Can a Wife Bring up a Husband’s Sex Addiction in Divorce Proceedings?
Disgraced Hollywood producer and purported serial sexual assaulter Harvey Weinstein has been making headlines in the past few weeks, most recently after checking himself into a rehab facility to treat an alleged sex addiction. In the midst of the scandal, Weinstein’s wife, fashion designer Georgina Chapman, told the media that she was leaving Weinstein, stating:
My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions…I have chosen to leave my husband. Caring for my young children is my first priority and I ask the media for privacy at this time.
It remains to be seen what role, if any, Weinstein’s claims of sex addiction will have if the couple ultimately decide to divorce.
Sex Addiction and Divorce in Ontario
Here in Ontario, courts have addressed sex addiction in the context of a divorce. The issue has been treated variously, depending on the specific circumstances of the separating or divorcing couples. Two recent decisions provide some insights about how courts have approached sex addiction.
In the first decision, Yunger v. Solty, a wife claimed her husband had a sex addiction which had led to the breakdown of their marriage and resulted in a fractured relationship with their daughter. She wanted disclosure of the husband’s medical records to establish that he had this addiction. The court did not grant her request, finding that any alleged sex addiction, even if true, was not relevant to the parenting issues outstanding between the parties.
The second decision, Santor v. Santor, was a divorce in which a wife had requested sole custody of the child she shared with her husband, arguing that the party’s separation had occurred in part due to the husband’s sex addiction, the treatment of which had been unsuccessful. The court granted sole custody of the former couple’s child to the wife, with the husband to have supervised visits only. The husband’s sex addiction played a role in the court’s decision.
Yunger v. Solty
The parties were married in August 2002, and separated in 2008. The couple had two children, a daughter born in 2003 and a son born in 2006.
During the proceedings, the husband claimed that the wife was trying to “extract funds from his family” through use of threats, rumours, and the children. He also claimed that his wife had disparaged him within their community. The wife claimed that the husband and his family were engaging in a “war of financial attrition” against her, and argued that they told her to agree to their terms or that she would be financially cut off.
Each party sought various forms of relief. The wife requested several things, including:
- Temporary sole custody of the children;
- An order that the father be restrained from removing the children from Ontario;
- A restraining order;
- Interim child and spousal support; and
- Disclosure of the father’s medical records.
The husband also requested several things, including:
- Joint legal custody;
- A parenting schedule; and
- An order that each parent facilitate daily communications between the children and the other parent.
The wife claimed that the husband had a sex addiction. She wanted his medical records from Bellwood Health Services, as well as medical records from any other health care professional that he may have been seeing with respect to the alleged addiction. The mother argued that disclosure of the medical records would confirm whether the husband did, in fact, have a sexual addiction, and provide answers as to why the marriage broke down.
The father denied that he had a sexual addiction, and argued that he went to counselling only because of the pressure placed on him by the wife and her family. The only counsellor he was seeing was one that was helping him deal with the difficult issues stemming from his marriage breakdown.
The Court’s Decision
With respect to the wife’s requests for her husband’s medical records, Justice Herman noted that he had difficulty understanding how the determinations on whether the husband had a sexual addiction and whether this had led to a breakdown in the marriage were relevant to the outstanding issues between the parties (i.e. child support, parenting schedules, etc.). The judge stated:
The [wife] suggests that the [husband’s] addictions may be related to [the daughter’s] difficulties with her father. However, there is no evidence, at this point, that this is or may be the case.
The disclosure of medical records is highly intrusive. There are compelling reasons for preserving the confidentiality of communications between the [husband] and his doctor or therapist. In the absence of evidence that such records would be relevant to any of the issues in this case, in particular, to the parenting issues, I decline to order that they be disclosed.
Santor v. Santor
The parties were married in September 2001, had one child (a son) in 2002, and were separated in October 2007. The wife sought, among other things, sole custody of the son, based on the fact that he had resided primarily with her since the separation, and she had been his primary caregiver making all decisions in terms of nutrition, medical decisions, schooling, play, and child rearing.
The wife additionally sought supervised access, based on several things, including the husband’s sex addiction, which he had been getting treatment for at a rehab facility at the time of separation. When the couple first separated, the husband had supervised access only, and only during daytime, due to his sex addiction and history of visiting prostitutes. Eventually things progressed to the point where overnight visits became possible. However, after some time, the husband’s visits with the child became more and more sporadic, due in part to significant financial issues as well as a psychiatric breakdown.
During the divorce proceedings, the wife indicated that she was not prepared to allow the husband unsupervised access based on his historical issues, including his inability to properly seek treatment for his sex addiction, and his refusal to properly address his psychiatric issues.
The Court’s Decision
The court noted that the wife’s position is “appropriate” and in the son’s best interests. The court also specifically noted that:
This history of access is important to understanding the reason for the [wife’s] current position and this Court’s order with respect to access. The following is important to note:
- The separation occurred, in part, due to the [husband’s] sex addiction;
- The [husband] was soliciting the services of prostitutes and was regularly watching internet pornography;
- At the time of separation, the [husband] was in an addiction treatment facility in California and at the same time the addictive behaviour was continuing. He was still in contact with prostitutes. There were emails to confirm this conduct;
- The [wife] had concern about the ability of the [husband] to parent because of the addiction and the inability of the rehabilitation facility to address it.
The court ultimately issued a divorce order, and granted the wife sole custody of the child, and the husband with supervised access, at the discretion of the wife. Access is to be supervised until the husband could provide a letter from a psychiatrist confirming he is able to have access to the child without supervision.
As with any other family proceeding, these decisions were made based on the specific circumstances of each couple. The same factors may not be present in your situation, and the court may not reach a similar conclusion.
If you have questions about separation or divorce or about how specific behavior of your spouse may affect your family dispute, contact Jason P. Howie. Jason has been providing family law services to clients in Windsor and the surrounding regions for more than 25 years. To discuss your legal needs with Jason, call 519.973.1500 or contact us online.