Department of Justice and Public Safety
PO Box 8700
St. John’s, NL
Oct 11, 2016
Attention Hon. Minister Parsons,
On behalf of the Provincial Action Network on the Status of Women, we are writing to you today in regard to the Family Law Act. As you are aware, this law outlines the rights and responsibilities of partners in common law and marriage relationships. There are two problems that we would like to make you aware of. The first pertains to the definition of a common-law union. Under federal legislation, a common law relationship is recognized when the partners have lived together in a “marriage-like” state for a period of 12 consecutive months. In this province, a couple must co-habitate for a period of two years before being recognized. This discrepancy provides for ambiguity for individuals and couples as to their status and the rights that are associated with this designation.
The second issue relates to the fact that in our province, the property division provisions of this Act only apply to married couples. This means that at the dissolution of a common law relationship or the death of a partner, some common law partners will walk away with very little, despite having contributed to a home and acquired property and purchases for years or decades. We believe that this disproportionately negatively impacts women. Often women do not have their name legally attached to the home or other property, but yet believe that because their common law relationship is seen as equal to a marriage in other legal provisions that they are protected in this instance as well. Conversely, other women have remained in abusive situations, because they live in fear of having to give up half of their hard earned possessions, including shelter for themselves and their children.
We believe that education is imperative to ensure that this discrepancy is clear to all, in lay language, so that everyone understands his or her rights before entering into a common law relationship or marriage. We also feel that this provisions should be reviewed in light of current practices. Recently, British Columbia changed its laws to ensure the same protections for common law relationships as for married couples. As the proportion of common law relationships continues to increase, we believe that there will be growing recognition and pressure to review these provisions.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this situation further and provide you with specific examples of how this has impacted some of our women in our communities. We are moving this issue forward to improve the status of this legislation. We look forward to your response and in setting up a time to meet.
Provincial Action Network on the Status of Women
Paula Sheppard Thibeau
Corner Brook Status of Women
Tel: (709) 639-8522