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MARRIAGE - Common law marriage - Property and benefits rights

Monday, June 28, 2021 @ 9:56 AM  

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Appeal and cross-appeal by common law spouses from trial judgment respecting support and property division. The parties started to cohabit in 1996 in a house owned by the wife. The husband had his own commercial diving business, SFDL. He also held 50 per cent of the shares in SFPI and SFTI, and 40 per cent in SFHI. SFPI and SFTI was the source of dividend income to him in 2013, 2015 and 2016. At the time of separation, the wife’s sole source of income was her $52,000 annual salary from SFDL. The husband contributed to capital improvements made and operating costs associated with the home. In 2006, the husband purchased a home that was placed in both parties’ names. The parties resided in this home from 2006 to separation in 2014. The husband paid 100 per cent of the costs associated with this property. The trial judge found the wife entitled to partner support on a non-compensatory basis and awarded her $8,285 per month for 17 years. He found she established a common law claim to the jointly owned house and contents and awarded her $170,222. He denied the husband’s claim to the wife’s property and required that he transfer two of the vehicles to her and pay her an additional $15,000.  

HELD: Appeal and cross appeal allowed in part. The trial judge did not err in finding that the parties were partners under the Family Law Act using the functional equivalence test or in finding the wife was entitled to partner support on a non-compensatory basis. The judge’s finding that her role in the relationship did not enhance the husband’s earnings was supported by his review of the evidence and was entitled to deference. Resulting trust and unjust enrichment principles were available to determine the challenge made to ownership of or an interest in, both properties. While the judge misstated the applicable presumption of advancement and onus of proof for rebuttal, the judge’s conclusion was supported by the evidence. When the jointly owned property was purchased, the parties had been together 10 years in a marriage-like relationship. The presumption of a resulting trust in favour of the husband was successfully rebutted by the wife. There was evidence supporting the conclusion that the husband’s actual intention in placing the wife’s name on the deed was a gift of a one-half interest. While the husband had not established an error in the judge’s conclusion that the husband intended to gift the wife a one-half interest in the home and contents, he erred in referencing the value of one-half of the equity instead of the full equity. The valuation of the wife’s one-half interest was varied to $336,714. The trial judge erred in not awarding the husband a monetary remedy for his contribution to the wife’s property. There was mutual effort and economic integration reflected in the way the property was maintained and improved both while the parties lived in it and after they vacated it. Since the evidence did not support donative intent, the husband established that there was no juristic reason to deny his recovery. He was awarded $42,739 for his contributions. The amount of partner support was varied to $5,000 per month for a 10-year period. The support awarded significantly exceeded her needs. The trial judge also erred including in her income her partner’s income. The evidence supported the judge’s conclusions that the husband gave one vehicle to the wife as a belated birthday gift and allowed the registration to expire, effectively depriving her of this asset. It was appropriate that he transfer title of this vehicle to the wife. The wife was to reimburse SFDL for the cost it paid for the purchase of the other vehicle at the expiration of the lease. She was not entitled to compensation for loss of use of this vehicle.

Hynes v. Snook, [2021] N.J. No. 139, Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal, B.G. Welsh, W.H. Goodridge and G.D. Butler JJ.A., May 25, 2021. Digest No. TLD-June282021002