Goldwater, Dubé served a notice on the Attorney General of Quebec on March 1, 2021 that it will seek to challenge the absence of a legal framework between unmarried couples during the relationship and upon separation. It is unacceptable, senior partners Me Anne-France Goldwater and Me Marie-Hélène Dubé have argued, that unmarried spouses in Quebec are robbed of rights granted to all other Canadian couples.
In response to those proposing the solution should be to give rights only to unwed couples with children, Me Goldwater notes: “This may be a reality that is difficult for some to accept, but Quebec women are worth more than their uteruses! It is shameful for a society that prides itself on its feminism to fail to accord a legal status to unmarried couples, with or without children. It is high time to end systemic sexism once and for all!”
The case centers around a Quebec family whose union lasted nearly thirty years. The couple had four children together. Over the decades, a significant economic interdependence developed between the spouses. And, just as in a marriage of the same duration, at the end of the relationship, the economic inequality between the pair is striking. “The only difference between this couple and a married couple is that this couple did not participate in a celebration three decades ago,” Goldwater emphasized, “How they are viewed by the government makes no sense whatsoever.”
COVID-19 Highlights Systemic Sexism
The pandemic’s disproportionate effect on women has been widely reported. This state of affairs is even more critical for racialized women, who also face other social inequities. Childcare and other household responsibilities also fall most often on the female partner in heterosexual relationships. Projections suggest it will take until 2024 for North American women to regain their pre-pandemic foothold in the workplace.
“As my friend, professor Alain Roy, admitted with sadness” (Dr. Roy presided over Quebec’s Committee on Family Law Reform) “the economic equality of women was hard hit during the pandemic, and he admits that the Quebec government should mitigate this phenomenon by granting rights to unmarried couples,” Me Goldwater added. “Why? Because they are in general principally responsible for caretaking and homecare of sick family members, aging parents, children, grandchildren… The pandemic has taught us many things, the most obvious of which is that women never stopped being economically disadvantaged.”
Equality a Myth for Unmarried Quebecers
There is a common misconception that both people in a couple are equal in the eyes of the law and in Quebec’s justice system upon separation. This is incorrect. For unwed couples, women are severely disadvantaged over their lawfully wed counterparts and do not benefit from equal treatment, which ought to be guaranteed by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
It has been a stated mission of Goldwater, Dubé for the past 15 years to remedy this inequality. In the Eric v. Lola case, Me Goldwater and Me Dubé accompanied “Lola” to the Court of Appeal of Quebec to outline that a woman’s contributions to the family can go far beyond the act of bearing children. Gains made by the household as a unit must be more equitably divided at the end of a relationship to account for contributions that both partners bring to their union.
“It is unacceptable that in modernity, the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms guarantees equality of the sexes only in marriages and civil unions, and not in common law partnerships, a fact few citizens are aware of,” Me Goldwater said.
Most Quebec Children Denied Rights
The majority of children in Quebec are born to parents who are not legally married. In other words, these parents are in “common law” relationships. It is then unacceptable that only a limited number of families (families where the adults are married) benefit from spousal support, the family patrimony and the partnership of acquests intended to protect the most vulnerable members of our families. This difference can have a dramatic impact on the standard of living of children.
The effective result is that there are two sets of rights for two groups of children in Quebec, with the majority having fewer rights. This type of injustice further underscores how there is no need to distinguish between spouses with or without children when dividing a family’s assets.
Additionally, child support in Quebec is significantly lower than elsewhere in Canada. Few Quebeckers are aware of the astonishing and awful reality: because Quebec chose to adopt the least generous child support guidelines in Canada for the children of unmarried couples, these guidelines were then applied to children of married couples, thereby depriving all Quebec children of access to child support guidelines that would assure their standard of living is maintained after separation.
The discrepancy affects the majority of Quebec children, but the impact is even worse on unmarried parents who are robbed of other rights. Other rights reserved for children of married parents including the presumption of paternity, the right to use the family residence when a partner with custody is not the owner, and the right of the partner with custody to obtain half of the value of the family patrimony, among others.
“All mothers and their children deserve the same rights before the courts and the same level of support to cover their most basic needs,” Me Goldwater added. “We urge the Quebec government to make the right choice, and end this debate with the stroke of a pen, without creating more bureaucracy and new inequalities. Why not adopt the simplest solution? A couple living for three years in a conjugal union or who have a child should have the same status as a married couple. Voila! The debate would be over.”
Watch Me Goldwater's press conference:
Photo: Jude Beck // Unsplash