Wealthy Man and Former Model: Were They “Living Together” Despite Keeping Separate Residences?
In yet another Ontario case that offers a glimpse into the lifestyle of the mega-rich, the recent decision in Climans v. Latner allowed the court to examines the contours of what constitutes a “common-law spouse” under the Ontario Family Law Act, in a situation where the jet-setting couple kept separate residences and never lived together full-time.
The man and woman started dating in 2001, and parted ways almost 15 years later. When they met, the man was 46 years old and very wealthy; the woman was a 38-year-old former model earning about $60,000 per year. Each had children from prior relationships, and the woman lived only a few blocks away with primary care of her two children.
After the first month of dating, the man began to pay the woman’s home expenses, gave her a monthly allowance, and was very generous to her children. At this point, she stopped working at her job.
Over the course of their relationship, the man gave her access to his credit cards, car, and medical and dental insurance. He bought her seven fur coats and paid for fur storage. He paid for her cosmetic procedures. He paid her telephone, cell, cable, internet, and security alarm bills. He also paid for her home insurance, gardening/landscaping. While they spent time together, the man paid for extravagant holidays, including trips on a private jet. They spent most of each summer together at the man’s cottage, and spent time during the winters at the man’s Florida condominium.
At various stages, they started their day with a walk together, and had meals together every night except when the man was away travelling.
Yet, when they separated, the court described their very divergent positions on the nature of their relationship:
It is Ms. Climans’s position that the parties were spouses and she was treated as a wife by Mr. Latner. Her evidence was that she received an engagement ring, a wedding band and an eternity band from Mr. Latner during their relationship. They celebrated their anniversary each year. Mr. Latner sent letters and cards, professing his love and commitment to her and their relationship. … Mr. Latner was listed as her “husband” on her passport. …She believed them to be married for all intents and purposes, but for participating in a ceremony.
Mr. Latner’s position is that Ms. Climans was a travel companion, his girlfriend, nothing more. He acknowledges that they were involved in a romantic relationship, but said they never lived together and therefore were not spouses. The parties had separate bank accounts. He testified that he gave her a credit card as a matter of convenience for their expenses but that she did not have carte blanche to spend. They maintained their own homes in Toronto. Her children were her priority and his children were his priority. During their relationship, Mr. Latner asked Ms. Climans to sign a domestic contract, which was never signed. Mr. Latner’s evidence was that he would never marry or move in with Ms. Climans without a domestic contract.
(Indeed, although several domestic contracts were prepared, none were ever signed).
The exact nature of their now-ended relationship was an important issue, because the woman claimed spousal support from the man on the basis that they had been common-law spouses.
The legal wrinkle was this: To be common-law spouses under Ontario law, they must have:
- Had a relationship for at least three years (which test was easily met here);
- Been in a “conjugal relationship”; and
- “Lived together”.
The man argued that, technically, the woman could not meet that third test: Despite all the time they spent together, the man and woman each maintained separate residences in Toronto, throughout their almost 15-year relationship.
The court examined the relationship between the couple, and assessed the credibility of both of them, eventually finding that the man’s credibility was shakier than that of the woman. The court wrote:
By way of example, when shown a picture of him and Ms. Climans in Costa Rica, with the words ‘will you marry me’ written in the sand, along with their names joined by a heart, he first denied proposing to Ms. Climans, suggesting that the people sitting next to them wrote the message in the sand, not him. Then he said he could not recall. Then he said if he did, he was not sure what the point was.
The court then recounted in detail the evidence as to their commitment:
Commitment: (Rings, love letters, anniversaries etc.)
There is no doubt from the evidence given by both parties that Ms. Climans was more than a “travel companion” or “girlfriend” to Mr. Latner. The parties were in a committed relationship.
In 2002, Mr. Latner gave Ms. Climans a 7.5 carat diamond ring, valued at approximately $45,000. Mr. Latner proposed to Ms. Climans on several occasions, which proposals Ms. Climans accepted. However, the parties never married. Mr. Latner also gave Ms. Climans a wedding band, followed by a diamond band (referred to as an eternity ring). Ms. Climans wore both rings throughout the relationship. In 2011, Mr. Latner gave Ms. Climans a sapphire ring, an identical copy to the one his mother wore.
In 2002, Ms. Climans gave Mr. Latner rings (in different colour metals) that he wore throughout the relationship.
The parties celebrated the anniversary of the day they met, every year.
Mr. Latner was a prolific writer. Numerous cards and letters were entered as exhibits at trial. Throughout the entire relationship, Mr. Latner wrote many cards and letters to Ms. Climans, professing his love to her and his commitment to their relationship, in addition to the anniversary cards he gave her every year. … His position at trial that he wrote these cards to appease Ms. Climans is contradicted by the sheer volume and content of these communications.
After reviewing the case law, the court easily addressed the “conjugal relationship” threshold, concluding:
They were in a long term committed relationship. Mr. Latner treated Ms. Climans as his wife. Their relationship was sexual in nature. They held themselves out as a committed couple and were perceived as a couple by their family and friends. Ms. Climans was considered family by the extended Latner family. The parties participated in social activities as a couple. Mr. Latner supported Ms. Climans financially. They travelled extensively together. They lived together at the cottage each summer.
As for the “living together” criterion, the court considered whether their maintaining separate residences disqualified them from the test of “living together” for the purpose of being declared “common-law spouses”. It concluded there was no “bright-line rule”, and that the law recognizes a variety of different relationships and living arrangements using a flexible approach.
In this case, it ultimately concluded that their extended time at the cottage, the man’s regular presence at the woman’s home (in the early years of their relationship especially), and their living together as spouses when in Florida, all pointed to their status as common-law spouses. The court emphasized that this conclusion on living together was not based on isolated facts, but rather was viewed along with all the other dynamics in the relationship.
The court proceeded to determine the woman’s entitlement to spousal support in the circumstances.
For the full text of the discussion, see:
Climans v. Latner, 2019
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