In a landmark decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal has overruled a lower court and stated that the lawful beneficiary of a deceased pension earner is his ex-wife – and not his common law spouse. Here’s why:
Ronald Leo Carrigan died unexpectedly in 2008. And though he divorced his wife 23 years ago and began a common law relationship in 2000, in a split 2-1 decision the Ontario Court of Appeal has declared that his ex-wife should be the sole beneficiary of his pension, even though both she and his common law spouse qualify for survivor benefits under Canada’s Pension Benefits Act (PBA).
It’s a decision that legal experts say is both a warning sign and a wake-up call for divorcing and divorced spouses.
At the same time, it behooves common law spouses to make sure that their partners are taking care of the paperwork and not assuming, as Carrigan did, that the beneficiary would automatically change to reflect his changed domestic situation.
“Many people make this mistake and end up disappointing their common-law spouses to the benefit of previous wives they hate,” commented Phil Epstein, also a
However, as noted, the court was not unanimous in its ruling. Speaking for the majority, Mr. Justice Russell Juriansz, stated “I see 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.”
In his dissenting argument, Mr. Justice Harry LaForme claimed that “the definition does not give married spouse priority over common law spouses…also, since I imagine that situations like the one in this case are not uncommon, I would expect that the draftors of the PBA turned their minds to its possibility and drafted accordingly.”
Source: The Globe and Mail