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MARRIAGE - Common-law marriage - Property and benefit rights

Thursday, July 18, 2019 @ 6:34 AM  


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Appeal by a common-law husband from a property division ruling. The parties cohabited between 2003 and 2014. They had two children. During their relationship, the parties amassed significant real estate holdings, some of which was held by companies controlled by the husband. Ernst performed extensive office management and accounting duties for her partner’s companies without pay. Following separation, she filed a claim that sought, among other things, division of property on the basis of unjust enrichment. The trial judge concluded that an unjust enrichment was established. Martins was enriched by Ernst’s contribution to the household that permitted him to focus on his career and was enriched by her contribution to his business. Ernst was deprived by the fact that she was not paid for her work and gave up other income and career opportunities. There was no juristic reason for Martin's enrichment at the expense of Ernst. The trial judge concluded that the parties were engaged in a joint family venture, and that Ernst's contributions to that venture were linked to the accumulation of wealth, such that she was entitled to a 40 per cent share, proportionate to her contributions. The trial judge rejected Martin's submission that Ernst's share be determined on a quantum meruit basis. Martins appealed.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. No appellate intervention was required with respect to the conclusion that Martins was enriched, as his submissions relied upon isolated portions of the evidence. The evidence amply supported the trial judge’s conclusions of fact and mixed fact and law. Similarly, Martins’ contention that Ernst was not deprived sought a reinterpretation of the evidence that was not available on appeal. Ernst expended efforts through unpaid work. Her deprivation and its correspondence to Martins’ enrichment were self-evident. The trial judge did not err in rejecting a quantum meruit approach in favour of a value-surviving approach based on a joint family venture. The quantification of the award was supported by detailed reasons and was entitled to deference.

Ernst v. Martins, [2019] A.J. No. 768, Alberta Court of Appeal, J. Watson, R. Khullar and J. Antonio JJ.A., June 12, 2019. Digest No. TLD-July152019010