One Letter on High-End Stereos Frames Court’s View of Couples’ Dispute – Orders Husband to Pay $20,000 Per Month in Support
While reading a rather routine Appeal judgment in a case called Colivas v. Colivas, I took a quick look back at the earlier judgment that had been appealed in the first place, only to find some interesting passages by the lower court judge.
That earlier ruling began this way:
Occasionally, during the argument of an application, an item of evidence is presented of such an arresting nature that it at once animates and frames the entire exercise.
The court went on to frame the core issue between the now-separated couple:
[The wife] presents the marital lifestyle as one of wealth, comfort and privilege. [The husband] presents a different picture. He essentially submits that he made a good deal of money on one business deal, involving the sale of his interests in [a business]. He says the family has supported its lifestyle since 2006 by depleting the sale proceeds. [The husband] now urges restraint and modesty going forward.
I return to that arresting bit of evidence. The materials filed by [the wife] on the motion include a copy of a letter written by [the husband] in late December 2008 to a third party identified only as “Marty”. The substance of the letter makes it evident that “Marty” is someone that [the husband] has done business with in the past – specifically referencing the purchase of some rather high-end audio-visual equipment. The following is excerpted from the letter:
I have been dealing with you for a number of years now. My first purchases were slightly above entry-level pieces. At that time, you had sold me Martin Logan Speakers, Clasee Processors, and the Single Chip Runco Projector. Although I was very happy with my initial system, I have since become obsessed with having the very best possible audio/video gear money can buy.
Under your recommendation, I purchased the following: [list of equipment omitted]
You would expect that at over $250,000 you would have not only the very best quality sound and picture, but also a system that is bullet proof in terms of its reliability. And this is where you come up short…
As you are aware I entertain regularly with some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the City of Toronto in my Theatre Room. I use my impressive room and system to watch sporting events, concerts and movies and listen to music. You can imagine my embarrassment when half way through a concert or movie I get a crackling sound!
There is a certain voyeuristic thrill associated with reading a letter such as the one written by [the husband] to Marty. It offers a glimpse into a world almost all Canadians are entirely unfamiliar with. A world where private theatre rooms are powered by audio-visual systems worth more than a quarter of a million dollars. Undoubtedly there is a certain element of braggadocio to the letter. Nevertheless, it informs the matter now before the Court for a number of reasons, including:
(i) It demonstrates that the [husband and wife] lived in rather rarefied circumstances, at least at the end of 2008;
(ii) It further demonstrates that [the husband] considered himself, at least at the end of 2008, to be a wealthy man, who moved in circles of money and influence; and,
(iii) It undermines the credibility of [the husband’s] position that it is his wife who has had an insatiable and unsustainable appetite for spending. He deposed that her “rampant spending was a significant source of friction between us”. [The wife’s] spending habits may very well have been profligate. But, clearly, if she had a penchant for extravagant spending, she was not alone.
In the end, the court, for the most part, preferred the wife’s position and granted her child and spousal support totaling $20,000 per month on an interim basis, even though the court expressly recognized that the husband would need to encroach on his business capital in order to meet this level of monthly support.
I suppose the lesson to be learned from this, is that Family courts will take a good, hard, intense and illuminating look at the surrounding circumstances of the couple’s life, and may draw inferences from even correspondence directed at third parties.
This is a good thing to keep in mind when framing your position in court on spousal and child support issues.
For the full text of the decisions, see: