Woulda, Shoulda, Buddha?

It’s one of the first questions I ask my family law clients, seeking advice on separation or divorce. Namely, whether they are married, or whether they cohabited in a marriage-like relationship, and if so, for what length of time.

In BC, to be considered spouses, the parties are required to have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for a minimum of two years, or if the parties lived together for any length of time and had a child together.

What actually constitutes cohabiting in a marriage-like relationship? At present, there are certain factors which define a marriage-like relationship, such as, shared ownership of property, bills for shared utilities, documents such as driver’s licenses, tax returns which show the same address for both parties, joint accounts, attending special events together, evidence of sexual contact.

A Richmond woman, has recently been granted the opportunity by the British Columbia Supreme Court to make a claim of spousal support against the alleged father of a child on the basis of a marriage-like relationship, where virtually none of these factors are apparent.

The father of the child and to whom the spousal support claim is made, is one of Buddhism’s holiest figures, known as the Karmapa Lama. While there was intermittent contact by way of messages, emails, and telephone, the parties never resided together, or even mentioned their relationship to anyone other than the woman’s mother.

While the woman’s claim for spousal support still remains to be determined at trial, if successful, it will definitely set a new, and low, threshold for the meaning of a marriage-like relationship.

The consequence of this decisions, if favourable for this woman will cause sleepless nights for many, particularly, one, sleepless in Tibet.