Marriage Contracts

SCC Declines to Set Separate Time-Limit for Voiding a Simple Marriage Contract

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

SCC Declines to Set Separate Time-Limit for Voiding a Simple Marriage Contract

In an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling we covered last year called Kyle v. Atwill the court considered whether a former spouse could have a marriage contract set aside, even though the standard two-year deadline under provincial limitation period legislation had already expired.  To make its decision, the court had to consider the interplay and scope of the deadlines set out in both the Family Law Act and in the provincial limitation periods legislation, and how different types of spousal claims fall under each.

Ultimately, the Appeal Court ruled that the husband’s claims for equalization of the couple’s Net Family Property were subject to a six-year limitation period, whereas his claim against the wife for spousal support had no time-limit. Now, the Supreme Court of Canada has effectively confirmed those findings, by declining to allow the wife’s appeal to go forward.

Usually results in family-related proceedings having a more generous limitation period than the standard two years – Adam Borer, Associate Lawyer

As background: In Kyle v. Atwill the question about the limitation period arose from husband’s challenge to the validity of the pre-nup he had signed with the wife, which was based on an Internet precedent.  Among the contentious issues was whether that contract completely blocked all the husband’s claims against her, and whether the husband was out of time for asking to have the pre-nup rescinded in its entirely, since the two year statutory deadline for doing so had now lapsed.

In its 2020 decision, the Appeal Court had ruled that the two-year limitation period in question, namely the one found in the Ontario Limitations Act, 2002, simply did not apply to the type of proceedings and outcomes that the husband sought.

Instead, the court found:

  • Parts of the husband’s claims against the wife were governed by s. 56(4) of the Family Law Act, which allows a court to declare all or part of a marriage contract null and void in certain circumstances.
  • His claim for spousal support fell under the Family Law Act and was not subject to any deadline at all.
  • His claim for equalization was governed by the six-year period stipulated in the Family Law Act.
  • Some of the other claims the husband was making, which involved no request consequential relief, were simply not subject to any time limits at all under the Limitations Act, 2002.

The Appeal Court noted that the combined operation of Family Law Act deadlines together with the Limitations Act, 2002 (which expressly recognizes the time limits in other legislation) usually results in family-related proceedings having a more generous limitation period than the standard two years.  This, the Court said, is “in recognition of the unique situation of spouses and families on the breakup of a marriage”.

Ultimately, in its ruling the Appeal Court held that none of the husband’s asserted claims were statute-barred, which meant for example that he was still free to pursue his equalization claim against the wife.  Now with the most recent ruling in this case issued in March of 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada implicitly agreed, by declining to allow the wife’s appeal of that unfavourable outcome. This meant that the Ontario Court of Appeal decision – and the embedded statement of legal principles – was allowed to stand.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Kyle v. Atwill2020 ONCA 476 

Atwill v. Kyle, 2021 CanLII 20327 (SCC)

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About the author

Russell Alexander

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