Canadian Arts-World Marriage Ends in Divorce After Highly Public Two Year Legal Battle


We have previously blogged about the high-profile divorce between Eleanor McCain (heiress to the McCain Foods fortune) and Jeff Melanson (former President and CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra).

The Globe and Mail now reports that, after an almost two year battle involving often-dramatic back and forth accusations by both parties, the former couple’s marriage is officially over.

Divorce, Not Annulment

Ms. McCain had requested an annulment of the marriage, whereas Mr. Melanson wanted a divorce and an enforcement of the couple’s prenuptial agreement, under which he would have received $5 million “to assist him in adjusting to his post-separation lifestyle”.

Last September, the parties agreed to dismiss Ms. McCain’s annulment claim, and instead proceed by way of uncontested divorce.

Two Different Versions of the Marriage

As we previously noted, the parties married in a private ceremony in April 2014. Going into the marriage, Ms. McCain had a net worth of more than $365 million, and an annual income of $4.25 million. Mr. Melanson had an annual income of $400,000 but was in debt, which negated these earnings.

Two days before the marriage, they signed the prenup in which Ms. McCain agreed to payment of the $5 million lump sum. The marriage lasted 9 months.

In a decision issued early in the process of ending this marriage, Justice Francis Kiteley had pointed out “[t]o say that the Applicant and Respondent have different perspectives on the relationship is an understatement”.

Ms. McCain’s request for annulment contained allegations about misbehavior by Mr. Melanson both towards her and in the workplace.

She claimed that he was a womanizer and had also had been involved in sexual harassment, abuse, and misconduct in the three major arts organizations that he had worked at over the last 10 years- the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO), the Banff Centre, and the National Ballet School. The Banff Centre subsequently acknowledged that they had reached a settlement with “a former employee” in an incident involving sexual harassment, but would not provide any further details, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

From a personal perspective, Ms. McCain claimed that Mr. Melanson had “tricked [her] into going through a ceremony of marriage”. She argued that he had engaged in an “aggressive courtship” and a rushed marriage, which he ultimately terminated “through a self-serving e-mail” within two months of a public celebration the couple held to acknowledge the marriage.

Mr. Melanson, unsurprisingly, denied Ms. McCain’s allegations and made his own explosive claims, noting that she was a “self-funded, amateur musician” who had been “mean-spirited” to his children, and looked down on those who had less money than she did. He denied that he had ended the marriage via email.

Impact of the Separation

Mr. Melanson was financially impacted by the former couple’s separation and subsequent media coverage. In the wake of Ms. McCain’s request for annulment, which made public her allegations of misconduct, Mr. Melanson resigned from his position with the TSO (the organization called the resignation a “mutual agreement” that was “in the best interests of both parties”).

At the time of a 2017 hearing into the escalating costs of the former couple’s legal dispute, Mr. Melanson had sold his condo, tapped into a line of credit, and had $205 in his chequing account and nothing in his savings account.

Ms. McCain was ultimately ordered to pay Mr. Melanson $125,000 in interim costs since, as the court noted, “it is clear that he cannot afford to pay his legal fees”.

Divorce: The End of a Saga

In December 2017, the Ontario Superior Court dismissed all claims made by Ms. McCain and Mr. Melanson, except for his claim for a divorce. The court order was dated Dec. 14 with the divorce to take effect 31 days later.

If you have questions about your rights and obligations in a separationdivorce, or high asset divorce speak with experienced Windsor family law lawyer, Jason P. Howie, at 519.973.1500 or contact us online. We serve clients in Windsor, Essex County and throughout the region.

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