The Quebec government isn’t closing the door to reforming the province’s family law even though the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the province can exclude common law couples from receiving spousal support if the relationship breaks down.
Quebec Justice Minister Bertrand St-Arnaud was relieved that the court upheld the province’s marital laws by ruling that they complied with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He said that Quebec has always maintained the freedom of couples to choose the rules that govern their union and whether to be subject to the legal consequences of marriage.
But he also acknowledged that Quebec society has evolved and that the time may be ripe to reflect on the possibility of changing the law in order to grant greater economic protection to unmarried women involved in a common law relationship.
“It is true in the last decades our social and family reality has evolved. Is it time for us to start to think again about our family regime in our civil code? Maybe. Today, the door is certainly open to a general reflection about our family regime,” Mr. St-Arnaud said.
He refused to say whether the narrow 5-4 vote in favour of Quebec’s marital laws would weigh on his decision to re-examine provincial legislation.
The Minister said he would consult cabinet colleagues as well as legal and family experts before committing to a major reform of Quebec family laws.
“It is something we will have to examine in the coming weeks,” he said. “This debate has taken place several times in the last few decades and arrived at the same conclusion about the freedom of choice. But maybe we can look at it again.”
The Minister added that it would have been a major setback if Supreme Court justices, a majority of whom come from the rest of Canada, would have ruled against the will of the elected members of the National Assembly.
He noted that the Canadian Charter was part of the 1982 Canadian Constitution, which Quebec has never signed. “It would have been appalling to have judges, most of them coming from outside Quebec, to substitute themselves to the will of the elected Members of the National Assembly,” he said. “That would have been quite troubling.”
Mr. St-Arnaud also said that his government would consider launching a campaign to better inform unmarried couples of their rights including opting for extra protection through civil union and co-habitation agreement as well as joint ownership of property.
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