She’s hardly a typical woman in any regard. She has a stack of pirated conspiracy theory DVDs, which she watches voraciously. She tells stories about Eric wanting to implant their children with microchips, in case they were kidnapped. She seems conflicted about the trappings of wealth, at once decrying the “totally materialist life” she had with Eric, while defending her pursuit of $50 million. “I deserve it,” she says without an ounce of irony. “It’s nice to be comfortable in life.” Eric, she says, has been stingy. Until 2006, when the courts compelled him to do otherwise, he was giving her $121,000 a year in child support. (In contrast, he spends an estimated $3.5 million a year on maintenance of his sailboat, according to a broker with knowledge of the matter.) But when Lola speaks about her case, it’s with an almost altruistic note. In fact, she sounds a bit like Herbert Black, the ex-boyfriend who has footed her legal bills in the name of an ideal. “Money’s nice,” she says, “but I would be more happy to change the law for other women.”
In fact, money aside, Lola and Eric’s relationship was actually quite normal in the province where they live. Quebecers in general have a jaundiced view of marriage, perhaps because of its religious undertones. (Until 1969, a marriage could only be officiated by a priest.) The percentage of unmarried couples is more than twice that in the rest of Canada. Oddly enough, it’s also in Quebec that unmarried couples have the fewest rights and responsibilities when relationships end.
“Quebec has a two-headed policy: hardline protectionism for married couples and complete autonomy for unmarried couples, with no legal duties or obligations,” says Robert Leckey, a family law professor at McGill University. “Unmarried couples in Quebec owe each other nothing as a result of their relationship. In other provinces, you live together for a stated period and there’s a duty to support your partner, as there is for married people. In Quebec, an unmarried couple could be together for 40 years, but the law still sees them as two strangers who happen to share a home.”
The end result can be messy. “Some people say divorce is actually a virtue of marriage, because there is a mechanism to deal with the dissolution of a relationship,” Leckey says. In Quebec, unmarried couples are meant to negotiate a contract—their own “mechanism”—with the help of a notary, but few actually do so. According to a study by Quebec’s notary association, fewer than 21 per cent make legal arrangements in the event of a breakup. Translation: were it not for her kids, Lola wouldn’t be entitled to a dime of the wealth Eric earned during their time together.
“I think that the phenomenon [of unmarried couples] is an expression of different values between Quebecers and the rest of Canada,” counters Bienvenu, Eric’s lawyer. “You cannot launch an equality debate by saying something happens differently in other provinces.” Bienvenu spoke to Maclean’s outside the courthouse on the penultimate day of the trial. During the conversation, he chastised Lola for posing for pictures for the news media assembled outside. His client, he points out, has done nothing to violate existing laws; in fact, in being so steadfastly against the idea of marriage, he is hardly different from most Quebecers. (Eric has since moved in with another woman, with whom he has two children. He has made his reluctance to marry clear to his current girlfriend, he said in court, just as he did with Lola.)
Hence her remark about women being like cows, says Goldwater, one of Lola’s two lawyers. A veteran of constitutional and family law, Goldwater, working on behalf of a Quebec gay couple, helped change the federal definition of marriage. (In Canada, marriage is a federal jurisdiction, while the celebration and solemnization of marriage is provincial.) Sprightly, profane, quick with a quote—“Herbie’s a good boy,” she says of Black’s financial support of Lola, “he always takes care of his ex-girlfriends”—her tongue has landed her in the spotlight during the trial.
Along with Quebec’s spousal support and family patrimony laws, she is also challenging the federal definition of marriage—for the second time in less than five years—so that it includes unmarried couples who have lived together for three years (one year if they have a child). “A friend of mine,” she says, “a Montreal lawyer, Danielle Gervais, said to me, ‘You know Anne-France, it never occurred to me that gay and lesbian couples would end up having more rights, in a sense, than unmarried couples.’ ”
Regardless of the outcome, the small army of lawyers on both sides of Lola and Eric’s case will likely seek to appeal Judge Carole Hallée’s decision, expected in June. Herbert Black says he’ll finance it all the way to the Supreme Court. He’s an intense fellow, visibly outraged when speaking about Quebec’s marriage laws. When the subject of Eric comes up, a string of unprintable words usually spills from his mouth. He became involved in the case in 2006, well after he and Lola were no longer an item. His money helped pay for several family law experts, as well as forensic accountants to dissect Eric’s wealth. No stranger to big cases— in 2000 he spearheaded and won a US$512-million antitrust case against Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses—he was also instrumental in getting Lola $35,000 in monthly child support in 2006.
These days, Lola spends her time parenting—she has joint custody with Eric—and thinking about what she’ll do with the money. Rich people, she’s discovered, “have bad habits,” but she’ll be different. She has long closed the book on her life with Eric. After the kids grow up, she’ll get her nurse’s degree and help the impoverished. She’ll get her pilot’s licence, buy a helicopter and work for the Red Cross. Africa. Asia. Her native Brazil. “If I have the money,” she asks, “why not?”