That was the question asked of a court in Spain, where a 48-year old woman successfully sued her ex-husband for the unpaid housework she had done during their long marriage.
As part of a settlement in their divorce, the Spanish court ruled that the woman should receive Є204,000 (about CDN$300,000) from her ex-husband, paid over monthly installments. The total was calculated based on the minimum monthly professional wage during the 25 years they were married.
The court accepted the woman’s argument that her “exclusive dedication to the home and family” – which includes their two children – prevented her from being able to pursue her own career while married. Since she alone did the housework, it allowed her ex-husband to build a prosperous gym business, which in turn allowed him to afford lavish purchases after she asked him for a divorce in 2020.
Since that time, he had also dug in his heels and refused to pay for even some of their children’s expenses, let alone give her any of the financial support she was due. Their finances and assets had always been put in his name alone, so the woman had no direct access to financial resources after they split.
Could this scenario happen in Canada? Should spouses in this country start creating a tally of how much housework they’ve been doing, and how much it’s worth?
The answer is “No”.
But not for the reason you might think: It’s because the law in Ontario already has it covered.
Under the regime the province set up under the Family Law Act, the legislation already takes into account the role that full-time homemakers and stay-at-home parents play – and by extension, the value they contribute to creating and sustaining the wellbeing of the family. So when a couple decides to split, the spouse who has been doing the lion’s share of the housework is entitled to make a claim against the other spouse for what is known as “compensatory” spousal support.
The court will take into account not only the fact that the spouse took on housework and domestic responsibilities to benefit the family, but also that he or she was accordingly precluded from fully pursuing his or her own career potential or goals because of it. In other words, the court will address the injustice of one spouse benefitting from the other’s sacrifice for the good of the family, by making a monetary award in compensation.
This approach is nothing new in Ontario – in fact it’s been part of the Family legislation for a long time.
As just one illustration in a case from back in 2005, the couple had lived together for 8 years, but for the first 4.5 of them the husband was depressed and despondent over a failed business and investments. He did not work, and also had substance abuse problems. The wife held down the relationship, paid for and took care of everything, and helped him get into a drug treatment program.
Eventually the husband not only got better, but returned to the workforce and refocused on his investments. Not only did he prosper, but he became extremely successful. Meanwhile, the wife was unable to truly re-enter the workforce and became depressed herself. When they split, the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed a trial-level order that the husband pay the wife a $400,000 lump sum, as compensatory spousal support for her contribution to their relationship. The Court wrote:
The [husband] garnered a significant economic advantage by having the [wife] take on the bulk of domestic and financial responsibilities, as well as providing him with emotional support, thereby enabling him to rehabilitate himself and eventually establish himself in the position he occupies today (assets in excess of $6.5 million dollars, salary in excess of $500,000 annually). The [wife], on the other hand, suffered an economic detriment and also became physically depleted. The [husband’s] upward progress cannot be separated from the contributions made by the [wife] as the [husband] suggests. Detriment aside, given the magnitude of the [husband’s] success, the [wife’s] contributions to that success, in themselves justified a significant award of compensatory spousal support.
Full text of the Ontario decision:
More information on the story from Spain: