Mother-In-Law’s Meddling Impacts Wife’s Spousal Support Entitlement
The couple, who were practicing Muslims, underwent an arranged religious marriage ceremony in 1997, and legal marriage in 2000. Their 2012 separation, which the court described as “difficult”, included an incident in which the husband assaulted the wife. They launched their family litigation to have the court sort out their various disputes.
On the eve of trial, the spouses managed to settle on a joint custody arrangement for their two teenaged children, who would continue to live with the mother. This left only a handful of financial issues still to be resolved by the court; these included equalization, spousal support, and retroactive support.
However, when it came time to give evidence on these, the spouses had difficulty in maintaining their focus. As the court put it:
Notwithstanding the financial nature of these issues, both parties spent much of their energy at trial testifying about the children and the way the other treated them during the marriage and separation. Mr. Vhora concentrated on how he was unjustly charged with assault and about the loss of his relationship with the children; Ms. Vhora spoke about the abuse she suffered at the hands of the [husband’s] mother during the marriage, and how the [husband] had failed to honour her wishes for a separate residence for the parties and the children. Both parties testified at length about the assault.
None of this was particularly relevant to the financial issues, but it used up valuable trial time. This left little opportunity for testimony about the details that were crucial in determining the financial issues.
The case was also muddied by certain allegations against the husband’s mother. Although she had participated in setting up the arranged marriage involving her son, things did not go well after-the-fact. The court explained:
Immediately after the religious ceremony, the parties moved into the home of Mr. Vhora’s parents … According to Ms. Vhora, the [husband’s] unwillingness to move out of his parents’ home, along with Ms. Vhora’s toxic relationship with the [husband’s] mother, Zarin Vhora, eventually resulted in the breakdown of the marriage. …
Ms. Vhora could not initially work in Canada when she was married in 1997, as she was here on a visitor’s permit. Ms. Vhora said that she was only able to become a permanent resident with the consent of her mother-in-law. She testified that Mr. Vhora’s mother did not initially want her to work or to obtain permanent status in Canada because she wanted to retain the power to threaten to return Ms. Vhora to India if she misbehaved. …
The court also recounted the evidence of interference by the husband’s mother, which in the wife’s view was tantamount to abuse – but which the husband denied outright:
The Role of [the Mother-in-Law] Zarin Vhora
According to Ms. Vhora, she was subjected to continual and ongoing abuse at the hands of her mother-in-law, Zarin Vhora. She testified that Zarin Vhora made ongoing attempts to intimidate and control her. Ms. Vhora described herself as nothing other than a servant to her mother-in-law, and at one point says that she listed all of the jobs that she was doing in the home in an attempt to obtain fair treatment. Ms. Vhora said that Zarin Vhora controlled the household, and when she asked to work outside of the home, it was Zarin Vhora who decided whether she could or not. Whenever Ms. Vhora stood up to her mother-in-law, she would threaten to send her back to India. Ms. Vhora said that Zarin pulled her hair once, and on another occasion said that if she were in India, she would “peel the skin from [Reshma Vhora’s] body.” Ms. Vhora gave evidence that Zarin called her a “fat black ass” and often asked Mr. Vhora why she had married her. Zarin Vhora was not questioned about these allegations of abuse when she testified.
Ms. Vhora complained that her husband stood by passively, and went along with his mother’s demands. She also testified that her husband assaulted her by striking her a week prior to separation because his mother invited him to do so. Ms. Vhora blames Zarin Vhora for the abuse visited upon her by her husband. She said that after separation, she had sent Mr. Vhora a list of demands prior to any possible reconciliation. One of those demands was a place of their own. Ms. Vhora maintained throughout her testimony that Zarin Vhora, not Mr. Vhora, was the source of the problems in their marriage.
After chronicling some of these accusations, the court pointed out that the trial was actually about financial issues; the determination of whether the wife’s mother-in-law was abusive was not part of the court’s task-at-hand. Still, it was useful information for enlightening the court on the extent to which the wife was involved in the financial decisions made within the family, and by extrapolation the extent to which she was entitled to spousal support:
Relevant to this is the way in which Mr. and Ms. Vhora managed their money. Ms. Vhora had to hand over her entire paycheque to her husband every two weeks, other than a $100 allowance for personal needs. Ms. Vhora was also asked to account for her expenditures when she wished to go to India and requested some funds to do so. It was apparent that Ms. Vhora had little financial autonomy within this particular household.
There is no question that this marriage was an extremely traditional marriage. Ms. Vhora had little economic power within the marriage and was under the financial control of her husband and his family. There are four examples which prove this to be the case:
- Ms. Vhora was forced to hand over all of her paycheques to her husband other than a $100 “allowance” for personal expenses;
- Ms. Vhora both worked outside the home and was responsible for many domestic chores within the home, as exemplified by a list of jobs prepared in a negotiation to reduce her workload;
- Ms. Vhora was kept in the dark about the purchase of the Germain Crescent home;
- Ms. Vhora was forced to resign from her job by her husband and his mother;
The most blatant example is the fact that Ms. Vhora was forced to hand over her entire bi-weekly paycheque to her husband apart from a $100 “allowance” for her personal needs. Ms. Vhora says that when she began to work … she was only able to do so with the permission of her husband. She said that her husband allowed her to work only on the condition that she gave him her entire paycheque when it was deposited into her account. She said that the amount she was permitted to spend on herself was $100 per paycheque, which was increased later in the marriage to $200 per paycheque. … Other than the “allowance” permitted to her by Mr. Vhora, the money she made was viewed by Mr. Vhora and his mother as the family’s money and was withdrawn by Mr. Vhora from the joint account that the parties had together. …
If the goal was for Ms. Vhora to save money [as the husband claimed], it failed. The [wife] was left with little or no savings when she left the marriage in January 2012, while Mr. Vhora had significant savings.
In the end, the court took the overall family atmosphere – and the mother-in-law’s dominance and meddling – into account when making its rulings in the wife’s favour, on the remaining issues of equalization, spousal support, and retroactive support.
For the full text of the decision, see: