The lawsuit seeks the same rights for common-law unions as married couples



Lawyer Anne-France Goldwater has indicated that she will seek to challenge the lack of legal protection for common-law couples in Quebec.

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Family lawyer Anne-France Goldwater has told the Quebec government that she is seeking to challenge the lack of legal protection for common-law couples in the province, a situation that she says deprives unmarried spouses. rights granted to couples in the rest of Canada.


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“This systemic sexism is unique in Quebec,” Goldwater said at a video press conference Wednesday.

The Montreal lawyer has dedicated her career to fighting for changes to the Civil Code of Quebec in order to grant the same rights and obligations to common-law couples with or without children as to married couples.

On Monday, she told the Attorney General of Quebec that she would challenge the constitutionality of the Civil Code’s family law provisions that apply only to married couples and civil unions, as this leaves common-law spouses to separate. without the right to what was accumulated during the relationship, the family home or alimony.

The challenge arises in one of Goldwater’s cases currently heard in the Superior Court of Quebec concerning the separation of a common-law couple identified only as “Nathalie” and “Pierre” to protect their identity. The couple have four children from their 30-year relationship.


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Goldwater’s opinion also indicates that she will challenge the constitutionality of section 47 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which, in her view, does not protect equality between de facto spouses because it does not applies only to married or civil union spouses.

She said that only “a few hundred” couples a year have chosen civil union since its establishment in 2002. Quebec couples marry or live together in a “common-law relationship,” she said.

“The central problem we have in Quebec today is that our family law… views unmarried women as less valuable than their married counterparts,” Goldwater said.

She added that the inequality of women in Quebec civil law undermines the values ​​of a province that sees itself as a feminist society and as a pioneer in the promotion of women’s equality.


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His law firm, Goldwater, Dubé, defended “Lola” in Lola v. Eric before the Superior Court of Quebec ten years ago. The case led the Quebec Court of Appeal to declare certain parts of Quebec legislation unconstitutional in that it denied rights to alimony and the matrimonial regime. The decision was then overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada.

To avoid another legal battle, Goldwater asked the Quebec government to legislate so that a couple who have lived together for three years in a conjugal union, or a cohabiting couple who have a child together have the same status as a married couple. This is the highest standard of any law in the land, she said. In fact, most laws now refer to a single year of cohabitation, she said.


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“The government must tell itself (that) all mothers, all children, all women deserve the same rights in court and the same level of support and benefits to cover their basic needs,” she said.

Most children in Quebec are born to parents who are not married, Goldwater said. Yet only families whose parents were legally married can benefit from spousal support and property division when the relationship breaks down, which in turn affects their children’s standard of living. The lack of a legal framework for de facto unions creates two sets of rights for two groups of children in Quebec, she said, with the majority of children having fewer rights.

Additionally, Goldwater said child support in Quebec is “considerably lower” than elsewhere in Canada. The story is complicated, but it stems from the fact that Quebec chose to adopt what it called the least generous child support guidelines in Canada for children of unmarried couples and then apply the guidelines to children of married couples.


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The Supreme Court in Lola v. Eric declared the situation in Quebec discriminatory, which was a start, Goldwater said. But the law stuck because at the time, then-retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin accepted an argument from Quebec lawyers that the province had chosen to prioritize autonomy over protection of common-law couples. She concluded that the discrimination was justified in a free and democratic society.

The lawyers’ argument then turned out to be false, Goldwater said, and successive Quebec governments have since pledged to provide legal protection to common-law couples without following through.

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