Think You’re Not Married? In Ontario, Think Again

close up of wedding rings on floor 17834

September 18, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors

In Ontario, it’s officially open season on anyone earning a good income (National Post, 9/10/20).  Beware all those who do.  If you have a girl/boyfriend and endeavor to treat them well, you may find yourself married.  No, you didn’t walk down the aisle and no, you never lived together for any significant period of time.  No rings were exchanged nor vows taken, nor marriage license issued.  That’s all so passé, so totally yesterday.  In Ontario, it’s a whole new, brave new world, whose whole point is money, or, to be precise, alimony.

Michael Latner is apparently very well-off financially, so, when he met and fell in love with Lisa Climans back in 2000, he was lavish in his support of her.  She quit her job and he supported her and her three children in a style to which they’d theretofore never been accustomed.  They ate well, lived well, traveled extensively and all on his nickel.  What they didn’t do was marry, live together or have a joint bank account.

Clearly, that was Latner’s idea of self-protection.  If the relationship didn’t work out, he seems to have thought, the absence of a shared residence and comingled finances would ensure that he was not legally deemed to have married Climans and so wouldn’t be liable to her for alimony.  That’s made all the clearer by these facts: he proposed to her, she accepted, but refused to sign the marriage contract that was his condition for tying the knot.  In other words, he was happy to marry her, but only if she agreed to withhold any serious claims on his wealth.  And she was happy to marry him, but not if doing so would deprive her of a shot at his money.  Apparently, great minds think alike.

But Latner has now learned the hard way that Ontario law gives him and anyone else similarly situated not the least guidance about how to protect hard-earned wealth.

A wealthy businessman will have to pay more than $50,000 a month in spousal support for 10 years to a woman with whom he had a long-term romantic relationship even though they kept separate homes and had no children together, Ontario’s top court has ruled.

Yes, Latner and Climans were together just 14 years, during which time he paid for essentially everything, lifting her to a lifestyle she never would have reached on her own, and now he gets to fund that lifestyle for 10 more years.  For the mathematically disinclined, that’s about $6.3 million in addition to everything he paid her before.  Amazing, but true.

Several issues raise their ugly heads.

The first is what I referred to in my opening paragraph.  If a couple is unmarried, when will alimony be ordered and when will it not be?  If the higher-earning partner wants to protect his/her income, what needs to be done?  The answer is a roll of the dice.  There are no hard and fast rules.  Cohabitation and joint finances aren’t necessary for a relationship to be considered a common law marriage, but what is?  Apparently, anything a judge decides.  Latner clearly tried to follow the rules and failed.

Let’s be clear, while Latner is a wealthy man, most others aren’t, but this ruling doesn’t apply only to the wealthy.  It applies to every Tom, Dick and Mary who happens to earn more than their paramours.  As I said, it’s open season.

Plus, apart from this case and its impact on future ones, why have alimony at all?  Spousal support is an artifact of days long gone by when it was assumed, however erroneously, that a single woman couldn’t support herself.  Whatever the merits or demerits of that notion, it’s unquestionably no longer true, if it ever was.  Generally speaking, there is no reason why one adult should be legally required to support another adult to whom they’re no longer married.  Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, as when one ex is disabled in some way.  Likewise, if one ex needs a year or so to retrain for employment or to simply find a job that provides support, then the other ex may reasonably be required to chip in.

But ten years?  $52,000 per month?  For a healthy, competent woman?  It makes no sense.  Nothing that Lisa Climans did or didn’t do should merit that lavish support.  Nothing.  She led an opulent lifestyle during her time with Latner, entirely because of him and his wealth.  If she no longer wishes to be with him, fine, but she should not be able to import her lifestyle with him to her life without him.

Finally, as I’ve said before, alimony militates against marriage and marriage is an institution every healthy society wants to promote.  Laws establishing alimony do precisely the opposite of what we should be doing.  Spousal support encourages divorce, and, as of now, discourages even unmarried intimate relationships.  Everyone needs to understand that, in Ontario, pretty much any relationship can result in a long stretch in alimony prison.

The Latner/Climans decision makes a bad law so much worse.

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