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Double Trouble: Should a Couple be Entitled to Double the Parental Benefits if They Have Twins?

An Ottawa man and his wife gave birth to twin girls and each parent filed an application for parental benefits. Couples must typically split the benefits to which they are entitled – one person can take the entire 35 weeks of parental benefits, or a couple can divide the time at their discretion. If and when another child is born, the parents are entitled to another 35 weeks of parental benefits.

The question that arose in this case was whether the man and his wife were separately entitled to 35 weeks of parental benefits in light of the fact that their two children happened to arrive at the same time. The case became one about discrimination – it was essentially argued that parents of twins are treated differently than parents who give birth to two singletons at different times.

The case made its way through the legal system and ended up at the Federal Court of Appeal.

Among other things, the man argued that:

parents like him and his spouse, in addition to sharing the hardship suffered by all parents of newborn children, suffer additional hardship by reason of a multiple birth and, hence, that this group… “is particularly vulnerable before and after childbirth”… more so because they experience higher pre-term issues, additional medical problems, increased parental depression and stress, and lower levels of cognitive ability or social skills in the case of the children.

For these reasons, he claimed, he and his wife ought to be entitled to a total of 70 weeks of parental benefits to allow them both to take the 35 weeks off work and care for their two newborn children.

The Court acknowledged that caring for twins may involve more work. However, after reviewing the facts of the case and the applicable law, the Court stated that “the purpose of the parental benefits is to compensate parents for the interruption of earnings which occurs when they cease to work or reduce their work to care for a child or children. The scheme is clearly not driven by the needs of the parents or the number of children resulting from a pregnancy”.

The Court agreed with the previous decision-maker and found that the law at issue was not discriminatory and did not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Ultimately, it held that this is not the kind of disadvantage that is premised on a stereotype and therefore does not warrant any legal remedy.

This case is of relevance to couples expecting a multiple birth. It clarifies that parental benefits under the federal Employment Insurance Actare allotted per pregnancy and not per child.

If you have questions about your entitlement to parental benefits, please Contact Us.

Photo credit: foshydog / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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