Experts recommend changes to Quebec family laws to reflect current trends

MONTREAL — Quebec’s family law regime should be reformed to better reflect the reality of increased common-law marriages and children born under such unions in the province, a government-mandated committee reported Monday.

The group released a 600-page report with 82 recommendations that call for sweeping reforms to the current set of laws for unmarried couples.

Among them is a mandatory parental regime which would set out obligations towards children born during a common-law union as well as between parents following a split — to a certain point.

The report suggests that a parent at an economic disadvantage due to the end of a relationship would have the right to claim compensation for time spent taking care of children instead of pursuing a career.

Compensation would be a fixed amount and not alimony paid out by the former partner.

But in all cases — whether it’s a common-law relationship or a marriage — obligations towards any children remain unchanged.

“The child is a common responsibility of the two parents,” said Alain Roy, a notary who served as chair of the expert panel. “The economic disadvantages that come from being a parent should not be taken on by only one parent, regardless of what happens during a common-law relationship or a marriage.”

The panel of experts was convened following the high-profile split of a woman and her common-law partner, a prominent Quebec businessman who argued he should not have to pay alimony because they were never legally married.

It was widely known as the Eric vs Lola case, because the pair was not identified under a court order to protect the identities of their three children.

The case went before the Supreme Court of Canada where, in January 2013, the top court ruled by a slim majority that Quebec does not have to give common-law spouses the same rights as married couples.

A committee of experts was established in April 2013 and the final report looked at family law as a whole — including the rights and obligations of spouses and parenthood.

They suggested couples without children be left to define the contractual arrangement they would like to live under, whether in a common-law relationship or a regular marriage.

The experts also recommended repealing the concept of a civil union, which has been around since 2002.

Additionally, the committee recommended repealing the confidentiality of adoption files and recognizing the right of children to know their origins — whether by adoption or medically-assisted procreation.

Another recommendation is that corporal punishment be banned.

Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee said in a statement the report will help guide the government as it reflects on changes to be announced in the coming months to modernize the laws.

“The hard work and high quality of these experts will be very useful for further reflection,” Vallee said.

Lia Levesque, The Canadian Press

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