Spousal support is often awarded after a separation when one person would be financially disadvantaged after the breakdown of the relationship. For example, if one spouse earns a higher income, or one partner didn’t work and was financially dependent on the other, a court is likely to award support. Disputes around spousal support are often focused on the amount or the duration of the award, rather than whether support is warranted at all. Whether a couple was married or common-law, spousal support is a common part of a separation agreement or court order.
However, a recent case challenged an Alberta court which had to determine whether a woman could be considered an adult interdependent partner to a man who had been married with another family for the duration of their relationship.
The defendant in the case at hand was married for thirty years, and had three sons with his wife. He worked in the oil and gas industry, in a role that enabled him to be away from home for long stretches of time, coming home to his wife and family for two weekends per month. When he was home with them, he and his wife shared a bedroom, and he attended his son’s extracurricular activities.
The defendant met the plaintiff in 1999, and they began a relationship. The plaintiff knew the defendant was married at the time, however, he told her he and his wife were separated and were in the process of divorcing. The plaintiff moved, along with her teenage daughter from a previous relationship, into a rented home with the defendant in 2000. The rented home was just four kilometres from the home the defendant shared with his wife. Despite the short distance, the defendant stayed with the plaintiff most evenings after work, only returning to his other home every other weekend, under the pretence of visiting his sons. The plaintiff only met one of his sons, when he was very young, however her daughter came to refer to the defendant as “dad”. When the daughter eventually had her own child, that child called the defendant “grandpa”.
Over time, the plaintiff and defendant moved more than once to homes they had purchased, in Canada and Las Vegas. The homes were held in the defendant’s name only, however, several of the utility bills were in the plaintiff’s name. The plaintiff also largely dedicated her life to domestic tasks and work, not working outside the home for long stretches of time.
After 17 years, the defendant ended things with the plaintiff, offering her a lump sum of $200,000 and a car. It was only when the plaintiff consulted with a lawyer that she discovered the defendant was still married to his wife. She brought a claim against him for support as an adult interdependent partner, as well as other damages.
Adult interdependent relationships, otherwise known as common-law relationships, are defined in Alberta’s Adult Interdependent Relationships Act as:
3(1) Subject to subsection (2), a person is the adult interdependent partner of another person if
(a) the person has lived with the other person in a relationship of interdependence
(i) for a continuous period of not less than 3 years, or
(ii) of some permanence, if there is a child of the relationship by birth or adoption, or
(b) the person has entered into an adult interdependent partner agreement with the other person under section 7.
In order to be considered to have lived in a relationship of interdependence, the parties must have shared their lives, functioning as one individual unit for economic and domestic purposes. Given the criteria, the plaintiff was considered to fit within the description. However, the following restriction posed an issue considering the defendant’s ongoing marriage, of which the plaintiff was unaware:
5(1) A person cannot at any one time have more than one adult interdependent partner.
(2) A married person cannot become an adult interdependent partner while living with his or her spouse.
The defendant sought to rely on the abvove restriction to avoid paying support to the plaintiff, hwoever the Court disagreed.
In examining the restriction, the Court focused on the phrase “living with”. Specifically, the Court looked at whether the defendant could be said to have been “living with” his wife, meaning the plaintiff could not be an adult interdependent partner. Considering the amount of time the defendant spent with the plaintiff versus his wife, the Court concluded that he was not “living with” his wife as defined in the restriction. Therefore, the plaintiff was a legitimate adult interdependent partner for the purposes of support.
For the follwoing reasons, the Court awarded the plaintiff support as an adult interdependent partner of the defendant:
1. The Legislature intended to recognize relationships that are marriage-like and require that people in these marriage-like relationships fulfill special obligations to each other;
2. [The plaintiff] believed, in good faith, that she was in a marriage-like relationship with [the defendant] – and in substance, (except for the unfaithfulness that [the defendant] concealed from her) she was. The only reason [the plaintiff] lived in what was otherwise an invalid AP relationship was because of [the defendant]’s deception;
3. Therefore, [the plaintiff]’s perception and lived reality of her relationships with [the defendant] falls within the kind of relationship that the Legislature intended the AIRA to recognize.
At Mincher Koeman, our family lawyers have considerable experience in assisting clients with negotiating and securing spousal support orders. We are highly knowledgeable on all factors relating to support awards, including the federal Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, we are skilled at identifying and locating hidden assets, and we always attempt to resolve spousal support matters in the most efficient way possible. If you are in need of legal advice with respect to spousal support, please contact our office to make an appointment to discuss your matter with one of our lawyers by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.
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