The 2010 Lola Decision: Support for Common-Law Partners Gets the Green Light?

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Did you see the headlines recently? You might have heard about the “Lola” court case and how common-law partners can now get support payments from a former partner.

Is this really true? If so, why the change?

Flashback to 2009

Back in 2009, Lola lost her court case the first time around: the Superior Court of Quebec decided that common-law couples cannot get support from an ex-partner. To understand what happened in the first case, read “Understanding the 2009 Lola Judgment: No Support Payments for Common-Law Partners”.

But the Superior Court decision was reviewed by a higher court, the Quebec Court of Appeal. The higher court gave its decision a few weeks ago. It decided that common-law partners do have the right to ask for support. The court gave the government one year to change the current law.

So what really happened?

The Court of Appeal decided that giving support to married and civil union spouses but not to common-law partners goes against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In particular, the court said that having a different rule for common-law partners violates the right of Canadians to be treated equally by the law.

Exactly why did the court find that the Charter had been violated? Here are some of the court’s reasons:

  • Common-law partnerships are now accepted by society, but the law continues to put them at a disadvantage by stereotyping them. One of these stereotypes is that common-law partnerships don’t last as long and are less serious than marriages or civil unions. The facts show that this is not true.
  • People in common-law relationships can be vulnerable or dependent on a partner just like people in marriages or civil unions.
  • The purpose of support payments is to protect family members by ensuring that they have enough money to meet their needs. In 2006, 34.6% of Quebec couples were living in common-law relationships. This means that one-third of Quebec couples do not have protection for their families. The Court of Appeal said that the government was ignoring this new social reality.
  • The Court of Appeal also pointed out that sometimes one person in a couple refuses to marry. This means that the partner who would prefer to marry is at a disadvantage.

How does the Court of Appeal decision affect common law couples who are breaking up?

For now, nothing changes! The current rules continue to apply until the government changes the law or the one-year time limit to change the law runs out. For now, common-law partners cannot ask an ex-partner for support for themselves.

But over the next year, the government should be changing the law so common-law partners can ask for support. Until then, it is difficult to know exactly how the Court of Appeal decision will affect common-law partners who break up.

Also, you should know that the people involved in the Lola case can try to challenge the Court of Appeal decision in the Supreme Court of Canada. Then that court will have to make a final decision on the issue.