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Court awards estranged wife deceased man’s pension

Court awards estranged wife deceased man’s pension

The court’s decision in Carrigan v. Carrigan Estate provides and important reminder that departing spouses must remember to change their beneficiaries or risk having them frozen in time.

Although Mr. Carrigan had separated from his wife of 23 years, Melodee Carrigan, in 1996, the couple never signed a separation agreement. Accordingly, Mrs. Carrigan and their two daughters continued to be designated as Mr. Carrigan’s pension beneficiaries.

In 2000, Mr. Carrigan moved into a condo with his new partner, Jennifer Quinn, and resided with her until his death and the couple became common-law partners after their third year of cohabitation.

When Mr. Carrigan died both Mrs. Carrigan and Ms. Quinn qualified as wive under pension legislation for the purpose of determining survivor benefits.

The Court of Appeal reviewed the relevant legislation and Justice Juriansz concluded that there was:

“…no particular policy rationale for interpreting the Pension Benefits Act to provide unequivocally that in all circumstances where there is a legally married spouse and a common law spouse, the common law spouse is entitled to the member’s death benefit …”

It would appear that the Ontario Court of Appeal has added a further nuance to the old saying ’til death do us part’.  It will be interesting to see of Jennifer Quinn decides to Appeal this matter to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Court of Appeal’s decision can be found at:

Carrigan v. Carrigan Estate 2012 ONCA 736 (CanLII)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.