Que. alimony case to go before top court

Canada's highest court will consider an appeal of a landmark Quebec ruling over the rights of unmarried couples to sue for alimony when their live-in relationships end.

Appeal court said rights of marriage not just for those who marry

Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier announces the appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada on Dec. 15. (Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot)
Canada's highest court will consider an appeal of a landmark Quebec ruling over the rights of unmarried couples to sue for alimony when their live-in relationships end.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed Thursday to hear arguments after the Quebec government appealed an earlier decision by the province's Court of Appeal.

The top court will consider whether "de facto spouses" in Quebec are victims of discrimination because the province's civil code guarantees support payments and property rights only for people who were married or in civil unions.

Last November, a Quebec woman who can be identified only as "Lola" won a partial victory at the Quebec Court of Appeal in her $50-million alimony suit against her former partner, "Eric," a wealthy businessman.


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The court struck down the section of the civil code and gave the province one year to change it. 

Provincial Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier has said he wanted the Supreme Court of Canada to review the decision and provide the government with clear instructions should it decide to uphold it.

Couple lived together for 10 years

Lola was 17 when she met the wealthy entrepreneur. The couple spent 10 years together and had three children.

When the couple split, Lola, now in her 30s, sought a $50-million, lump-sum payment from her former partner and $56,000 a month in alimony payments.

A woman known as Lola is seeking alimony after living with a man in a union that produced three children. They never married. (CBC)
In 2009, Lola took her case to the Quebec Superior Court, where a judge rejected her claims, saying that under existing law, unmarried partners have no rights, duties or responsibilities to each other.

Lola appealed, and last November, Quebec's Court of Appeal struck down the Quebec law.

The Court of Appeal did not rule on Lola's damages, preferring instead to send the matter back to Quebec Superior Court for a decision on how much "Eric" owes her.

Family lawyer Marie-Christine Kirouack, who is not involved in the case, said the issue before the Supreme Court is a touchy one that could have significant ramifications in Quebec.

An estimated 1.2 million Quebecers live together and aren't married, and 60 per cent of children are born outside married unions, according to provincial statistics.

Kirouack said if the court supports the lower court ruling, many couples may break up to avoid the financial obligations.