The parties divorced after 26 years of marriage. The wife ran and successfully expanded a restaurant which provided the major part of the family income. She was able to buy a house, a summer cottage and a car, all of which were registered in her name. The husband worked regularly in the earlier years of the marriage but later only at occasional odd jobs. He was an alcoholic and drank heavily on a daily basis. On the application for a division of property under the Marital Property Act, the trial judge found that, apart from a contribution of $1,000 towards the purchase of the house and some occasional assistance in the operation of her business, the husband had contributed nothing by way of child care, household management or financial provision during the marriage and thus he was not entitled to an equal share of the marital property and awarded him the sum of $6,000.
The Court of Appeal set aside the trial judgment, holding it was inconceivable that the husband had not performed during the marriage "useful deeds" and that any contribution to the fulfillment of the spouses' joint responsibilities entitles each spouse to an equal share in the marital assets independent of the degree and quality of the contribution.
- Should an unequal division of assets be granted?
La Forest, writing for the court, held that the trial judge made no error in deciding this case. Under 7(f) of the Marital Property Act (equivalent to s. 13 of the Matrimonial Property Act) the court was entitled to consider the circumstances surrounding acquisition and maintenance of property. He held that the court should not put itself in the position of weighing the degree to which spouses contributed to increasing the value of an asset, but where the asset was acquired/improved almost exclusively by one spouse with negligible input from the other, it is appropriate for a judge to exercise their discretion to make an unequal division.
- Where one spouse makes virtually no or a negligible contribution to matrimonial assets, a s. 13 division may be appropriate.
- Courts should not engage in a weighing exercise generally; simply where there is a significant disparity.