CANADA: Quebecoise Billionaire loses case against common law wife – he must pay alimony

Interesting ruling in Quebec, Canada. An un-named billionaire has been found to owe alimony to a woman he was not “married” to. The woman known as “Lola” (In Canada it is against the law to publish the real names of individuals in a family law matter – and that includes divorce cases) brought suit against the billionaire for over $50,000 per month support (in addition to child support since they have three children together) and a multi-million dollar lump sum settlement. The lower courts found for the billionaire and ruled that since the parties were not married, she was not entitled to spousal support or maintenance or a settlement. However, a higher court has overturned the lower court’s ruling and have found that the billionaire and Lola are common law spouses and that Lola deserves alimony from the billionaire. According to the Montreal Gazette:

Quebec’s Court of Appeal has paved the way for people living in common-law relationships to collect alimony after a breakup, the Gazette reports.

The court overturned a lower-court decision that said a billionaire Quebecer didn’t have to pay alimony to his common-law wife and mother of his three children.

The three-judge panel ruled that the July 2009 Superior Court judgment be suspended for a year after which time there will be a trial to determine what the man will have to pay the woman.

Anne-France Goldwater, the lawyer representing the woman, argued before the Quebec Court of Appeal in May that the law should assign the same rights and obligations to common-law couples as they do to married couples, just like they now do with same-sex couples who are married. 

This is a very interesting ruling because the billionaire testified that he had had no interest in marrying the woman so it is not as if he ever “held himself out as husband and wife” with her. Therefore, this Court has given rights and obligations to a couple who never contracted to these rights and obligations whether expressly and impliedly. It would seem logical that if a man and woman want to share a marital relationship, they can easily go down the the county clerk and obtain a marriage certificate and do so. Failure to secure this legal status arguably should prevent either of the couple to bound the other to a contract. If this is now precedence in Quebec, then the courts might as well declare that “marriage” is obsolete and therefore null and void. So long as a couple cohabit and perhaps even procreate, then the automatic rights and obligations are triggered and there should no longer be a need to be “married.” That being the case, individuals are cautioned about cohabiting as opposed to getting “married” since they will ignite rights and obligations by the mere fact that they share a home with someone.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, it seems that Canada’s provinces allow common law marriages under certain prescribed circumstances and so the billionaire probably and arguably did have notice that he could be deemed married by cohabiting with this woman. In which case, he does appear to have a legal obligation to pay her alimony. Here in the U.S., most states, with the exception of Colorado, Texas, South Carolina and a few others, ban common law marriages. So this situation that the billionaire found himself in is highly unlikely to occur here.

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