Wife Will Drop Criminal Charges Only if Husband Signs Her Version of a Marriage Contract – Should Court Overturn it?
The couple’s 2.5-year relationship started when they met through an online dating service in 2011 and married in mid-2012. In January of 2013 after returning from a vacation in St. Maarten, they started to think about negotiating a marriage contract.
However, they could not come to terms, and the entire exercise was very tense, acrimonious, and stressful. Indeed, their broader differences started to surface and as the court put it, “they knew how to push each other’s buttons and often they did just that.”
By May 2013, things between them had started to deteriorate and the husband was charged with assaulting the wife after an argument. The altercation involved the husband lashing out verbally at the wife, grabbing her hand, and removing her wedding ring. The wife left the house, refused to return, and had the husband arrested, fingerprinted and charged.
The husband was greatly concerned that the fingerprinting and assault charge would find their way into the FBI database and prevent him from traveling to the U.S., as his senior job with the Department of National Defence required him to do. He therefore asked the wife to drop the criminal charges. She agreed – but only if he complied with several conditions, the most important one being that he sign a particular version of the marriage contract she wanted, and one in which (conveniently) she would get considerably more spousal support than she would otherwise be entitled under Ontario family law.
On the eve of his scheduled court appearance on the assault charge, and with his career hanging in the balance, the husband reluctantly signed the wife’s version of the agreement in June 2013. As the court put it: “There was a real power imbalance at that point; she held all the cards.”
The wife formally dropped the assault charge about six months later. The husband then brought divorce proceedings which included a request to have the agreement set aside.
Perhaps not surprisingly, he was successful. The contract was clearly signed under emotional duress.
By demanding the four conditions, including the signing of an agreement that greatly benefited her, the court found that the wife placed the husband in a desperate position. He complied with the four conditions imposed by the wife based on his belief at the time that he had no other option. This amounted to a situation of duress, and it meant that the husband had not signed the agreement freely and voluntarily. As such, the marriage contract was set aside.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Stergiopoulos v. Von Biehler (2014), 2014 CarswellOnt 15786, 2014 ONSC 6391, Moore J. (Ont. S.C.J.) [Ontario]
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