Late-Breaking Document, Allegedly Forged Signature, and a Lucrative Looming Offer – How Should Court Resolve Couple’s Property Dispute?
In a case called Holdstock v. Holdstock, the husband ran a landscaping business located on commercial property, but the wife was listed as the property’s registered owner. When the couple split after 35 years of marriage, the husband prepared the necessary financial statement that confirmed the property was owned by the wife. He also showed the business itself as having “nil” value.
With that property ownership designation in-hand, the wife found a buyer willing to pay her $80,000 above the separation-date market value. She launched proceedings to have herself formally declared as the owner, and to have the husband vacate.
What happened next became the crux of the couples’ later dispute: With arguably suspect timing, the husband suddenly “found” a trust agreement, ostensibly signed by the wife, in which she agreed not sell the property, and in which she apparently declared that she was holding it in trust for him. In return, she was supposed to receive $1,500 per month under a lease. The apparent purpose of the agreement was to protect the property in the event the husband went bankrupt; it contained a clause that it was intended to supersede all prior agreements.
This late-breaking agreement threw a monkey-wrench into the legal question of the nature and extent of the parties’ respective rights in the property. Some of these scenarios were in conflict with each other: for example, although the wife admitted that she had received the $1,500 per month until recently (in keeping with what the agreement said), she also asserted that the signature on the agreement was not hers.
The matter came before the courts for resolution. A lower court granted the wife a writ of possession, based on the unsworn evidence of an expert who questioned the validity of the wife’s signature. The husband appealed to the Court of Appeal (where he also attempted to tender fresh evidence that the wife’s signature was genuine).
That Appeal Court confirmed the earlier ruling but did so using a different analysis.
Although the facts (including the validity of the alleged trust document) were murky, one thing was clear: the wife was the registered owner, a fact that was confirmed by the husband in his financial statement. The mere existence of the trust document, even if it was signed, did not justify jeopardizing the favourable sale of the property at this point to the third-party buyer that the wife had lined up.
Once the sale was completed, the financial effect of the trust document – and the corresponding division of sale proceeds – could be untangled in later proceedings. Indeed, there could be one of many potential outcomes: if the trust agreement was created solely in order to defeat creditors, then the court would take steps to remedy the fraud. On the other hand, if the husband was actually the owner of the property, then the $1,500 he had been paying the wife in rent money might actually belong to him. Finally, if it turned out that she invested money towards the purchase of the property, then she may have a claim to a beneficial interest in the home.
In the end, the Court of Appeal dismissed the husband’s appeal, confirmed the wife’s writ of possession, and allowed the sale to proceed at this point. The parties could each make claims to the proceeds of the sale at a future date.
For the full text of the decision, see