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Are common-law spouses entitled to a claim for “unjust enrichment?”

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Family law

The concept of unjust enrichment can be traced to Roman law and the proverb that “no one should be benefited at another's expense.”

Unjust enrichment is comparable to the concept of compensatory allowance in the case of married spouses.  Wherea spouse has made a substantial contribution to the other spouse during the marriage or civil union and, because of it, the other spouse became significantly richer in property or services (in the form of a company, buildings, etc.), the first spouse may claim a compensatory allowance.  Consequently, following the separation, the first spouse could receive a sum of money or ownership of certain property as compensation for his or her contribution.

Section 1493 of the Civil Code of Quebec provides that unjust enrichment occurs when one person is enriched at the expense of another in circumstances that the law sees as unfair, more specifically:

‘A person who is enriched at the expense of another shall, to the extent of his enrichment, indemnify the other for his correlative impoverishment, if there is no justification for the enrichment of the impoverishment’.

When common-law spouses form a "joint family venture", there is an unjust enrichment if one party is left with a disproportionate share of the jointly earned assets.

 

To successfully claim unjust enrichment against another person, the Plaintiff must prove three things:

1)    the Defendant received a benefit;

2)    the Plaintiff suffered a loss corresponding in some way to the benefit;

3)    the fact that the benefit or the loss was unjustified;

 

Some examples pertaining to an unjust enrichment include the following:

-improvements to the Defendant’s property made by the Plaintiff;

-the payment of the Defendant’s debt by the Plaintiff;

-the unpaid work performed by Plaintiff, benefiting the Defendant, during the common-law spouses’ relationship.

 

Sonia Rotondo, Attorney-at-Law

Alepin Gauthier Avocats inc.

Are common-law spouses entitled to a claim for “unjust enrichment?”
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