Without any pomp and circumstance, the definition of “spouse” under the Pension Benefits Act (Ontario) (PBA) was amended effective January 1, 2017. Under the revised definition, a spouse continues to include someone who is married to a person or who lives with a person in a ‘common-law’ relationship for at least three years. The definition also continues to include persons who are living in a relationship of some permanence if they are the parents of a child.
What has changed is the test for determining if two persons are the parents of a child. The definition of spouse in the PBA now refers to section 4 of the Children’s Law Reform Act (rather than the Family Law Act) for making this assessment. The Children’s Law Reform Act was amended January 1, 2017 to set out updated rules for determining parentage so that the law treats children the same, regardless of how they are conceived (e.g., in circumstances of assisted reproduction).
Many pension plan documents use the definition of spouse as set out in the PBA and will need to be updated. Further, the revised definition of “spouse” in the PBA is now expanded to cover a different and arguably, broader group of people, which could impact the provision of benefits. Plan administrators should review their plan documents (plan text, member communications, etc.) to determine if any changes are required to administrative practices or documentation to reflect the new definition of spouse.