Family law lawyers are perpetual bearers of bad news. This is rarely more so when meeting a hard-working spouse who after many years has finally mustered the courage to leave a spouse whose efforts during the relationship leave much to be desired. In these cases, the hard-working spouse—perhaps believing that at long last his or her contributions will be recognized, and the failure of the other spouse to contribute punished—must grapple with the reality that in almost all certainty, they will still be supporting their ex in one way or another.
In Chang v. Chang, 2020 BCSC 1783, the parties lasted an excruciating 27 years, and had two children together (both grown). The wife was a diligent employee and saver, who had worked her way up to a management role at a municipality earning roughly $120,000 per year. During the relationship, she took on the majority of the childcare, household work, and financial responsibilities.
The husband’s faults on the other hand were legion:
- A high-school dropout, the husband had worked sporadically for most of the marriage and had stopped serious employment altogether in 2004. This was despite the wife’s efforts to help him find employment, which included her preparing his resume, researching potential jobs, and helping him submit applications.
- The husband had stopped filing returns or pay income tax many years earlier, and while he had contemplated bankruptcy had never had the wherewithal to complete that process. By the time of trial, the husband had $146,655 in personal income tax debt, despite not working for many years.
- The husband had a history of illicit cash dealings, including making and selling pirated DVDs for cash.
- The husband was a hoarder. He filled the family home with his possessions, collections and possessions.
- The husband was an angry and aggressive parent, and had a fraught relationship with his adult sons.
- The husband was generally threatening and bullying towards the wife, and mistreated the family dog to the extent that the wife would not leave the dog alone with him.
The wife sought a reapportionment of some of the family assets, basically because the husband was a lay-about and a wastrel. In more legalistic terms, his underemployment and his deliberate non-contribution or under contribution to the child rearing and family finances justified (from the wife’s point of view) a reapportionment of assets in her favour.
The main asset in question was the family home. The parties had total equity of $690,104, of which the husband’s notional 50% share would have been $345,052. Given the husband’s failure to make significant contributions to the home, and his prioritization of his personal expenses over those of the family, the Court reapportioned the home 75% in favour of the wife, leaving the husband with a 25% interest worth $172,526.
With respect to the husband’s income tax debt, the court found that while the amount of the income tax debt accrued while the parties were together and therefore was indeed family debt, the penalties levied against the husband for failing to file were not. Further, some portion of the income tax debt had accrued prior to cohabitation. As a result, the Court determined that only 50% of the debt was a “family debt” and divisible between the parties. Moreover, given the husband’s deliberate flouting of income tax legislation despite the wife’s efforts, the court reapportioned 100% of the family debt portion of the income tax debt to the husband.
But what the court giveth it also taketh away. The husband sought spousal support from the wife, and in spousal support claims a spouse’s misconduct is not generally a relevant consideration. While the husband could not point to any disadvantage suffered by him during the relationship that might justify a compensatory award, his health was poor and his standard of living had fallen dramatically since the end of the relationship. During the relationship he was nearly entirely dependent on the wife, and he remained so after separation. He had the capacity to earn some $15,000 per year, but no more. In the end, the Court ordered the wife to pay the husband $3,297 per month, on an indefinite basis.
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