The idea of a common-law relationship is fairly well established in Canada. In Ontario, a couple can be considered to be spouses when unmarried if they live together or cohabitate in a conjugal relationship for at least three years. But as we often see, the devil is in the details. In a recent case heard before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the court was asked to rule on a couple who kept separate homes but said they still lived together.

The background

The husband and wife began their relationship on October 17, 2001. They separated on May 11, 2015. The wife had been married before this relationship. She had two children who lived with her following her divorce in a home she purchased in 2001. She lived in that house throughout her relationship with the husband. At the time they met, the wife was earning about $60,000 annually.

The husband came from an exceptionally wealthy family. He had three children from a previous marriage before meeting the wife. When they met he owned and lived at a home in Toronto. His children lived there as well. He also owned a home in Muskoka and a condo in Florida. Over the course of the relationship he purchased new homes in both Toronto and Muskoka.

When the relationship ended, the wife sought spousal support from the husband.

The positions of the parties

The wife’s position was that the parties were spouses and she was treated as a wife by the husband. Her evidence included engagement and wedding rings given to her. They celebrated their anniversary every year. He referred to his brother as her “brother-in-law” on a passport application. They designed and build a cottage that was referred to as “their cottage.”

The husband maintained that the wife was his travel companion, and nothing more than his girlfriend. He said that while they were involved in a romantic relationship, they were not spouses. His evidence included their having separate bank accounts and the maintaining of separate homes. He also said that he had asked the wife to sign a domestic contract which she did not do. He said he would never have moved in with or married her without one.

The husband argued that since the couple did not ever live together, they were unable to satisfy that requirement.

The court weights in

The court looked at the credibility of each of the parties. They noted that while they both exaggerated or sad things that weren’t true, the husband’s credibility was not as strong as the wife’s. For example, he had denied having proposed to her, but the court later saw a photo of the couple in Costa Rica with “will you marry me?” written in the sand. He suggested that perhaps another couple was responsible for the message. The court also considered the 7.5 carat diamond ring the husband gave the wife, which was followed by a wedding band and an “eternity ring.” The wife wore both of them until they separated.  

After considering all of this, the court found the, to have been in a conjugal relationship. It then took time to consider the “living together” condition. In looking at their living situation in the context of the other facts presented, the court determined that the time they spent living together at the cottage as well as at the condo in Florida was enough to satisfy the requirement. The court found the couple to be spouses and went on to calculate spousal support.

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