Canadian Court: Former Common-Law Partners Cannot Claim Survivor Benefits

October 29, 2004 ( - The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that former common-law spouses cannot collect survivor pension benefits, unlike their married-but-separated counterparts.

>The highest Canadian court ruled 7-0 that Betty Hodge, who had left her partner in 1994 months before he died, could not collect his survivor benefits, according to the Toronto Star. Justice Ian Binnie stressed that the court needed to compare separated common-law partners with divorced partners to come to the right ruling. Hodge was claiming that she should be compared to a married-but-separated spouse, who would be allowed to collect survivor benefits. Divorced spouses are not allowed to collect such benefits.

>At the time of his death, Hodge’s former common-law partner, Ronald Bicknell, was bankrupt. Both Hodge and Bicknell had contributed to the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), and Hodge had been receiving disability benefits since 1992, according to the Star. When she left Bicknell in 1994, she intended to and did end their relationship, Binnie wrote, making them comparable to a divorced couple.

>The court did, however, grant Hodge pension credits because the former spousal relationship had ended. Because of the split, her disability and CPP benefits were increased.

>The case was followed closely and supported strongly by the Canadian Aids Society, the result of a fear that the case would impact same-sex couples dealing with AIDS where partners may live apart because of long-term treatment due to the disease. In the ruling, Binnie and the court made clear that this analysis applied only to heterosexual couples. Asserting that the institution of marriage had not been open to homosexual couples for any considerable amount of time, Binnie stated that different considerations would apply to gay and lesbian couples in respect to survivor benefits.