May 14, 2024 | Amendments to legislation

Quebec’s Family Law Reform and Bill 56: What does this mean for unmarried spouses?

On March 27, 2024, the National Assembly of Québec passed An Act respecting family law reform and establishing the parental union regime, known as Bill 56, recognizing the parental union for unmarried spouses who are the parents of the same child, born or adopted, after the coming into force of this Act on June 30, 2025. The family law reform started in 2023 with the adoption of Bill 12 initiated by Justice Minister Jolin-Barette, which aimed to safeguard children born from sexual assault and to regulate surrogate pregnancies.

The new Quebec reform seeks to protect the de facto (common-law) spouses should they separate by proposing that similar rules applicable to civil union and married spouses be applicable to de facto spouses too. Bill 56 addresses a gap highlighted by the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark and contentious 2013 decision in Éric v. Lola. This ruling solidified the exclusion of unmarried couples from certain protections typically allocated to married couples.

Under this new amendment, the rules of family patrimony will apply to unmarried Quebec couples who cohabit, publicly present themselves as a couple and have children together. This means that property accumulated during the union, such as the family residence, will be subject to specific rules in the event of a separation. The amendment establishes a “parental union patrimony”, comprising the assets owned by the spouses. They may however, by mutual agreement and in the presence of a notary, modify the composition of the parental union patrimony or choose to withdraw from it and exclude a certain asset from the parental union.

It is important to note that Bill 56 is not retroactive and will not apply to unmarried spouses who are already parents. The reform also does not impose a requirement to the length of cohabitation for the rules of the parental union regime to apply. The legislation will be effective from the child’s date of birth within the relationship or when the two parents of the same child become de facto spouses.

Bill 56 protects certain rights of de facto spouses such as the right to apply to the court for:

  • a compensatory allowance;
  • the right of a spouse in a parental union to inherit from their deceased spouse in the case of legal devolution;
  • the right to homologate an agreement between the spouses concerning the end of their union;
  • the right to ask for deductions from the division of the family patrimony, etc.

Under Bill 56, the family patrimony in the parental union regime will include the following property owned by either spouse: the family residence or the rights conferring the use of it, the movables and ornaments garnishing the residence, as well as any vehicles used for the family. For married couples, family patrimony includes: primary and secondary residences; (2) household furnishings; (3) vehicles used for family transportation; (4) retirement benefits (such as RRSPs, pension plans, QPPs and CPPs); (5) and private pension plans. If the de facto spouses were to separate, the property acquired after the birth of the child and used for family purposes would be partitioned equally between the spouses.

In theory, Bill 56 is a pivotal step in the right direction. When it comes to modernizing Quebec law to include new family realities and additional protection to children born outside of a marriage.

The bill also proposes that judges will now have the obligation to award damages in cases of judicial violence. The court must consider the history of the proceedings between the parties, the impact of their repeated and disputed nature on the former spouse and on the children, and whether the parties are equal in power, where there have been incidents of violence in the family. In addition, the chief justice of the Superior Court and chief judge of the Court of Quebec must favour having the same judge throughout the course of the file, in cases involving violence. Finally, judges of the Superior Court seized of a family law matter are also allowed to obtain, among other documents, a copy of the decision rendered in the Youth Division of the Court of Quebec.

In 2013, when Éric v. Lola was rendered, the Supreme Court of Canada established that unmarried couples in Quebec were excluded from property division and spousal support otherwise applicable to civil union and married spouses as per the provisions of the Civil Code. As it stands, a de facto union in Quebec does not grant any rights, protections, or financial consequences. What each spouse owns in their name, belongs to them without any recourse against these assets, even if they were used for the family. However, even with the enactment of Bill 56, spousal support is still not an option for de facto spouses.

In addition, the new regime does not set out any provisions for couples who are not the parents of the same children.

Similarly to when the concept of family patrimony was first introduced in 1989, there will be an adjustment period. In practice, one of the main concerns is that people will have entered a “parental union patrimony” without even knowing. There is a possibility that de facto spouses who have children after the coming into force of Bill 56, will be unaware of the existence of this bill and its repercussions on the financial situation of the spouses.

There are additional limitations with Bill 56 that may arise in practice. In an effort to circumvent the application of the “parental union patrimony”, one spouse may attempt to deceive the other. For instance, they may opt to rent rather than purchase a home, plan significant purchases before having children, mortgage property to its capacity, or transfer ownership of property to someone else to avoid the rules of partition in case of separation.

While Bill 56 proposes a mechanism that may be effective for some, it is not a ‘one-size fits all’ solution. Consequently, it is crucial to seek legal advice to protect your interests and your financial assets under this new regime.

If you have any concerns about how this new legislation will affect your family situation as of June 30, 2025, it is best to consult one of our lawyers specializing in family law here at Spunt & Carin should you have any questions.

Link to Bill 56: