Goldwater, Dubé Revisits “Éric and Lola” for 2nd Edition of Family Law Competition

Apr 7, 2022

How to argue a case like Lola v. Eric in 2023? This was the challenge that Goldwater, Dubé presented to students from six Quebec law faculties for the second edition of its annual competition.

On the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision, which recognizes that de facto spouses in Quebec are discriminated against but leaves it to the provincial government to create a legal framework for them, competitors had to (fictitiously) bring the judgement to appeal. Whether representing Éric or Lola, participants had to take into account the evolution of laws and case law over the last decade.

In March, the finalists — who were selected based on the quality of their dissertations — plead their case before Me Anne-France Goldwater and Me Marie-France Ouimet who served as judges. It was quite the challenge, especially when you consider how Me Goldwater took Lola’s case to the Quebec Court of Appeal where she argued how unwed spouses should have the same protections as married spouses. Still, inequality before the law persists to this day.

Learning and Fun

“Competitors brought new perspectives that could enlighten the judicial system – because I fully intend to return to court on this subject,” said Me Goldwater observed during the event. “I took copious notes, I know who said what. If I accept their arguments, I intend to invite them to participate alongside me when the time comes. I want them to see that they have contributed to something important!”

The moot court competition was limited to students from Université de Montreal in its first edition before expanding participation in 2023 to Laval University, the University of Sherbrooke, the University of Ottawa, UQAM and McGill University. The stakes: a cash prize of $5,000 for the author(s) of the best brief, and $2,500 for the best litigant of each group.

The involvement of a leading firm like Goldwater, Dubé lends legitimacy to the competition, explained Marie Laverdure of the UdeM Family Law Committee, which coordinated the event. Beyond the monetary incentive, participants were able to take advantage of two training sessions offered by Me Ouimet and receive detailed feedback on their thesis and performance.

The final round was broadcast live online and watched very closely by the teams’ many supporters: “I felt so proud to see so much interest in family law,” said Laverdure. “There are not many events or competitions that take place around here.”

The competition was significant for Jack Ball, currently in his third year at McGill, who took home top prizes for Best Appeal Brief (with Ashley Clark) and Best Litigator (for the respondent, Éric).

For Ball, the exercise reaffirmed his decision to take on a summer internship at a Toronto firm that specializes in litigation. The New Brunswick native, initially nervous at the prospect of pleading in French for the first time, also realized he could consider working in his second language.

“The experience of having litigated in French showed me that I could perhaps return to Montreal one day,” he said.

The Heart of the Problem

Competitors were asked whether Lola, Éric’s former de facto spouse, was discriminated against because she could not claim the same rights as married people who separate (e.g. alimony, division of family assets).

Ball and his teammate pointed out that other sources of support exist for vulnerable people through the social services system. They also demonstrated that it has become easier for de facto spouses, with regard to precedence, to obtain compensation for the “unjust enrichment” of their partner as a result of domestic duties and the imbalance thereof. Conversely, the bar is much higher today than it was in 2013 for discrimination cases, they wrote.

Me Goldwater never would have imagined being won over by Team Éric, but ultimately she judged that the arguments in Jack Ball and Ashley Clark’s arguments were best.

“Now I just need to make sure that team is defeated if we ever get back in court!” she concluded.

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