Montreal, QC, Feb 01, 2013 — A third of all Quebec couples have "common law" partnerships - not marriages. A ruling last week in a case that's been making its way through the courts now confirms that if they split up, no one can claim alimony.
Quebec has one of the highest rates of unmarried cohabitation in the world. Over 30 percent of the province's couples live together, unmarried.
Which is why last week's ruling in the Eric vs. Lola case has wide-ranging repercussions.
It all started when Eric, a Quebecois billionaire, separated from his common law spouse of ten years, Lola.Those aren't their real names. Canadian law prevents the publication of their legal names to ensure their privacy.
When they broke up and Lola didn't receive alimony payments, she sued both Eric and the government of Quebec, claiming that the lack of protection for common-law spouses is discriminatory and violates the Canadian Constitution.
The case went all the way up to Canada's Supreme Court – and Lola lost. The court ruled last week that the province's laws aren't discriminatory. But the vote was close: 5-4.
Benoit La Plante is a demographer who studies population with INRS, Quebec's national institute for scientific research.
He says the ruling has prompted a lot of discussion about Quebec's marriage laws.
"So legally speaking, nothing changes. But likely a new round of discussion in the national assembly. And nobody knows exactly if and when and how the civil code will be changed."
Under current Quebec law, couples in de facto unions, or common law partnerships, have no financial obligation to each other when their relationship ends. Married couples, on the other hand, have to split their assets 50/50 and are entitled to spousal benefits like alimony.