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March 21, 2012
Supreme Court to revisit asset division for Quebec common-law partners

The Supreme Court of Canada will be asked to reverse a 2002 ruling and compel Quebec to allow common-law spouses to receive the same rights to spousal assets on separation as married spouses.

The case involves a prominent couple that had three children during their seven-year common-law relationship.  However, under Quebec law, common-law spouses are independent, equal entities that reject the formal ties and obligations of marriage.  As a result, they are not entitled to share in the growth of assets that may occur during their relationship.

In this case, the assets of the male partner are estimated to be in the multi-billion dollar range.

Lawyers representing the woman partner argue that the current situation in Quebec actually encourages the financially more powerful spouse in a common-law relationship to avoid the formal responsibilities of marriage including important items such as child support and asset division on separation or relationship breakdown.

However, the Supreme Court’s traditional reluctance to reverse its earlier decisions may impede the woman’s case.

Quebec is the only province that does not recognize the right of common-law spouses to obtain benefits or share assets on relationship breakdown.  The degree of support available to common-law partners varies considerably by province in the rest of the country.

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