Matrimonial Property Act

There were lots of women who ended up out of a marriage with nothing after they had worked beside their husband either in the fishery or…in a business…or by running the home. They would lose everything! …everything would be in his name and she’d leave with just some personal effects. That doesn’t house you and provide for you in old age.

– Billie Thurston, former Coordinator of the St. John’s Women’s Centre and Director of the Transition House in St. John’s, on what it was like for women before the Matrimonial Property Act came into effect

The passing of the Matrimonial Property Act in 1980 was a major victory for the Women’s Movement in NL. Before this act was passed, a divorced woman had no guarantee that she would receive any share of property acquired by her and her former husband during their marriage. Also a widowed woman had no guarantee that the family home would be passed on to her after her husband’s death.

Efforts to bring about fairer matrimonial property legislation began in the mid-seventies. In 1976, the Newfoundland Status of Women Council (later known as the St. John’s Status of Women Council) prepared and presented a brief on matrimonial property rights to the provincial government. The government didn’t respond. The Corner Brook Status of Women Council, the Central Newfoundland Status of Women Council, and the Labrador West Status of Women Council joined in the fight with further lobbying of MHAs, intensive letter writing and media campaigns, and petitions.

In 1979, the government finally responded and Lynn Verge, as a member of Cabinet was charged with working on the new legislation. On July 1, 1980, the new Matrimonial Property Act came into effect. It guaranteed spouses joint ownership of the matrimonial home during marriage (and in the event the marriage dissolved) and that on the death of one of the partners, the home would automatically go to the other partner.

On the day the new legislation passed the House of Assembly, a contingent of women were in the Legislative Galleries to celebrate the event. …many women across the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador had spent hours, months, and years of their time on this issue. …We won, as we had planned.

– Excerpt from “Memories of the Struggle for Matrimonial Property Legislation” by Lillian Bouzane, which originally appeared in the Waterlilly, Volume 2, No. 3. Winter 1990 (St. John’s, NL)