The division of net family property is often a controversial aspect of a divorce. First, the parties must determine what constitutes family property, and then there must be a fair division of property, taking a number of factors into consideration. In circumstances involving significant wealth, international holdings or jointly-owned businesses, this can be a particularly complex task.

In a recent case before the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, a husband sought two orders with respect to the division of family property, both of which were denied, or denied in part. Below, we will examine each question separately.

Husband Seeks Unequal Division of Property and Foreign Property Exemption

The plaintiff husband had immigrated to Canada from Pakistan and obtained Canadian citizenship. In 2001, he returned to Pakistan and married his wife, the defendant. Shortly after the marriage, the couple moved back to Canada, where they had two children. During the marriage, the husband, who was trained as an engineer, was employed in the oil and gas industry and was eventually laid off in 2019. The wife, who was also highly educated, was unable to work in Canada when they initially immigrated, and the couple had a child soon after arriving in the country. The wife spent the marriage taking care of the couple’s two children and running their home. The parties separated in 2019 the husband brought an application seeking two orders regarding the net family property:

  1. An exemption from the family property for income earned from the proceeds of inherited foreign real property, and
  2. An unequal division of family property due to the parties’ supposedly unequal contributions to the family throughout the marriage.

Proceeds From Inherited Foreign Property

The husband had an interest in a property in Pakistan, which had originally been purchased by his grandparents, with the intent the property would be passed on to the husband and his siblings. When the siblings sold the property in 2014, the husband’s share was determined to be $18,183.00 CDN. The husband then claimed that in 2020, when he contacted the lawyer who represented the sale in 2014, it was determined that his share was actually $126,027.00 CDN. As a result, the husband sought to exclude this amount from the calculation of net family property for the purposes of equalization, on the basis that this was property he had rights prior to the marriage. The wife did not dispute his entitlement to a deduction but claimed the amount should be based on the original deed documentation provided in 2014.

The court examined the issue in accordance with the Matrimonial Property Act and found that the husband was unable to satisfy the court that he was entitled to the amount claimed in his Application. There was insufficient documentary evidence to support a deduction of $126,027.00, and so he was only able to deduct the original amount of $18,183.00, as represented in the property sale documents from 2014.

Claim of Unequal Contribution to Family an “Archaic” Position

The husband’s claim for an unequal division of net family property was based on his claim that the wife remained unemployed for the duration of the marriage. He claimed that she “was a good mother and that’s about it”, while he had “made every single dollar that came into the home”. Further, the husband had gifted the wife with gold jewelry at their wedding, which she later sold in stages, once to purchase furniture for the matrimonial home, and two more times when she said she was low on funds. He claimed the jewelry had not been a gift, but rather property to be held in trust for the benefit of the family should they later require it.

With respect to the husband’s claim that the mother had not sufficiently contributed to the family, the court strongly disagreed, saying:

The family unit is considered a joint responsibility of both spouses. While the nature of each spouse’s contribution may be different, the value to the family is considered equal. It is also the case that where family roles are longstanding, it is assumed that both spouses have agreed to the arrangement. Ms. Sadouzai dedicated herself to her children, her husband and maintaining the family home. To suggest that her contribution of time and energy has less value than Mr. Khan’s wage-earning contribution is archaic and does not reflect the reality of the productive and reproductive work that is required to create and maintain the family.

As for the husband’s claim that the jewelry was to have been held in trust, the court also disagreed. However, even if it had been intended to be held in trust, it was used to purchase items for the family.

At Mincher Koeman, our lawyers have the experience and skill necessary to handle any matter involving the division of family property, no matter how complex. We provide knowledgeable and candid advice to our clients, working to efficiently traverse the process of valuing and dividing shared property. If you are facing the end of a relationship and require the services of an effective family law lawyer for the fair division of your family property, contact our office to make an appointment to discuss your matter by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by reaching out to us online.

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