Court Cases & Orders

Wife’s Hatchet Attack Breaches Separation Agreement with Husband

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Under Ontario Family Law, a separation agreement is a legal document under which former romantic partners agree on certain property-related and support matters arising from their split.  As with any other type of contract, it can be breached by one or both parties any time they fail to adhere to the obligations to which they commit themselves.

In fact, under the broader law of Canadian contracts there is even an “organizing principle of good faith”:  It calls for the parties to perform their contractual duties honestly and reasonably – not capriciously or arbitrarily.  They must also have “appropriate regard” for each other’s legitimate contractual interests.  This is according to a Supreme Court of Canada decision in a landmark case called Bhasin v. Hrynew.

Although there may be similar principles at play under U.S. law, it’s likely that the “good faith performance” standard was not met in a recent case out of Massachusetts.  As reported in an article by the America Bar Association, a wife who had a separation agreement with her husband tried to kill him with a hatchet.

Apparently the wife waited outside the building that housed the husband’s dental practice, and ambushed him there. The court explained that in the “pandemonium of the attack”, she accused him of ruining her “reunification plans” that were “in the works” for their children.

At the time of the 2015 incident, the husband had been granted sole legal and physical custody of their four children in a divorce judgment.  He had also been paying support for 17 months, under a separation agreement which they settled their various issues.  That document also called for him to: 1) settle their property issues by paying her $212,000 in equal monthly installments over five years, and 2) to place a life insurance policy in the wife’s favour.

After the wife’s assault, the husband went to court to ask for an order that his payment obligations stop immediately.  He claimed the hatchet attack was in breach of their 2014 separation agreement.

A Massachusetts trial judge agreed with the husband, and the Appeals Court confirmed.

The facts were “unique,” and the wife’s conduct was “egregious”.  The Appeal Court said the wife’s “precipitous and violent conduct could be viewed as a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” (which is similar to the Canadian duty of good faith contractual performance).  This covenant applied to separation agreements, and this was one of the rare situations where its terms should be revisited.

Both courts surmised the wife was trying to thwart the consequences of the separation by killing the husband; legally this would accelerate the property division through the life insurance policy, and also give her custody of the children. The Appeal Court accordingly confirmed the trial judge’s ruling, which absolved the husband of further obligations toward the wife under the agreement. (Incidentally, the wife also pleaded guilty to criminal charges that included armed assault with intent to murder).

For the full text of the Supreme Court of Canada decision, see:

Bhasin v. Hrynew, 2014 SCC 71 (CanLII), [2014] 3 SCR 494

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About the author

Russell Alexander

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