Boxer George Chuvalo at the Center of Legal Incapacity Issue Involving Marital Reconciliation
The legacy of long-retired legendary Canadian boxer George Chuvalo did not end in the ring: it has spread to the legal realm as well since his mental capacity for making his own decisions is at the center of a court battle between two of his adult children and his wife of 24 years.
The outcome is important, as it’s part of ongoing disputes being litigated between some of Chuvalo’s adult children and his wife – their stepmother – from whom he has been living separate and apart for several years. The dispute had devolved into what is now a two-year legal battle, featuring allegations of kidnapping, extortion, and reckless spending, among other things. (And in separate legal proceedings, the adult children are also seeking to assert the power of attorney they were granted, over the objections of the wife, who disputed its validity and is seeking guardianship of Chuvalo).
Chuvalo, now 80 years old, suffers from what the court concluded was “significant cognitive impairment”. It appointed the Public Guardian and Trustee as Chuvalo’s representative and litigation guardian.
Against this background, the specific legal question for the court was whether Chuvalo’s incapacity makes him unable to decide whether he wants to divorce his wife or to reconcile with her. Independent medical experts were at odds over his current level of decision-making capacity and whether he was legally “competent” for these purposes. That designation involved assessing whether he 1) understood the context of his decisions, 2) was aware of his specific choices, and 3) appreciated the consequences of those choices.
Chuvalo’s wife claimed that in his present declining mental state, he simply lacked the legal capacity to instruct counsel and to seek a divorce from her.
Despite evidence that Chuvalo wanted to live with and be with his wife, the court noted that statements to this effect were not necessarily reliable in a legal sense, to the point it could conclude that Chuvalo actively wanted to reconcile. As the court said: “Expressing a desire to live with his wife is just that.” Plus, there was no evidence that he understood whether there would be legal consequences (relating to the legal aspects of separation and divorce) that the desire to live with her would entail. Since the evidence was clear that his mental health had declined significantly, and that he suffered cognitive and memory challenges, the court could not rely on Chuvalo’s statements.
After reviewing the evidence overall, the court declared that Chuvalo “does not have the capacity to decide whether to reconcile.” While conceding that this implied there had been a separation at some point, the court said it was not deciding that issue conclusively for Family Law Act and Divorce Act purposes, and that it could be addressed in a future trial. Nor was the court deciding whether Chuvalo had the capacity to actually divorce.
In a more pro-active and hopeful vein, the court added:
The fundamental issue here is the conflict between [the wife] Joanne Chuvalo on the one hand and George Chuvalo’s children Mitchell and Vanessa on the other hand. I have not heard evidence but I have formed an understanding that each is convinced that the other is out to manipulate and control George for personal financial gain. I make no findings. I do observe that it is time for those who are or have been close to George and important to his welfare to find a way to collaborate in his best interests. In her evidence, [the wife] Ms. Chuvalo observed that she has been devastated over the last few months when she has seen him at court attendances at the extent to which George has deteriorated. [The Public Guardian and Trustee’s] retainer is to address litigation issues. However, once he gets up to speed, I would ask him to consider how the PGT might encourage the family members to find a way to bury the hatchet and co-operate to develop a plan that will work in the best interests of George in his remaining years while he continues to experience inevitable decline.
For the full text of the decision, see: