Ticket to Space, Anyone? Court Orders Sale of Space Flight Tickets to Satisfy Support Arrears
Family law cases come in all shapes and sizes. A decision from a few years ago called Gibson v. Gibson caught my eye recently. It begins:
Peter Gibson feared financial ruin. So he put money out of his wife, Melanie’s, reach. Then he bought a ticket for a flight into space. Cost: $218,700.
Peter feared financial ruin. So he started spending on himself. Then he took a trip to Arizona, trips around the world and a trip to Las Vegas. Cost: $100,000.00.
Theirs was a lavish lifestyle that an income of over $1 million could not support. Much of this four week trial focused on exorbitant spending by both Peter and Melanie. Allegations were made of hidden bank accounts, dissipation of assets, fraud.
While unusual in its details, this case illustrates the types of challenges that courts face: Whether it involves a family of substantial means or one with more modest budgets, the courts must examine the financial circumstances of the parties leading up to and after separation, including the mis-management and squandering of funds. The court does so as part-and-parcel of its role in making determinations in connection with child and spousal support issues upon divorce.
To help the spouses meet their obligations and untangle themselves financially, the court will use a large arsenal of tools at its disposal; primary among them is to make Orders to achieve an appropriate allocation of income and assets so that child and spousal support obligations can be satisfied. To do this, the court may:
• assess income (both actual and potential, in the case of deliberate under-employment by a spouse)
• consider the effect that any change in circumstances may have on income levels (for example, where one of the spouses has lost his or her job)
• consider the ability by any children of the marriage to contribute to their own support
• trace funds and examine inappropriate / hidden spending
• order the sale of existing assets
• examining in minute detail both the needs and the spending habits of the parties
In the case of Gibson v. Gibson, the court clearly had its work cut out for it. Despite both parties enjoying a lavish lifestyle (which description the court said was an “understatement”), the court concluded that “both Melanie and Peter have issues with financial control and restraint.”
In particular, the husband professed an inability to meet his spousal and child support obligations, and had racked up significant amount of arrears. Part of the various courts’ role in the case was therefore to make detailed Orders to assist him to arrange his financial affairs so that those obligations could be me. For example:
In his endorsement, Nelson J. found that Peter’s issue was not an income problem but rather a cash flow problem. To remedy this, the court suggested that Peter sell his ticket to space. Peter did so. On January 26, 2010, Peter received $175,712.00 from the sale of his ticket. Of this, $70,000 was paid to FRO [Family Responsibility Office], reducing the arrears of support to $39,619.49.
Not many of us have Tickets to Space to sell, but all separating and divorcing couples have the duty to structure their financial affairs so that their obligations will be met. One way or the other, they will find themselves legally forced to by a court.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Gibson v. Gibson, 2011 ONSC 4406 (CanLII) http://canlii.ca/t/fmf26