional nonsense that says that a couple isn’t a real couple—and a family isn’t a real family—without the legal documents.