The ex-wife of a fabulously wealthy food magnate has won a record $175,000 per month in interim spousal support after an Ontario judge scrapped an “unconscionable” marriage contract provision that had sharply reduced her access to the family fortune.
Christine McCain – ex-wife of Maple Leaf Foods president Michael McCain – was also granted $2-million in retroactive support. In addition, Mr. McCain must make mortgage payments on two cottages and a family home registered in his ex-wife’s name.
“As far as I know, it is by far the highest support order that has been made in Canada,” said Harold Niman, Ms. McCain’s lawyer. “It is a staggering amount for most people, but this was a woman who was up against a husband who is very strong-minded, and she stood her ground.”
The judgment provides a fascinating window into the opulent lifestyles of a couple who spent a fortune on yachts, fine wine, vacation homes and lavish entertaining.
It also revealed that New Brunswick food magnate Wallace McCain, Ms. McCain’s father-in-law, threatened in 1996 to disinherit his five children unless their spouses agreed to sign contracts limiting what they could obtain from the McCains’ inheritances.
The support decision by Madam Justice Susan Greer of Ontario Superior Court dealt only with Ms. McCain’s spousal support claim. More than $500-million in assets will be divided at a future trial.
Lawyers for Mr. McCain are seeking leave to appeal Judge Greer’s findings.
Under the fateful post-nuptial contract that Ms. McCain signed 15 years into her marriage, she waived any claim to future spousal support or equalization of family property.
In return, if the marriage dissolved, Ms. McCain was to receive a lump sum of about $7-million and title to the family home.
Lawyers for Mr. McCain argued before Judge Greer that Ms. McCain stood to gain a fortune under the agreement, yet if she had refused to sign it, the couple would have been cut out of the McCain family inheritance altogether. Moreover, real estate gains meant that Ms. McCain would actually have reaped up to $17-million under the deal, his lawyers said.
However, Judge Greer concluded that Ms. McCain, 53, had no realistic option but to sign an unfair contract.
“How could the wife possibly take on the burden of not signing the contract for her own personal gain, knowing that her husband’s father would cut her husband out of receiving his inheritance?” Judge Greer said.
The couple were married in 1981. Judge Greer outlined a once-warm, mutually supportive relationship that had produced five children and the best life could offer.
“There were memberships in three private clubs, private schools for all of their five children, extravagant entertaining – both personally and through business – with the very finest foods and wines available,” Judge Greer said. The couple had an $8-million sailboat with a three-man crew, and were awaiting the construction of an additional $18-million yacht.
However, the marriage began to disintegrate amid accusations of greed, bullying and mental instability. Mr. and Ms. McCain separated in 2011.
Even after the separation, Ms. McCain paid a pilates/yoga instructor $2,600 per month. She listed her personal entertainment expenses as $5,562 per month; travel expenses as $16,395 per month; and basic household expenses – including for food, pet care, dry cleaning and meals – as $12,812 per month.
Mr. McCain portrayed his ex-wife was a profligate spender who was paranoid, irrational and suffered from a bipolar/hypermania condition. At one point, Judge Greer noted, he invited two psychiatrists to a social event at the family home to observe his wife for signs of mental illness.
Judge Greer said that this “hurtful” act forced Ms. McCain to retain a prominent Toronto psychiatrist – Graham Glancy – to assess her. Dr. Glancy reported that he could find no evidence justifying a diagnosis of hypermania, mania or bipolar disorder.
Mr. Niman said on Friday that his client is very happy with Judge Greer’s decision, but she regrets the circumstances that forced her to take her case to courts.
“I really hope that when people read this, they won’t walk away thinking she is an indulgent, extravagant woman,” Mr. Niman said. “This is the lifestyle they led. The rich are different.”