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Woman Loses Support Bid from Man with “Harem” of Others

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Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Woman Loses Support Bid from Man with “Harem” of Others

In an Ontario case involving unmarried romantic partners, the court was asked to examine the contours of precisely when a dating relationship turns into something more – at least in the eyes of the law.  The court began its judgment this way:

 Can a romantic partner – even one in an apparently close and loving relationship for several years – make a claim for dependant relief without establishing that she actually lived together with the deceased for at least three years?  In my view, the answer is that she cannot. 

The partners were a man named Jeffrey and a woman named Branislava.  Although they had been together romantically for seven years, the court concluded that they kept separate residences and never officially “lived together”.  Jeffrey died of an apparent heart attack on New Year’s Even in 2016, at age 63.   His Will, which was made a full three years after their relationship started, did not make any provision for Branislava.

In this context, Branislava was asking for “dependant’s relief”, which is a right based in provincial Estates law.  Since Jeffrey had not adequately provided for her in his Will, Branislava might be entitled to financial support from his Estate if she could prove that she was his “dependent” in the years before he died.  That term is defined by statute to include a common-law spouse.

The court was left to examine the relationship history between the couple, and heard evidence of people who knew them.  One of them was a platonic female friend of Jeffrey’s, Ms. Wolfe, who offered insight as to how Jeffrey viewed the connection:

[The female friend] Ms. Wolfe first met Jeffrey in 2001 when she met him on a Jewish dating site.  While they did not ultimately become romantically involved, they did become close friends.  Jeffrey confided in her and shared intimate details of his life with her, including details of his relationship with what he sometimes jokingly described as his “harem” of women.  He certainly felt close enough to Ms. Wolfe to name her as his executrix.  Ms. Wolfe was in almost daily contact with him.  She invited him over for Sabbath dinners or for High Holiday celebrations. 

Ms. Wolfe described Jeffrey as being something of an eccentric.  This eccentricity manifested itself in a number of ways.  For example, he feared being bitten by mosquitos and often wore protective clothing.  He was wary of travelling in cars and he sometimes purchased new tires for his girlfriends to ensure they were safe.  He had established something of an on-line religion through a web site that he sought to leave in his will to, among others, Mark Zuckerberg (there is no evidence that the two were acquainted in any way).  He lived alone in a cluttered, ill-kept three-bedroom apartment.  There is no visible sign of it having been occupied by anyone other than Jeffrey.

While eccentric, Jeffrey was also a very charming and even charismatic man.  He formed a number of close relationships with women, some of whom he met in online dating sites.  He maintained his on-line dating membership right up until the time of his death.  Not all of these were sexual relationships, but he described himself to Ms. Wolfe as promiscuous.  He was generous with his female friends and there were several of them.  On January 22, 2016, the deceased wrote a handwritten note for a file he kept in his apartment called “Branislava” naming some of them:  Alla, Olga, Charlie, Falicia, Chauntelle.

In looking even more closely at the nature of the relationship between the parties, the court took the following approach:

The real world of human relations more closely resembles a spectrum than a well-ordered world of binary certainties.  A myriad of close relationships exhibiting some elements of dependancy exist in the world of real people leading real lives.  The inquiry I must undertake cannot be reduced to a simple checklist.  While it is clear that the substance of the relationship needs to be examined, that examination must proceed in the light of the minimum requirements of the legislation. 

On the evidence, the court rejected Branislava’s suggestion that Jeffrey gave her up to $10,000 per month in financial support while they dated, or that he paid her rent.  He was certainly generous to her, using income he had inherited from his own father’s $40 million Estate. But he never took financial responsibility for her, nor encouraged her not to work and to be dependent on him.

Also – and especially in light of their separate living arrangements — Branislava also did not meet the definition of “spouse” so that she qualified as a dependant. The mere fact that they had a close and loving relationship, or that they were sexually intimate, was not sufficient to meet that threshold.

In the end, the court ruled that Branislava was not entitled to support from Jeffrey’s Estate.  (She later appealed unsuccessfully to the Ontario Court of Appeal, and her motion to extend the time to file leave to appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed.)

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Stajduhar v. Wolfe, 2017 

Kerzner Estate, 2018 

Branislava Stajduhar, et al. v. Arlene Wolfe, executrix of the Estate of Jeffrey Kerzner, 2019 

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.