OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada is examining a landmark Quebec case that could affect spousal benefits for common-law couples in the province.

Lawyers for the Quebec government are arguing today that the province gives couples the right to settle their own affairs.

The case began several years ago when a wealthy Quebec businessman argued he shouldn't have to pay alimony to his ex-partner because they had never been married.

In an earlier ruling, a lower court decided that the man -- who was given the name Eric -- would not have to pay alimony to the woman identified as Lola.

The couple had children and lived together for seven years.

That court decision was overturned when the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled in Lola's favour.

Common-law couples have varying rights depending on where they live in Canada.

In some provinces, they have alimony and property rights.

But despite the fact that one-third of all Quebec couples are unmarried, it remains the only province that does not recognize common-law unions.

Lola was seeking a monthly payment of $56,000 for herself, a share of the family estate and a lump-sum payment of $50 million.

The man did give her a $2.5-million home and money to pay many of her other bills.

The couple were given the names Eric and Lola to protect the identities of their young children.