What Happens When a Wealthy Spouse Purports to be a Pauper Post- Separation?

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When couples experience a breakdown in their relationship resulting in separation or divorce, the one common collateral issue that arises out of the ending of the relationship is dealing with the separation of assets and ascertaining who is entitled to what assets of the marriage. This is also known as the equalization of net family property, and intervention from the courts is often required to assist the parties in coming to acceptable terms regarding who will retain the family home and any other additional properties, vehicles, or other assets of value.

This process may become particularly contentious when one party, who by all accounts had an incredibly high net-worth for the duration of the marriage, suddenly purports to be near-destitute post-separation. Such was the case in the recent decision Boutin v. Boutin.

Multi-Millionaire Husband Alleges Homelessness Post-Separation

The husband in this case (the “husband”) separation case had filed a Net Worth Statement with the government that demonstrated he was possessed of assets worth more than $77,000,000 shortly before he separated from his spouse. As a real estate developer, the husband owned a substantial number of properties, some of which were for personal use and others which were under development for resale.

Shortly after the parties separated, he filed a sworn final statement in which he asserted his net worth was $0. In addition, he swore under oath that he had no income and had been forced to move into his office because he was unable to afford rental accommodation post-separation from his spouse. In effect, the husband claimed that he was homeless post-separation.

Husband Disregards Disclosure Orders

The court noted that, post-separation, the husband had, in both a personal and a professional capacity, been very busy disposing of multiple properties, to the tune of millions of dollars’ worth of real estate, some of which had been transferred to non-arm’s length parties. The court further noted that it was aware that it did not have possession of the full details of the husband’s activities, as he had steadfastly refused to provide full disclosure to either the wife or to the court with respect to his financial dealings, despite multiple court orders requiring him to do so.

The court had made numerous disclosure orders over the three years since the parties’ date of separation, in August of 2020, but the husband had elected to ignore each and every directive of the court. His counsel even admitted before the court, in October of 2023, that their client “has still not made complete and accurate financial disclosure”.

Court Takes Action to Preserve Assets in the Face of Defiance

Since the husband had been uncooperative from the beginning of the divorce proceedings, having never made the full and accurate financial disclosures demanded of him since 2020, the court issued a series of orders, beginning in 2021, for the preservation and non-dissipation of family assets. In other words, the court issued an order stating that the husband was not permitted to sell, give away or otherwise dispose of or take action to reduce the value of any family assets, including transferring money between his various professional corporations. Despite issuance of these orders and repeated reaffirmation by the courts, the husband defiantly continued to dispose of his assets in any way he deemed fit, for the ensuing three years.

The husband’s defiance forced the wife to repeatedly bring him back to court, seeking his compliance regarding disposition of assets. By August of 2022, the husband had been found in contempt and ordered by the court to provide fulsome financial disclosure by a certain date. However, he continued to ignore the court orders, including the finding of contempt, and persisted in disposing of assets in any way he pleased. This included engaging in non-arm’s length transactions, such as advancing his daughter in law more than one million dollars the day before he was to be sentenced by the court for his contempt of its order.

Receiver Appointed to Oversee Husband’s Finances

As a result of the husband’s disobedience, the court was forced to appoint a receiver to oversee his financial and asset portfolio. In 2022, the court approved a request by the wife to list several court-approved properties for sale. Unsurprisingly, the husband ignored the court’s order on this matter, went behind the backs of the wife, the receiver and the court, and listed several additional, unapproved properties for sale, at prices and with listing agents of his choosing. This included the matrimonial home, of which the wife was joint owner. The wife also had a court order for exclusive possession of the matrimonial home. As a result, the husband was court-ordered to immediately terminate these listings.

Despite repeated court orders with respect to various properties, the husband continued to defy the courts and repeatedly engaged in clandestine property sales and asset transfers, many of which were only discovered when the wife hired a private investigator.

Husband Demands Financial Accountability from Wife

The husband’s belligerence persisted through this motion, in which he sought an order that the wife provide the court with updated financial statements and business valuations. He also sought an order that the receiver release to him one million dollars from the trust established as a result of the receiver-led court-ordered property sales. In support of his motion, the husband asserted that his companies would all go bankrupt should he be denied a cash infusion and permission to mortgage and/or otherwise dispose of various properties remaining in his portfolio.

The court was quick to point out the absurdity of the husband demanding updated financial disclosure from the wife, when he himself “has not filed an updated sworn Financial Statement himself in the past two years.” It similarly rejected his assertion that the wife was trying to destroy the business he had worked so hard for, noting that in fact, it was the husband himself who was responsible for his current predicament. Moreover, his “history of not disclosing all relevant financial information … weighs heavily against granting the Order sought by” the wife.

In the result, the court dismissed the husband’s motion in its entirety.

Contact the Family Lawyers at Johnson Miller Family Lawyers for Assistance with High-Asset Divorce Matters

The process of separation or divorce can be made more challenging when you suspect that your soon to be former partner is attempting to hide assets in an effort to avoid a fair equalization of net family property. The skilled team of family lawyers at Johnson Miller Family Lawyers in Windsor-Essex have the expertise required to ensure that all property belonging to a former spouse is identified and accounted for. We will help you navigate negotiations and litigation when necessary, and will advise you of your options at each stage of the process. To speak with a member of our team regarding your family law matter, contact us online or by phone at 519.973.1500.

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