Quebec Court Rules Common Law Couples Owe Alimony

It’s been a topic of some discussion for at least 30 years.  “Why is the marriage rate declining?”  After all, we’ve known since the Flood that families are the backbone of stable societies.  We know that two parents usually raise healthier, happier, better-adjusted children than single parents.  So with all that going for it, why the decline in marriage?  Well, there are a number of good answers to that question, and one of the best is “public policy.”  Marriage is declining because, despite what we say, what we do often promotes staying or becoming single.

So we laud single mothers as “warriors” who can “have it all.”  We vigorously promote the image of men and fathers as worthless louts incompetent at anything related to children and probably dangerous to both them and Mom.  We kick men out of their homes and children’s lives on the slimmest of pretexts. 

For decades we conditioned Aid to Families with Dependent Children on father absence.  “Get him out of the house,” we told poor women, “and we’ll pay you.  If he stays, forget it.” 

Then of course there’s “no-fault” divorce. 

Still more recently the State of Arizona was on the verge of radically upping child support to custodial parents, a move which, had it succeeded, would have encouraged divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing even more.

So the next time a politician, office holder or pundit waxes lyrical on the wonders of marriage, don’t believe it.  He’s selling you a bill of goods.  He’s saying the right things, but doing the wrong ones.  You can make book on it.

Now, as this article shows, the province of Quebec is poised to do its part to further the trend (CTV Montreal, 11/3/10).  An intermediate appellate court there has ruled that limiting a court’s award of alimony to married spouses only is unconstitutional.  The court suspended its ruling for a year pending a decision on the matter by the provincial Supreme Court.

In short, if the appellate court’s ruling is upheld, seemingly any relationship of any importance can result in an award of alimony once it breaks up.  Unless the ruling is overturned, in Quebec, the lower-earning partner gets paid whether married or no.  It’s another straw on the camel.  Once again, we’re paying people to avoid marriage.  This makes sense?

The new ruling would, by the way, bring Quebec into line with all other Canadian provinces, which, in my understanding, already award alimony to unmarried partners.

And this is no small thing in Quebec where, according to the article,

Up to 34 per cent of live-in couples are not married, and 60 per cent of children in Quebec are born out of wedlock.

Now, I don’t know what constitutes a “common-law” relationship in Quebec.  Here in Texas, it’s a question of fact that turns on things like whether the couple lived together, had a joint bank account, had children together, “held themselves out” as married, etc.  My guess is that similar considerations rule in Quebec. 

But the case does raise the issue of just how much of a relationship does one have to have in order to get alimony.  After all, the rationalization for awarding alimony to an unmarried partner is the same regardless of how long the two have been together or the nature of the relationship. 

Of course the judges don’t intend their ruling to open the door to “we went out on four dates and had sex twice, now pay up,” but the reasoning could just about extend to that.  The idea behind alimony is to prevent one partner from leaving the other high and dry.  That’s applicable to almost any relationship.

But whatever the case, the court of appeals has struck another blow against marriage.  Decades from now we’ll look back and shake our heads.  Some of us already do.

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