An Ontario court refused to grant a wife’s motion for $50,000 in monthly spousal support because a marriage contract already gave her $12,000 per month.
The husband and wife began to date in December 2005. In April 2006, they agreed to marry. It was the wife’s first marriage and the husband’s third. The wife was 20 years younger than the husband. The husband had three children and seven grandchildrenfrom previous marriages.
On May 10, 2007, the wife and the husband were married. They signed a marriage contract dated May 9, 2007. Both parties retained lawyers to negotiate the marriage contract. The couple separated on September 7, 2016.
After the separation, the husband began paying the wife $12,000 a month in spousal support pursuant to the terms of the marriage contract; this was the maximum amount of monthly spousal support owed under the marriage contract.
On April 7, 2017, the wife commenced a court application asking for a declaration that the marriage contract was null and void and that it be set aside in its entirety. Additionally, if the marriage contract was set aside, she wanted equalization of net family property and spousal support.
The wife claimed that the terms of the marriage contract were unconscionable and that she signed it under duress and undue influence. She stated that the husband pressured her into signing the marriage contract, when he knew it was grossly unfair. She also claimed that she received inadequate disclosure from the husband before signing the marriage contract.
The motion before the court sought interim spousal support of $50,000 a month pending the court’s determination of whether the marriage contract should be set aside.
The court explained that a party claiming spousal support in the face of a fixed spousal support regime in a contract bears the significant burden of establishing that it would be appropriate to award spousal support in the circumstances.
There is a two-stage test for determining whether a court should uphold an agreement that limits or waives a spouse’s support rights.
At the first stage, the court looks at:
- The circumstances in which the agreement was negotiated and executed to determine whether there is any reason to discount it, including any circumstances of oppression, pressure or other vulnerabilities. A court should not presume an imbalance of power and the degree of professional assistance received by the parties may be sufficient to overcome any systemic imbalances between the parties.
- The substance of the agreement to determine whether it is in substantial compliance with the objectives of the Divorce Act at the time it was entered. The court considers if the agreement reflects an equitable sharing of the economic consequences of marriage and its breakdown. Only a significant departure from the objectives of the Divorce Act will warrant the court’s intervention.
At the second stage, the court must assess whether the agreement still reflects the original intentions of the parties and the extent to which it is still in substantial compliance with the objectives of the Divorce Act. It is unlikely that the court will be persuaded to disregard the agreement in its entirety, but for a significant change in the parties’ circumstances from what could reasonably be anticipated at the time of negotiation.
In this case, the court did not find a serious issue to be tried concerning the circumstances in which the marriage contract was negotiated and executed, because it was negotiated over many months and changes were made at the wife’s request. It found that the process was not rushed and the wife had ample time to communicate with her lawyer and ask questions.
Additionally, the court found that when the contract was signed it was in substantial compliance with the objectives of the Divorce Act and it reflected an equitable sharing of the economic consequences of marriage and its breakdown.
Finally, the court found that the marriage contract continued to reflect the original intentions of the parties, was still in substantial compliance with the objectives of the Divorce Act and there had been no significant change in the parties’ circumstances.
The court concluded:
“While [the wife] may not be able to pay for the lifestyle that she enjoyed during the marriage, it was obvious when she signed the Marriage Contract that this would be the case. It cannot be said that she is financially disadvantaged. [The wife]’s existing circumstances were reasonably anticipated when she signed the Marriage Contract.”
As a result, the court dismissed the wife’s motion.
At Feigenbaum Law, our goal is to help you move forward following the breakdown of a relationship while retaining as much financial stability as possible and ensuring your children are provided for. Mark Feigenbaum is able to counsel his clients on all potential risks that may result from a family law dispute, not just those related strictly to the breakdown of a marriage. Contact Mark online or call him at (416) 777-8433 or toll-free at (877) 275-4792 to book a consultation.