An Ontario judge has awarded $5,000 a month in temporary support payments to a Toronto woman despite her having signed away her right to future support in a 1995 marriage contract.
Madam Justice Harriet Sachs of the Superior Court ruled that Agnes Chaitas emerged from her seven-year marriage with so little that it cast doubt on the legitimacy of a contract she was urged to sign by her fiancé two days before their wedding.
"The result of the contract is that the majority of the wealth accumulated by the parties during the marriage remains with the husband," Judge Sachs noted in her ruling. "Further, during the marriage the wife gave up the business that she had as of the date of the marriage."
Ms. Chaitas's lawyer, Allen Cooper, said the ruling is apparently the first since a landmark Supreme Court of Canada judgment in the case of Miglin v. Miglin -- which dealt with the finality of such agreements, but did not specifically refer to interim support orders.
Mr. Cooper said the Miglin ruling made it difficult -- but not impossible -- for a partner to get out from under a contract deemed unfair or found to contravene the principles enshrined in the federal Divorce Act.
"This decision gives hope to women who have signed contracts and it later turns out they were dealt with unfairly," Mr. Cooper said in an interview. "It gives hope to women who urgently require support even if they signed a waiver, a prenuptial agreement or a separation agreement."
Ms. Chaitas and Spiros Christopoulos were married on July 30, 1995. Ms. Chaitas, who was 24 at the time, ran a small bookkeeping business, and had a net worth of $18,500.
Her husband -- who was 32 and had been married once before -- had a net worth of $570,000 at the time. He was part-owner of a family business and had a number of condominiums which he rented out. His worth had increased to $2-million by the time they separated.
Ms. Chaitas maintained that while her husband expressed a desire for a marriage contract long before their wedding, it was only two days before the event that he became serious and instructed her to go to a lawyer he had retained.
"Thus, two days before her wedding, the petitioner attended at the solicitor's office while her overseas guests waited in a car," Judge Sachs said. "She met with the solicitor briefly and signed the marriage contract without reading it. She had never met the solicitor before signing the contract, nor did she ever receive a statement of account from him.
"She did not see the contract again until shortly before the separation, when the respondent left it for her in an envelope with her name on it," Judge Sachs said.
Mr. Christopoulos claimed that he had the contract drawn up several weeks before the wedding and passed it to his wife, but that she procrastinated in signing it. However, Judge Sachs concluded that this could not be true, since evidence showed that the marriage contract clearly had not even been drawn up until 13 days before the wedding.
The pair jointly operated a business called Exclusive Accommodations during their marriage, but Mr. Christopoulos kept it after they separated.
"Her sole source of income became the business she and the husband owned together -- a business that the husband took over against the wife's will after their separation," Judge Sachs said in her ruling. "As a result, the wife was left without either the income stream she had at the time of the marriage or the income stream she developed during the marriage."
Judge Sachs ruled that even though no witnesses had testified, Ms. Chaitas had clearly raised "a serious issue" about the marriage contract and should not be barred from receiving interim support. "If, on the evidence filed, a serious issue to be tried has been raised with respect to the circumstances under which the contract was negotiated and executed, then the contract will not act as a bar to the application," she said.
Judge Sachs measured the facts of the case using the Miglin ruling, which focused on the circumstances in which a contract is negotiated, whether it complies with the Divorce Act, and whether it continues to reflect the original intentions of the two parties.