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Posts from the ‘Ontario Spousal Support’ Category

Tick, Tock: What’s the Legal Deadline for Trying to Set Aside a Separation Agreement?

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Tick, Tock: What’s the Legal Deadline for Trying to Set Aside a Separation Agreement?

In a recent case called F.K. v. E.A. the court was asked to rule on a novel question: If a spouse wants a court order setting aside his or her signed separation agreement as invalid, what is the deadline for applying? And when does it begin to run?

The couple began their relationship in 2000, and the husband proposed in 2004. The wedding itself was hastily-planned over a period of less then 30 days, and took place in June of 2005. Against that background, the couple entered into what they called a “Prenuptial Agreement” based on a template that the wife found on the internet. It was witnessed by a mutual friend. In it, the couple agreed that each of them:

1) Waived the right to claim spousal support from each other, and

2) Would remain separate as to property, and not be subject to an equalization of Net Family Property.

The Agreement also purported to confirm in writing two events that did NOT actually happen, namely:

1) That the parties had provided fair and reasonable financial disclosure to each other before signing, and

2) That both of them retained their own lawyer and received independent legal advice.

The wife later explained that they did not bother “going through the motions” to fulfil these two duties because the Agreement was wholly uncontentious: Both before and after the wedding they had conducted themselves with financial independence; the Agreement merely confirmed and documented that agreed status.

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Unfortunately, the spouses split in October of 2012, after 7 years of marriage. The wife gave the husband $1,600 to help with first and last months’ rent, but made it clear he could expect nothing further from her.

He then went to a lawyer to discuss his legal options, and explained the lack of legal advice and financial disclosure in particular. Although his lawyer advised that the Agreement was “not worth the paper it was written on”, the husband took no concrete steps at that time.

A full five years later, in 2017, he applied to the court to have the Agreement set aside. In addition to its other shortcomings impacting validity, he claimed it was signed after the wife issued an ultimatum; this left him feeling rushed and in a state of duress, he said.

The wife countered by stating the husband was simply out of time to have the Agreement set aside. She said this type of claim was subject to a two-year limitation period set by provincial legislation, and that the husband had failed to take any steps with the court within that deadline. She asked the court to grant her summary judgment.

The court addressed the various legal arguments. First, it concluded that husband’s bid to set the Agreement aside was indeed tantamount to a legal “claim”, and was theoretically subject to the general two-year deadline. The more pressing question, however, was precisely when the clock on that two-year period began to run.

In law, this “discoverability” threshold was the point at which the husband knew or ought to have known that:

1) He had suffered some loss, and

2) A legal proceeding was the appropriate method for trying to redress it.

In this case, that point was back in 2012, when the husband first attended his lawyer’s office post-separation.

At that point, he knew there was some potential legal issue with the validity of the Agreement and the circumstances in which it was signed, based on the advice from his lawyer. He also knew he could expect “nothing further” from the wife after separation, beyond the $1,600 in rent money, and that all other financial issues were off-the-table. So he knew in 2012 that he was facing a potential loss, and he knew that a legal claim would be the only way to potentially recover it.

Since it was now 7 years past that discoverability point, the husband was too late to bring his claim to set the Agreement aside.

As a last-ditch argument, the husband had also asked for special forbearance in the circumstances: The law should not be applied to him, since his case was the first time in all the Ontario jurisprudence where a claim to set aside a marriage contract was being foreclosed by the two-year deadline.

But the court rejected this argument too. The husband’s error or ignorance about the limitation period did not stop it from running, it said. All citizens are presumed to know the “law of the land”, and it applied equally to his situation even if the husband’s thwarted claim was the “test case”.

Since the husband was out of time to bring his claim, there was no genuine issue for trial. The court granted the wife’s application for summary judgment.

For the full text of the decision, see:

F.K. v. E.A., 2019 ONSC 3707 (CanLII),

How To: Make a Valid Separation Agreement

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

What Constitutes “Hardship” When You Are Well-to-Do?

What Constitutes “Hardship” When You are Well-to-Do?

In determining the proper amount of spousal support that should be awarded after a married couple divorces, the court is guided by various established legal and policy-based principles. One of them is that the support should seek to alleviate economic “hardship” on the part of the spouse who is entitled to receive it.

As with many of the other factors, the concept of “hardship” is relative:  What amounts to hardship in one family setting will be vastly different to what is considered hardship in another.

This dichotomy was well-illustrated in Plese v. Herjavec, which involved the high-profile divorce between Canadian television personality Robert Herjavec (most recently seen on the reality shows Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den) and his wife of 24 years, Diane Plese.

In the context of determining the appropriate amount of spousal support to which the wife should be entitled, the court wrote:

Spousal support is also designed to relieve economic hardship.  What is “hardship” in the context of this family?  I need to look at the pre-separation lifestyle of the family to understand this context.

At the date of separation, the parties lived in a 22,000 square foot home (not counting the basement) with an indoor pool, ballroom, tennis court, tea house, and ten-car garage housing numerous luxury vehicles. The home was located on more than 2 acres in one of the most exclusive areas of Toronto.  The parties owned a ski chalet in Caledon, a luxurious vacation property in Florida, boats and other water craft and a Muskoka cottage.

The former couple’s lifestyle was commensurately extravagant, as the court described:

The family travelled extensively.  Family holidays were often taken using THG’s private jet, which Ms. Plese described as one that can fly “over the ocean”.  Holidays included European destinations.  On a holiday in Greece, the parties rented a yacht and staff to sail the family around the Greek Isles.  Ms. Plese testified that if the aircraft was being used for THG business, and she wished to take a trip, Mr. Herjavec would charter a private plane for her.   Mr. Herjavec did not refute this evidence.

Ms. Plese’s financial statement shows she owns considerable expensive jewellery from Cartier.  At valuation day it was worth over $428,000.  Ms. Plese says this figure reflect roughly half of what it cost.  Again, I heard no evidence to the contrary.

Mr. Herjavec testified he spent $100,000 on a piano for High Point, but, since no one in the family could play, invested a further $25,000 on a device that would play the piano.  Mr. Herjavec owned and operated numerous luxury cars. The middle child, Skye, received a car for her 16th birthday.  The children were educated at exclusive private schools.  The two girls attended elite American universities.  Both older children have pursued post-graduate studies, at no personal financial cost to them.  The family lived a rarified existence of privilege and luxury.

It is telling that [their daughter] Skye, when asked whether it was true she enjoyed luxurious holidays with her family, simply answered:

I mean they were just vacations to me, I don’t – it depends on how you see them.

Skye was then asked how she saw them. She answered:

I was going on vacation with my family … it depends what you – like that’s how I grew up, that’s – it was a vacation with my family is how I saw it.

In awarding support, the court had to examine the post-split downgraded lifestyle that the wife was now living, in light of the divorce after a longstanding marriage.  The court explained:

Ms. Plese testified that her lifestyle has suffered since the breakdown of the marriage.  For example, instead of travelling by private jet, she flies with commercial airlines.  Instead of staying in a suite of rooms at luxurious hotels, she now stays in a single hotel room.   I have no evidence that Mr. Herjavec has experienced any similar reduction in his lifestyle.

I conclude that without spousal support, Ms. Plese will have suffered economic hardship as a result of the end of the marriage.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Plese v. Herjavec, 2018 

At Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers, our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

Former Shark Tank Star Ordered to Pay Ex-Wife $125,000 Per Month in Support

Former Shark Tank Star Ordered to Pay Ex-Wife $125,000 Per Month in Support

In a recent ruling by the Ontario court the husband, well-known TV-celebrity Robert Herjavec was ordered to pay his ex-wife, Diane Plese, $125,000 per month in spousal support for an indeterminate period.  He was also ordered to pay her about $25 million, representing an equalization payment and her entitlement to shares in a cottage and vacation property. This is in addition to about $20 million she already received in assets from the marriage.

Herjavec, one of the stars of television’s Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den reality shows, had been married to Plese for 24 years before they split in 2014.  Their separation was prompted by the revelation that he had been having an extramarital affair.

At stake in the divorce was what they considered an “unimaginable fortune,” which had snowballed from an original $31 million sale of Herjavec’s cyber-security company called “Brak” in 2001.  This funded the development of a similar, equally-lucrative business later on.  The influx of wealth had a significant effect on the couple’s lifestyle, as the court explained:

After the Brak sale, the family’s spending patterns changed dramatically.  A new family home was purchased for over $7 million.  It was located in the exclusive Bridle Path area of Toronto.  In addition to many bedrooms, bathrooms, living and dining and family room, it also featured an indoor swimming pool, a ballroom, teahouse, and a huge garage, large enough to store many vehicles. 

They acquired a new recreational property on Fisher Island in Florida.  It cost more than $2.6 million.  Boats and cars were purchased.  The children were sent to exclusive private schools.  Ultimately, Ms. Plese stopped working outside the home altogether.

In the context of settling their family law issues, the court turned to valuing the former couple’s property, including their 22,500-square-foot matrimonial home now valued at around $17 million, their $5 million cottage, their $4.8 million property in Fisher Island, as well as various boats, vehicles, and even their Aeroplan points.  This was a considerable challenge due to the significant difference in valuations provided by their respective experts:   For example, respecting the value each expert attributed to Herjavec’s current business alone, there was a spread of $30 million.

After concluding that Plese was entitled to about $25 million for her share of these items, the court turned to the issue of how much spousal support Herjavec should pay her.  In doing so, the court cited from a paragraph of his own book, as evidence of the importance of the marriage and Plese’s support to his success. The court said:

This was a lengthy marriage of nearly three decades.  The parties both testified they worked as a team.   Mr. Herjavec himself perhaps put it best in his book titled Driven: How to Succeed in Business and in Life.  At page 286 he says:

I’m fortunate in so many ways to have Diane as my spouse.  She earned her optometry degree over six strenuous years of study, years that included countless nights of study and work as an intern.  She knows what it’s like to work eighteen or twenty hours a day in pursuit of a goal; she understands the motivation behind it.  Having obtained her degree she could count on a good income from steady employment, providing a safety net if one of my projects went belly up.  This was enormous comfort to both of us, especially during my first years as an entrepreneur. 

Clearly, Ms. Plese’s contributions from her own work were critical to Mr. Herjavec’s financial success, particularly in the early years of the marriage when he began Brak.   Brak, of course, provided the foundation for [the later company] and its ultimate success.  What Ms. Plese lost when she stopped working outside the home was that very steady employment and her own financial safety net created from her own separate earnings.  This is a compensable loss.

In all the circumstances, the court concluded that Plese was entitled to spousal support of $125,000 per month, with no set termination date.  Although this amount was actually lower than what the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines would otherwise dictate, it incorporated the ongoing capital positions of each of the former spouses, and represented a reasonable balancing of the economic consequences of the end of their marriage.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Plese v. Herjavec, 2018

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

GM Oshawa Assembly Plant Closing & Divorce

The Ghosts of GM: Past, Present and Future

On November 26, 2018, the General Motors Company (GM) announced that it will cease allocating new product to its Oshawa assembly plant beyond the end of 2019. This came as a shock to the 2,500 employees who work at the Oshawa plant and the many more who depend on their income. While the jury is still out on whether GM will be laying off or re-training its 2,500 employees, one thing is certain—a large cohort of GM’s employees stand to lose their livelihood.

Whether laid off or re-trained, employees who have a potential, current or settled family law matter will need to govern themselves wisely to weather the impact that closure will have on their day-to-day lives. Accordingly, this post explores the likely, and, not so likely, family law implications of GM’s closure of its once thriving Oshawa assembly plant.

The Ghost of GM Past: Settled Family Law Matters

If your family law matter was previously settled by way of a Separation Agreement or Final Order, the loss of employment income may trigger a review of child support or spousal support, or parenting.

Support obligations

It is likely that the loss of employment income will mean that you cannot afford to pay child support and/or spousal support as set out in a Separation Agreement or Final Order. In the case of a Separation Agreement, you may be able to rely on a built-in review clause to revisit the issue of support. Most Separation Agreements contain a dispute resolution clause which may be the first place to start in this endeavor. In the case of a Final Order, you will likely want to bring a Motion to Change a Final Order if you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on the appropriate adjustment out of court. A qualified lawyer can assist with making this process as seamless as possible.

Parenting

It is not likely that your loss of income will impact settled parenting arrangements. However, you may find yourself needing to reduce your parenting time with the children in order to focus on finding a new job. In this scenario, you may likely need to rely on the dispute resolution clause in your Separation Agreement or bring a Motion to Change a Final Order altering an access schedule in order to achieve the desired relief.

The Ghost of GM Present: Current Family Law Matters

If you are currently going through a legal separation from your spouse, the loss of employment income may affect a number of aspects in your separation, including but not limited to, support, assets and liabilities and alternative career planning.

Child support and spousal support

You may have credible grounds by which to vary a temporary Order for support in your legal proceeding. As an Order for support would have been based on your GM income at the time, the Order may be varied by the new circumstances. You may seek such relief at a pre-trial conference or by bringing a motion. It is not likely, however, that your loss of income resulting from being laid off will extinguish your entire obligation to pay support. Rather, you may still be required to pay support on the basis of employment insurance income or imputed income. However, the extent of any such continuing obligation depends on the particular facts of your case.

Assets and liabilities

The loss of employment income may result in a budgetary deficit, impacting your ability to keep the matrimonial home. If you are no longer able to maintain your share of the mortgage and bills associated with the matrimonial home, it may have to be listed for sale—which may be the most poignant of all of your post-closure concerns. Worry not. There may be options available to you for preventing this outcome such as, a buy-out, borrowing or disposition of investments, RRSPs, RRIFs or your GM pension. However, the viability of these options to save the matrimonial home will need to be assessed against the surrounding issues in your proceeding such as support, equalization and other issues relevant to your case.

Alternative career planning

You may wish to delay your re-entry into the workforce to obtain credentials in a more stable industry. While this will yield economic benefits in the long run, your current financial obligations of support and solvency will be deciding factors. Delayed income generation caused by alternative career training may likely be manageable provided that the financial obligations of your ongoing separation are minimal. However, your freedom and ability to pursue such an undertaking may require a corresponding compromise and will depend on the unique facts of your case.

The Ghost of GM Future: Potential Family Law Matters

If you have been planning to separate from your spouse, the loss of employment income can have significant family law implications on a number of obligations arising in separation, including but not limited to, support, parenting and family property.

Child support and spousal support

It is not likely that being laid off will defer support obligations. You may be obligated to pay support if you receive employment insurance income sufficient enough to meet legislative minimums. If you do not qualify for employment insurance, your spouse may still seek support by imputing an income on you commensurate with your work experience, whereby you will be required to pay support. In either scenario, the obligation to pay child support and spousal support may survive the loss of income depending on the facts of your particular situation.

Parenting

It is likely that being laid off will mean expanded parenting time. While increased parenting time may yield social benefits, it may also impinge on your economic rehabilitation. Your spouse may expect you to dedicate your new found time to caring for young children who are not in school. These, and other significant changes to parenting time after initiating your separation, may likely hinder your re-entry into the workforce. A properly drafted parenting agreement can help by moderating unrealistic expectations.

Family property

You will have a legal duty upon separating from your spouse to avoid the reckless depletion of family property. While you may wish to list personal or real property for sale to help make ends meet, it is not likely that you will be able to freely dispose of family property after your date of separation without your spouse’s prior consent or proper accounting. You will have to be mindful of how you manage family property as mismanagement may prejudice the equalization of net family property and may result in a Court order.

Bottom line

The closure of GM’s Oshawa assembly plant in 2019 will disrupt the lives of many families, the impact of which might be felt most by those dealing with a potential, current or settled family law matter. Contacting a lawyer for legal advice tailored to the particular facts of your case is a proven way to mitigate the effects of an imminent disruption to income. While it may seem impossible to afford a lawyer at this time, there may be options available to finance the cost of much-needed legal representation.

At Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.

Changes to Divorce Act Recommended

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Changes to Divorce Act Recommended

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA), which is the largest professional, nation-wide association for lawyers in Canada, has recently recommended updates to the federal Divorce Act. Put forward by the CBA’s Family Law Section, these suggested changes are aimed at reflecting new realities related to modern-day parenting.
The proposed changes relate to three topics:

• Relocation – Although the test for a court ordering a child to be relocated hinges on the “best interests” of that child, courts are given little guidance on how to apply that test in specific cases. The proposed legislative changes would improve clarity and consistency.

• Child Support in shared parenting situations – The suggested amendments call for the legislation to include a formula for determining child support in shared parenting situations. Currently, the proper approach for courts to apply is complex.

• Updating Divorce Act terminology – The CBA’s proposed changes would see both the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the Divorce Act get updated so that terms such as “custody”, “access” and “best interests of the child” are modernized and replaced with more progressive terms. In particular, the clarity and meaning of the latter term would benefit from incorporating specified factors such as the impact of the child’s cultural, linguistic or spiritual upbringing, as well as the question of whether there is domestic violence in his or her home life.
If for no other reason, from a sheer temporal standpoint this kind of “freshening up” of the Divorce Act is long overdue, since it’s provisions have not been significantly amended for 30 years.

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

If You are Divorced in a Foreign Country, Can a Canadian Court Make Orders Too?

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If You are Divorced in a Foreign Country, Can a Canadian Court Make Orders Too?

The facts in Cheng v. Liu are a little unusual, but the core question was this:

If a couple’s divorce is validly granted outside of Canada by a foreign court, does this preclude a Canadian court from later making any corollary orders – such as rulings on issues of support or custody – arising from that same divorce?

The husband, an engineer, was a Canadian citizen who lived in Canada.  The wife lived in China and had never been to Canada.  They got married in China in 2006 and had a daughter who lived with the wife in China her entire life.  They separated about a year after getting married, in around late 2007 or early 2008.

The wife then covered all the legal bases:  She applied in China for a divorce, and custody of their child.  She also applied in Canadian, under the federal Divorce Act, to ask for a divorce, as well as spousal support, child support, and custody.  Finally, also in Canada under the Ontario Family Law Act, she asked for equalization of net family property.

Meanwhile, the Chinese court granted the wife her divorce and awarded her sole custody of the child.  The wife’s other Ontario-based claims were still pending.

The husband, faced with all of these competing actions requiring his response, asked the Ontario court to suspend (or “stay”) the proceedings so that the entire matter could be determined in China.  This led to several rulings and some procedural wrangling, and ultimately a hearing before the Ontario Court of Appeal for its determination.

Against this complicated background the Ontario Court of Appeal had a simple question to consider:  In light of the Chinese divorce order, could a Canadian court make additional orders relating to child support, spousal support, and equalization of property?

The Court’s conclusion was mixed:  The divorce-related issues were closed for consideration, but the child support issues were still up for an Ontario Family court to rule on.

On the first point – and based on longstanding precedent that considered the provisions of the federal Divorce Act – the law states that once the foreign Chinese court had made a valid divorce order, this removes the authority of the Ontario court to hear and determine corollary matters.  So on the remaining divorce-related issues, the Ontario court had no authority.

However, the situation under the provincial Family Law Act was different:  the Ontario court could still rule on questions relating to child support, since the foreign court in China had not already done so in its divorce order.   The Family Law Act allowed child support claims to be made even after a divorce, and the foreign divorce order had no impact on that.  Indeed, the whole purpose for the Ontario legislation was to ensure that parents provide financial support for their dependent children.  Allowing the Ontario court to continuing to make orders under the Family Law Act even though the Divorce Act provisions had been trumped was actually a harmonious outcome to ensure child support would be covered.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Cheng v. Liu

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

Is Husband’s Payment of 230 Gold Coins Under Islamic Marriage Contract Excluded from Wife’s Property?

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Is Husband’s Payment of 230 Gold Coins Under Islamic Marriage Contract Excluded from Wife’s Property?

Under the law governing Islamic marriage, a “Maher” (sometimes written as “Mahr”) is a written marriage contract.  In the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Bakhshi v. Hosseinzadeh, the narrow legal question was whether, under the Ontario Family Law regime, the property transferred under a Maher is excluded from the definition of Net Family Property (NFP), and by extension excluded from the equalization calculation of the parties’ respective NFPs upon divorce.

When they married in Iran in 1995, the couple had entered into the Maher in keeping with their religious and cultural beliefs.  The Maher contained a clause that required the husband to pay the wife 230 gold coins promptly upon her request.  The spouses later immigrated to Canada.

When in 2013 the wife began divorce proceedings and various related court applications, the issue arose as to how the notional transfer from the husband of those 230 gold coins under the Maher was to be treated in law.  At the initial trial, the judge concluded that the Maher obligation was valid and that the value of the gold coins – about $80,000 – was to be excluded from the wife’s NFP total.

The Court of Appeal was asked to entertain the husband’s appeal.  It began by confirming the ruling of prior courts to the effect that despite being religion-based, marriage contracts such as a Maher can be enforceable, provided they satisfy the elements of a valid domestic contract under Canadian law.  Once deemed valid, they are interpreted like any other civil contract, by looking at their wording and the objective intentions of the parties at the time the agreement is made.

Next, the Court observed that definition of NFP found in the provincial Family Law Act includes all property owned by a spouse on the valuation date.   The Maher in this case contained no express agreement that the payment of 230 gold coins was to be excluded from the wife’s NFP, nor was there any basis to infer that the spouses intended at the time to exclude it.  To the contrary, it was executed in Iran and contained other terms that suggested the couple envisioned continued life in that country, and were not contemplating their potential mutual obligations under the Ontario legislation.

The Appeal Court concluded that the Maher payment was to be treated under the Family Law Act like any other payment obligation between the spouses, meaning that it was to be included in the overall calculations.  That outcome was in keeping with the rest of the legislative regime, which envisions that spouses own property separately during marriage, and does not allow for transactions between spouses to be excluded from NFP calculations.

The Court re-calculated the NFP by including the value of the Maher payment, while clarifying that the husband still needed to actually (i.e. physically) transfer the 230 gold coins to the wife’s possession.  Even though its value was to be included in the overall equalization calculation, the Maher payment itself was considered a demand obligation with a paper value, which meant the wife was entitled to pursue debt collection remedies if the husband refused to pay.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Bakhshi v. Hosseinzadeh

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

Should (Another) 20-Year-Old Cohabitation Agreement Be Upheld?

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Should (Another) 20-Year-Old Cohabitation Agreement Be Upheld?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a case in which the court was asked whether a separation agreement signed by a couple 20 years earlier should be upheld.

Coincidentally, another recent Ontario Court of Appeal case involved a similar circumstance.

When the couple started living together 20 years ago – and at the husband’s insistence, since he’d had a prior relationship end acrimoniously – they signed a cohabitation agreement.  The husband took care of having it drafted, and he presented it to the wife for her signature.  He wanted the security of having the agreement in place before moving forward in the relationship and buying a home with her.

The wife did not have independent legal advice at the time, although she was given the opportunity to obtain it.  Under the terms of the agreement she signed, the wife agreed to give up all her claims to spousal support.

Still, when they separated 20 years later, she claimed for spousal support nonetheless.  The trial judge upheld the separation agreement, and dismissed her claim for support.  The wife brought an appeal.

In evaluating whether to allow that appeal, the court had to embark on a two-stage analysis, the first stage of which required it to:

1) look at the circumstances surrounding the negotiation and execution of the agreement, to determine whether there was any reason to discount it; and then

2) consider the substance of the agreement, to determine whether it was in substantial compliance with the general objectives of the Divorce Act at the time it was formed.

Then, in the second stage, the court had to consider – now 20 years later – whether the wife had established that the agreement no longer reflects the original intention of the parties, and whether the cohabitation agreement is still in substantial compliance with the legislated objectives of the modern-day Divorce Act.

Applying those standards here, the wife argued that the agreement was invalid, and that the trial judge failed to consider certain important facts when applying this two-stage test, namely:

  • That there was a power imbalance between her and the husband;
  • That she had not discussed spousal support with the husband;
  • That the husband’s financial disclosure was incomplete; and
  • That she did not have independent legal advice.

While conceding that she was not coerced, the wife argued that the agreement simply did not align with the overall objectives of the Divorce Act, whether now or back when it was signed.  This was particularly true since the couple went on to have an 18-year relationship, they had two children together for whom the wife bore the primary responsibility, and his income exceeded hers.

The Appeal Court considered the wife’s arguments.  After examining the objectives of the legislation, it rejected her spousal support request. There had been no error of law or misapprehension of fact by the trial judge, who carefully reviewed the relevant test and found:

  • The wife was aware of the husband’s desire to have a cohabitation agreement.
  • They had discussed the cohabitation agreement before the wife received it.
  • She was aware of all of the husband’s sources of income and assets, but did not pursue further disclosure.
  • She skimmed over the cohabitation agreement, reading some parts but not others.
  • There was no fraud, coercion, or duress.
  • Although given the opportunity, the wife did not seek independent legal advice even though – on her evidence – she had six weeks to do so.
  • At the time of signing the agreement, the wife thought it was fair and that it fairly outlined the parties’ discussions regarding the purchase of a house.
  • The agreement is in substantial compliance with the Divorce Act.

The court noted that the trial judge was entitled to make the findings that he did on the evidence, and are entitled to deference from appeal court.  It added that even if the cohabitation agreement did not exist, on all the facts the wife would not be entitled to spousal support anyway.  The court dismissed her appeal.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Smith v. Smith

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

 

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