Back in June, Leona Lewis, the X-Factor winner and singer of "Bleeding Love", and her boyfriend of more than ten years split up because her hectic work schedule had been interfering with their ability to spend any quality time together. The two also lived together for an undisclosed amount of time in a $900,000 London home.
The singer's ex-boyfriend, Lou Al-Chamaa, is now requesting 1.5 million pounds, which is roughly equivalent to $2.25 million dollars, as a settlement for the role he played in her rise to stardom. He cites his encouragement of Lewis to "fulfill her potential", as well as the fact that he filled out the X-Factor application for her, as proof of his entitlement to the monetary settlement. Lewis has reportedly offered him their home in London, however, he does not believe that it is enough as he believes that he has the rights of a common-law husband.
How would this be dealt with if the two lived in Ontario?
Essentially there are two main issues that need to be dealt with in this case. The first is whether the couple can be considered to be common law partners. The second would be whether Lou could obtain the settlement money that he is demanding.
Were Lou and Leona in a Common Law Relationship?
Lou has claimed that he believes he has the rights of a common-law husband. However, this would have to be proven before his claim to the monetary settlement would be dealt with.
With respect to common law relationships and support obligations, in Ontario s. 29 of the Family Law Act states that the definition of "spouse" (read: common law partner) "includes either two persons who are not married to each other and have cohabited,
- continuously for a period of not less than three years, or
- in a relationship of some permanence, if they are the natural or adoptive parents of a child."
Since the couple did not have any children together, the second part of the definition would not apply. In this situation the amount of time that the couple cohabited has not been disclosed. If the two were not residing together for at least three years, the fact that their relationship spanned over 10 years would not change the fact that the two would not be considered to be "spouses" and therefore, Lou would not be entitled to any of the $2.25 million that he has claimed is rightfully his.
For the purposes of this blog, we will assume that the couple had, in fact, cohabited for at least three years with their last place of residence being the $900,000 home in London.
Would Lou obtain the $2.25 million which he has demanded?
Because we are assuming that Leona and Lou were common-law spouses, they have an obligation to support one another in accordance with need and to the extent of their ability to do so. In awarding spousal support, which is really what Lou is seeking here, the Ontario courts will look to the Family Law Act as well as relevant case law in order to make their final determination.
Whether a spouse is entitled to the support that they are seeking is an important first step to overcome in any case. The courts will look at factors such as whether there is need for the support or if the spouse contributed to the partnership or marriage in some way and should be compensated for that contribution. In this case, Lou is clearly arguing for a compensatory form of spousal support in the form of one lump sum payment. He is essentially claiming that if it weren't for his contributions to the relationship (i.e. his encouragement and filling out the X-Factor application) Leona would not be where she is today in her music career.
Once entitlement to the support is determined, the court would focus on the length support should be paid the amount payable by looking at:
- the means of payor;
- the need of the spouse receiving the support;
- the length of the marriage;
- the function performed by each spouse during the marriage.
Spousal support is a tricky area of the law as the courts have tended to order (or not) support for strikingly different lengths and amounts. Therefore, in this case, it's difficult to say whether Lou would be awarded the $2.25 million he is seeking. His actual contribution to Leona's career would likely be heavily scrutinized along with the fact that the two were probably not cohabiting for any significant period of time. Had this case been between a couple who had been together for a much longer amount of time and the spouse was able to prove that he or she had made continuous and significant contributions, by the way of sacrificing their own career for example, then the court would be more likely to award the lump sum support being sought.
Overall though, I suspect that if the court were to make a final determination at all, as the parties will probably reach a settlement between themselves, it would be for a lump sum payment of a drastically reduced dollar amount.
How would their home be dealt with?
Ontario's Family Law Act is split into 3 distinct parts and each part includes its own definition section on when a couple will be considered to be "spouses." Part I deals with the Matrimonial Home and protects each spouse's rights to the home whether or not they have been placed on title. Couples that are not legally married however, are not afforded the same rights. Therefore, if Leona held title to their $900,000 home alone and had not offered the home over to Lou as was reported, then in order to have access to the home or its equity at all, Lou would be required to bring a claim for either a Constructive or Resulting Trust.
Claims for Constructive and Resulting Trusts arose through case law as a means for the courts to rectify situations that seemed to be unjust. In a claim for a resulting trust, the individual who does not hold title to the property attempts to prove that he or she paid or helped pay for the property in question even though he or she had not been added to the title. In this case, assuming that Lou was not on title, if he had assisted with the payment for the home then he might think about bringing this type of claim. If he was successful in proving his contribution, the court could award Lou by making a determination that he has a beneficial interest in the home and Leona be considered a Trustee for his beneficial interest. Thus, Lou would be entitled to the home.
Lou might also bring a claim for a Constructive Trust as a way to share in the value of the property instead of the physical property itself. In order to obtain an order by the Court in this regard, Lou would have to show that he had contributed to the value of the property through work or money and that it would be unfair to allow Leona to obtain the home without compensating him for the value of what he invested into it. The Courts will look at the following factors to determine whether they would award a Constructive Trust:
- There must have been an enrichment of one of the spouses (i.e. that the non-title spouse worked on the land, put money into the house, did renovations, etc. which ultimately benefitted the title-spouse;
- The non-title spouse, through his or her contributions to the home suffered some sort of deprivation (i.e. of money);
- There is no legal or equitable reason for enriching the title-spouse.
If Lou were able to show the three aspects above, then he would have to demonstrate that his contribution was sufficient and directly led to the increased benefit to Leona. As you might imagine, even if Lou decided that he would attempt to obtain the home or value in it through a claim for Resulting or Constructive Trust, there is no certainty that he would be granted this award, and failing this, unfortunately, he would have no rights to the home that she shared with Leona or in any of her other assets.
Of course, if Lou and Leona were both on title to the home, he would have rights to it upon their split and this would be much easier to resolve with either Leona buying out Lou's equity in the home or the home being placed for sale with the proceeds being divided accordingly.