This was a column written a while ago while the case was in front of the courts. It articulates my thoughts on this quite clearly, so I'm publishing it again.
So let me get this straight. You're a 17-year-old perky teenager walking on a beach in Brazil and this 32-year-old rich guy, overcome with love, lust, heatstroke, whatever… sweeps you off your feet and whisks you to a new jet- set life in Montreal.
Ten years and three kids later, he decides that you are no longer young enough, perky enough, subservient enough, new enough (insert your guess here; it's as good as mine) and sends you on your merry way. You suddenly realize that you've been discarded and, since you were never married, you have no legal rights to that lavish lifestyle you've long become accustomed to. You're bitter, angry and can afford to pay a lawyer for an undetermined amount of time. Let the games begin!
As a woman, I have more than enough empathy for single moms everywhere who have had to make 'do' and raise kids with pitifully low child support payments. I have listened to many a girlfriend complain – and justifiably so - about the way many men quickly attempt to absolve themselves of their financial (and parental) responsibilities once the union is over. It's time that common law rights are redefined –at least to ensure that children conceived from these unions are taken care of fairly.
That being said, I wish that woman's lawyer wouldn't insult my intelligence by claiming that this ongoing court case is "a situation that affects many people who don't have the means to fight." Excuse you? Since when does a legal battle about $50 M and the opportunity to buy a… helicopter have anything to do with the single moms you or I know? What this woman gets in monthly support ($35,000) is what thousands of single women live off in a year and they don't even have the luxury of having their kids' school fees and vacation costs paid, nor access to a cook, two nannies and a chauffeur! Most of them are lucky if they get any help paying for summer camp, braces and the occasional tutor for their kids.
Since when does a legal battle about $50 M and the opportunity to buy a… helicopter have anything to do with the single moms you or I know? -
Does this court case hold certain legal interest because of the fact that it's bringing common law rights to the forefront? You bet! Too many people are still – to this day - oblivious to the fact that common-law unions do not offer the same protection as a marriage does. But ignorance of the law is not a defense when you commit a crime, so why should it be a defense when you've spent 10 years caught up with jet setting to Paris to buy designer dresses and living the lifestyle of the Rich & Famous, that you forgot to take a minute to see what –if any of this - might you be allowed to take along, if things went sour in the relationship.
I don't mean to sound heartless and I know that too many people get caught up in wearing rose-coloured glasses, thinking (or wanting to believe) that their relationship will always be perfect, but when kids are involved, adults owe it to their offspring to be pragmatic and responsible. She should have seen that she was at a disadvantage and enjoyed no protection, but then again, such strings are usually attached when you commence a relationship under such unequal circumstances…
From a legal point of view, it's indeed true that what this woman is receiving now from her ex and what she's fighting for are beside the point, and that with 30% of common-law families in Quebec (more than 1 million) it's important to see how this ruling will alter and/or affect future court cases and if it serves to set a precedent.
But, lady, while you're duking it out with your ex in court, do yourself a favour and stop issuing statements like "I want to help women who are in the same situation", because we just can't buy what you're selling. We know not of your situation. Many women, who have left a marriage and walked away with nothing, would have loved to have had the luxury of your 'predicament'. Go ahead and count your blessings. And next time, take a minute to count your rights, while you're at it, too.