Historic reform in Quebec: Bill 56 redefines the rights of de facto spouses

Written by David Tordjman

A new parental union regime
The Éric v. Lola decision, handed down more than eleven years ago by the Supreme Court of Canada, marked a decisive turning point in the recognition of the rights of de facto spouses in Quebec. As a continuation of this legal evolution, on March 27, 2024, Bill 56 was tabled in the Quebec National Assembly, paving the way for a new legal framework for unmarried couples. Under this bill, Quebec amends the provisions of the Civil Code of Quebec to specify that parents of the same child who cohabit together and publicly present themselves as a couple will now be able to benefit from protection similar to that of married couples with regard to assets belonging to the family patrimony.

Currently in Quebec, a de facto union confers no rights or financial benefits. Each spouse owns the assets in his or her own name, and the other spouse has no recourse against these assets, even if they were used for family purposes. It should be noted that in Quebec, over forty percent (40%) of couples live in a de facto union.

Main provisions and implications
Bill 56 will have the following effects between de facto spouses as of the birth of a child from their relationship, or when two parents of the same child become de facto spouses (or become de facto spouses again):

  1. The constitution of a family patrimony will include the following property owned by either spouse: the family residence or the rights conferring use of it, the furnishings and ornaments used for household purposes, and the motor vehicles used for family travel.
  2. In the event of separation, the spouses will share 50% of the value of the family residence, furniture and motor vehicles acquired after the birth of the child and used by the family. However, de facto spouses will be able to claim deductions from the division of the plan for assets similar to those enjoyed by married spouses.
  3. At the end of the parental union, one of the spouses will be able to ask the court to order the other spouse to pay him or her a compensatory allowance, in compensation for his or her contribution, in goods or services, to the enrichment of the other spouse’s patrimony. In particular, it will be necessary to prove the ongoing involvement of one of the spouses in the other’s activities or projects, regardless of whether these involved goods or services, or were profit-making or not.
  4. De facto spouses will be able to benefit from the rules relating to the protection and allocation of the family residence currently enjoyed by married couples. This includes, in particular, the granting of a right of use during the proceedings to the parent with custody of the child (whether or not the family residence is owned), and the prohibition on the spouse owning the residence from selling, mortgaging or renting part of it without the consent of the other spouse.
  5. De facto spouses may, during the union, modify the composition of the parental union patrimony or decide to apply these rules to their property with the help of a notary. They may also agree to add assets other than those already mentioned in Bill 56.
  6. In matters of succession, article 653 of the Civil Code of Québec is amended so that the surviving spouse receives one-third of the inheritance of the deceased spouse. For common-law spouses, the surviving spouse for devolution purposes is the one who was related to the deceased by parental union and who had been living in community with the deceased for more than one year.

It is also important to note that the coming into force of the law will not be retroactive. Only de facto spouses who are the parents of the same child born or adopted after June 30, 2025 will be subject to it. However, it will be possible for de facto spouses who are parents of the same child before June 30, 2025 to voluntarily become subject to the law by notarial act.

Advances and limitations
The Quebec bill emphasizes the child’s well-being by not making the length of cohabitation an essential criterion for application of the parental union regime. Unlike some Canadian provinces, such as British Columbia, where two years’ cohabitation is required to be recognized as a spouse and benefit from the division of property accumulated during the relationship.

Towards social and legislative evolution
Bill 56 therefore represents a balance between maintaining the independence of common-law couples to manage their patrimonial relationships according to their preferences, and establishing protections for those same common-law spouses with children, so that no spouse is adversely affected by the breakdown of the union. However, Bill 56 makes no mention of the possibility of one spouse claiming child support from the other (de facto spouses could already claim child support before).

Find out about your rights
If you have any questions about Bill 56, or would like to know more about your potential rights as of June 30, 2025, we invite you to contact our family law experts. Our team will be able to advise you on your potential rights and remedies, and offer you advice accordingly.