In Siddiqui v. Siddiqui, one of the remaining key disputes between the former spouses was jewellery – lots of it. Or more correctly, it was jewellery that was purportedly valued at about $125,000.
The coupled had wed in 2002 as part of an arranged marriage in their native Pakistan. They met for the first time a few days before their traditional wedding ceremony in September of 2002, but had spoken by phone for about six months prior.
Now that they were divorcing, the husband and wife differed on how to deal with an array of expensive jewellery that the wife had in her custody. They disagreed over whether she had owned them prior to the wedding, or whether they had been marriage gifts from family, intended for one or both of them.
The bigger legal issue was the jewellery’s value for equalization purposes. The wife claimed it was not worth much: There was about $15,000 worth that came from her own family as gifts, she said, and another $8,500 which was from the husband’s family. She was happy to have it sold, with the proceeds divided equally, in the event the court found it was all jointly-owned.
The husband, in contrast, accused the wife of hiding or not disclosing some of the pieces, and of not bringing all of it when they moved to Canada in 2005. He rejected her purported explanation that the jewellery had been stored with family in Pakistan until only a few days before trial because she had no way of bringing it to Canada earlier.
As for the jewellery’s combined value, the husband had an elaborate calculation that led him to conclude it was worth $125,000. The court explained the husband’s approach:
It is the husband’s position that the jewellery gifted to the parties is worth $125,000 and that as the wife has retained the jewellery, that figure should be inserted as her net family property. He arrives at the figure of $125,000 by taking the amount he states he gave his brother and sister for the preparation of the wedding (25,000 in a mixture of Canadian funds and US funds) and then using the increase in value of gold bullion from the year of marriage in 2002 to the year of separation in 2018.
With this valuation in mind, the husband asked the court to include the $125,000 in the wife’s net family property, and then order her to pay him $284,000 as an equalization payment (with the wife keeping the jewellery after the trial).
In addressing these arguments, the court honed in on the wife’s lack of credibility, especially around her purported inability to bring the pieces back from Pakistan sooner. Importantly, the court noted she had also failed to arrange for independent valuations prior to trial – as she had been ordered to do – and failed to make full financial disclosure both initially and throughout their proceedings, which “both resulted in suspicion, frustration, and increased litigation.”
With that in mind, the court assessed all the evidence – including consideration of Indian wedding traditions. It concluded that most of the jewellery had been gifted to both spouses. The court explained:
It is an Indian tradition that jewellery is given as a wedding gift as an insurance policy that should the family run into problems, they can use the jewellery. … [There is also] the wife’s own evidence that it is against her religion to have life insurance.
The jewellery worn by the wife on her wedding day … namely the two items on her forehead (jumra, tikka) and the item that loops around one ear (nath), are not owned by either party and are, instead, jewellery owned by the extended family and worn by brides of the extended family. … It is also not seriously contested by the husband who stated that he did not know the custom nor was he aware as to whether that jewellery was owned by the wife or the extended family.
As for the husband’s accusations of the wife hiding some pieces, the court noted there was a distinct lack of evidence:
It is impossible for me to find, as the husband requests, that there might be undisclosed jewellery “out there”. He presented no evidence of this. He did not call his sister, … who was the one who purchased the jewellery from his side of the family and who he advises knows more about “these things”. His evidence was that he does not recall what jewellery was gifted to them; that he thinks there is jewellery missing but he does not know what; that they did not declare the jewellery when they entered either the US or Canada; he does not know if the wife borrowed jewellery for the wedding of if she owned jewellery prior to the marriage.
Rather than accept conflicting evidence as to the jewellery’s value – and assuming the parties could not agree – the court ordered that they must sell all the jewellery at fair market value, and divide the proceeds equally. Based on all the other circumstances between them, the husband also owed the wife another $64,000 in equalization.
Siddiqui v. Siddiqui, 2022 ONSC 5784 (CanLII)