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Can a Person Have Two Spouses at the Same Time? (And Would They Want To?)

Can a Person Have Two Spouses at the Same Time? (And Would They Want To?)

The Ontario court recently made a preliminary ruling on whether, for the purposes of their claiming support, it was possible for a man to legally have two spouses at the time of his death.

In the case of Blair v. Cooke, a woman named Ingrid had sued for support from the estate of a man named Steven. Ingrid was claiming support as a “dependent” under the provisions of the Ontario Succession Law Reform Act, which allows a court to order proper support for dependents in any case where the deceased has not made adequate provision for them. That Act also stipulates that “dependent” includes any “spouse of the deceased” to whom support was owed immediately before the deceased’s death.

In support of her application, Ingrid filed extensive material to demonstrate that the couple had an 11-year relationship as what she called “quasi-spouses,” and had maintained a joint home in Mississauga. Based on this evidence, the court ruled that “it could be inferred” that Ingrid and Steven had “lived virtually, if not genuinely, as ‘common law spouses’” at the time of Steven’s death.

However, matters were complicated by the fact that Steven also maintained a home with another woman named Mary in Scarborough. Mary likewise filed a large amount of documentation with the court to show that she also had a relationship with Steven. (And – as an interesting aside – this was despite certain other evidence that Mary had “been in a relationship with another man for some time”. The court found that while this watered down her evidence a little, it did “not undermine it sufficiently” to warrant finding that she could not be Steven’s “spouse” even though she was in a relationship with someone else). After considering the materials filed by Mary in opposition to Ingrid’s claim, the court concluded that it “could also be inferred” that Mary and Steven had been living as common law spouses at the time of Steven’s death.

With two women both being declared Steven’s “spouse” by the court, the question became which – if either of them – were entitled to support from his estate.

Ultimately, the court found that both Mary and Ingrid could be “spouses” under this legislation, and both could theoretically get support. There mere fact that Ingrid might receive support from Steven’s estate did not preclude Mary from also obtaining it; the Succession Law Reform Act was aimed at providing for “dependents”, and “spouses” were just one variety of those.

Therefore, and as long as they were considered “dependents”, they could both receive support as long as they met the established test for whether it should be ordered (which test included considerations involving the parties’ shelter, sexual and personal behaviour, services, social interaction, societal attitudes towards them, economic support, and children).

For these purposes, Steven could have two “spouses” at the same time.

Incidentally, in coming to this conclusion the court also dismissed Mary’s argument that to find both women to be “spouses”, the court was effectively declaring Steven to have been living in a bigamous relationship. Such an argument was not legally sound: Steven could not be a bigamist here, because he was never legally married to either Mary or Ingrid, and bigamy involves multiple married relationships only.

For the full text of the decision, see: Blair v. Cooke, http://bit.ly/hQF8oT

Additional information on family law issues can be found on our web site  www.russellalexander.com