Polygamy, Serial Monogamy, and Support Arrangements

William Leckey, Associate Professor of Law, McGill University

In the wake of Wednesday’s decision by the Supreme Court of British Columbia upholding the constitutionality of the Criminal Code’s ban on polygamy, the Globe and Mail today publishs an interesting commentary by McGill University law professor, Robert Leckey.

Leckey points out that there’s an interesting parallel in terms of economic impact as between polygamy and mainstream forms of marriage.

[…] men in polygamous unions may have more children than they can support and may induce economic dependence in more women than they can support. The result is women and children with insufficient resources.

While polygamy may be likelier than other arrangements to lead to more dependants than a breadwinner can support, the problem of unmanageable support duties is widespread. It often arises when someone still supporting children and a spouse from a former relationship assumes new family obligations.


[…] divorce makes it socially acceptable for men to remarry and have more children while the first wife is still living. Divorce also makes it more likely that a man may become the breadwinner for one woman, while still supporting another made dependant by a previous union.

The key difference between polygamy and the successive families enabled by divorce is timing. Polygamy leads to multiple wives and children simultaneously. Divorce leads to multiple wives and children sequentially. The economic problem in both cases is multiple dependencies and the need for support at the same time.

The increased social acceptability of unmarried cohabitation has made successive families even easier, as repartnering no longer requires the formalities of divorce and remarriage.

Leckey poses the trenchant question when will Canadian law and policy catch up to the reality that many Canadians have multiple living partners (albeit sequentially) and that many Canadian children have more than two parental figures in their lives.

Read his entire commentary here.


2 thoughts on “Polygamy, Serial Monogamy, and Support Arrangements

  1. xanskinner

    Good point, although given that a commitment to a child lasts a lifetime, I’m not sure that I put any stead in the simultaneous vs. sequential distinction. Once children are here, they’re here for good. And they need to be supported.

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