First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby, in a baby carriage? Or so it seems. Nowadays, the traditional path to raising a family does not always adhere to convention. There was a girl named Lola, but she was no showgirl. She was a young Brazilian woman who fell in love with Eric, a high profile Quebecois billionaire. Eric and Lola, an unmarried common law couple, shared 10 years of their lives and raised 3 children together. They were given fictional names to protect their identity and that of their children. The infamous case, known as “Eric vs. Lola”, fought for the recognition of common law couples to be accepted as equivalent to civil law unions. Many hoped this would change the picture-perfect ideal of marriage by better reflecting the norms of the 21st century.
In many ways, Quebec is distinct from the rest of Canada. While some distinctions are more obvious than the others, none can be more evident than the profound impact of Quebec’s civil law. Quebec is the lone province that is exempted from the rule of the common law; by adopting the civil law, the dissimilar nature of family law becomes evident. The failure to recognize the validity of de facto couples is problematic, as one-third of all couples in Quebec are unmarried, according to Statistics Canada. Many were hopeful that the verdict from Eric vs. Lola would change this.However, on January 25th, it was decided by the Quebec Supreme Court, that the granting of alimony would not be extended to common law couples. Hence, the double standard of justice remains.
This double standard of justice is clearly demarcated. Married couples, as recognized by the law, are required to equally divide assets gained over the course of marriage, whether it is properties, finances, or possessions. Most importantly, women are given alimony for both themselves and their children. However, things are not so fortunate or evenly distributed for unmarried or common law couples. They lack suitable protection should their union dissolve; any assets gained are not evenly distributed. Similarly, child support is rarely provided, unless specified in a will. In short, women are typically left to fend for themselves.
The distinction between civil and common-law couples in appearance is not quite noticeable. Unfortunately, on paper, wedding rings and weddings vows seem to be of vital importance in order to for women to gain full alimony and child support rights. Article 585 of the Quebec Civil Code states that “married or civil union spouses, and relatives in the direct line in the first degree, owe each other support”, with regard to child support. This article is narrowly applied only to couples recognized by the law, leaving unmarried or common law couples in the dark.
For others, “Eric vs. Lola” was also a chance to seek gender empowerment, fighting for single mothers and equality. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter outlines the need to administer justice fairly, despite being blind to gender differences. Single mothers, a defined minority group, often struggle financially as they tend to be the sole income providers. Sadly, this was not rendered valid or deemed an acceptable reason, as the final decision did not reflect concern for this matter.
Can it be assumed that the sanctity of marriage still stands? Although peoples’ attitudes and values towards marriage may have changed, the law still heavily values the decree of its institution, as evident in the binding influence of the civil law in Quebec. One thing is for sure: wedding rings are worth a lot more than 14k gold and princess cut diamonds. They rightfully guarantee the promise of security and equality, should the couple renege on the vows they swore to abide by.
– Chloe Giampaolo
(Feautred photo: Avjoska, Wikimedia Commons)