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74-Year Old Mine Worker Hides Almost $175K in Salary – Should He Pay Retroactively?

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74-Year Old Mine Worker Hides Almost $175K in Salary – Should He Pay Retroactively?

In a recent Ontario case, the court had to grapple with deciding whether an elderly husband who had made an unusually high income in one year – but who was now living on very limited means in a basement apartment – should have to pay retroactive support to his unemployable wife.

The couple was married for almost 20 years. At the time of their separation, the wife was 51 and the husband was 74. Since that time, the wife had developed various medical issues including possible Parkinson’s disease, which likely rendered her unemployable. She was currently living with and taking care of her elderly father, doing the cooking, laundry, cleaning. She had no pension and no savings to speak of, and lived very frugally.
The parties reached a simple negotiated separation agreement requiring the husband to pay about $800 per month to the wife. It was based on his declared income of about $36,000 per year.

However, about a week after signing the separation agreement, the husband received a job offer to temporarily work the “tool crib” at the local Mine. However, the position lasted longer than initially expected and for the year 2012 he earned almost $173,000 including his pension.

The wife learned of the husband’s job indirectly, because (as the court put it), they had “the same circle of friends. Her lawyer’s request to the husband for financial disclosure went unanswered, and the wife was forced to apply to the court for retroactive spousal support as part of their divorce.

The court considered the various factors that allowed it to order retroactive spousal support – including (among other factors) the wife’s past need and the husband’s ability to pay, as well as the underlying basis for support, any delay in claiming it, any undue hardship to the support-paying husband, and also any blameworthy conduct on his part.

In this case, the husband had an obligation under the separation agreement to disclose any change in his financial circumstances within five days. The wife had asked the husband for such disclosure but he had ignored her lawyer’s requests. She was accordingly left with no alternative but to go to court.

There was also evidence that the husband had reckless spending habits. The court described it this way:

It became clear during the course of the evidence that the [husband] has never met a dollar that he did not care to spend. Even after being unemployed for a considerable period of time and earning a substantial income in 2012, the [husband] did not see fit to put aside any money for himself let alone for his estranged spouse. In his words, he worked in a “high paid trade and they spent a lot of money on trips and other things”. …

Finally, the husband also claimed to be heavily in debt, but had no proof. The court added that the husband “went on to say that the balance of the money was spent on lifestyle expenditures for meals and restaurants, buying rounds in the union hall and some gambling in Sault Ste. Marie.” His lack of financial disclosure was also “worthy of criticism”, it found.

Nonetheless, after evaluating these circumstances, the court added that the now-76-year old husband was living in his sister’s basement apartment, and would never again be employed in any meaningful way. His assets consisted of an old truck worth about $2,000, and about $37,500 per year in pension.

This being the case, he could not now and would never be able to afford to pay the retroactive spousal support that was being claimed by the wife. The court accordingly declined to make the order. (However, in light of other circumstances, including the terms of the separation agreement, it did order the husband to pay the wife about $1,000 per month, going-forward).

Should the husband have been ordered to pay up retroactively, in this case? What are your thoughts?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Dufour v. Dufour, 2014 ONSC 166 (CanLII) http://canlii.ca/t/g2nh8

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at www.RussellAlexander.com.