Thursday, 5 February 2009

An Uncommon Case about Common Law Relationships: Words of Love on the Snow

Ti amo, je t’aime, yes! I found these words written in the snow this morning across the street from the huge house of a family involved in a complicated separation dispute where the stakes are extremely high. He is a billionaire; she, a woman he met on the beach her native Brazil when she was 17 and he was 32. They have three children together, but never married (a court order prohibits publication of the names, but who they are is pretty widely known.) Now that the relationship is over she is asking for $50 million for herself: currently he provides $35,000 a month for the staff and upkeep on the house (which is not in her name,) and the children’s education and activities.

Under Quebec law, as a common-law spouse she has no claim on the wealth he acquired during the time they were together. And while the amounts involved in the case make it seem beyond the realm of ordinary life, problems for unmarried partners after breakup are all too common here. Thirty-five percent of Quebec couples are not married, according to the 2006 census, and more than half of births occur to couples who are not married.

The woman’s lawyer in this case says it is an occasion to review and change Quebec’s laws. "If madam weren't in a situation where she could finance the case - because it's a case involving big money - the million or so women across Quebec who have no rights would continue silent, without a voice," Anne-France Goldwater said in interviews outside the courtroom last week.

This morning the words on the snow could be seen easily from the windows of the big house. I’d like to know who wrote them. and to whom they were addressed. Lover, child, friend? Perhaps. But maybe they should be seen as a thank you from all those who found themselves cut out when a relationship went sour.

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