Christine McCain, ex-wife of Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain, has won a whopping $175,000. per month in interim spousal support after Madame Justice Susan Greer threw out the spousal support section of the couples’ “unconscionable” marriage contract. This is a record amount for a Canadian interim support order. She was also granted $2 million in retroactive spousal support.
After 30 years of marriage, 5 children, multiple homes, boats, and cottages, along with expensive vacations and lavish parties, the couple separated on June 30, 2011, amid accusations of greed, bullying and, in regard to Christine, mental instability.
Fifteen years into this marriage, Christine was asked to sign a marriage contract waiving most of her claims in the event of a divorce. This marriage contract came at the insistence of Michael’s father, Wallace McCain, famed New Brunswick food processor. In 1996, Wallace McCain threatened to disinherit his married children if their spouses refused to sign marriage contracts. Michael says this was due to his father’s “unshakeable desire to pass on his wealth through generations of his bloodline, not fragmented by marital breakups.”
Judge Greer found that upholding the contract would be “unconscionable” and ordered Michael McCain to pay $175,000 a month in spousal support until a settlement, arbitration or trial determines appropriate long-term support.
The parties’ marriage contract waived Christine’s entitlement to an equalization of family property at separation under the Family Law Act, and her entitlement to spousal support. On the second anniversary of having signed the contract, she was to receive a payment of $300,000. If the marriage suffered a breakdown after January 1, 1998, she was to receive a maximum of $7,000,000 within 12 months of that event. Finally, upon signing the contract the title of the matrimonial home was to be transferred into her name—an overall deal worth about $17 million according to Mr. McCain’s lawyers.
While Michael was of the opinion that no duress was placed on his wife to sign the marriage contract, Judge Greer stated that in her view “duress was subtle and psychological, in that she [the wife] appeared to be the key to the husband remaining as one of his father’s heirs. Of course, the husband did not say ‘you must sign this contract or I will divorce you,’ but that was the underlying stake in it all.
As the terms of the contract were severable from one another, the issue of spousal support could be severed from the remainder of the contract on an interim/temporary motion.
The judge also explained that Christine did not work for the last 30 years of the parties’ 30-year marriage. She also was responsible for the household and the raising of 5 children. Michael also agreed that Christine was supportive of his efforts to build his empire. Judge Greer found that for Christine, 53, to enter the workforce after all this time, without any training, was unpractical.
The Judge found that the contract was not acceptable as there were “no projections of what the husband would be earning in the future”. She also did not agree with the execution of the contract and what it left the wife with, along with the husband’s present wealth. For all these reasons, the Judge set aside the spousal support provisions of the contract.
It seems as if the Courts are affirming more and more that domestic contracts which are drafted with releases and in directions that steer away from the objectives of spousal support under the Divorce Act will be set aside.
The Judge in setting aside the spousal support provision of the contract also relied on the lack of financial disclosure on behalf of the husband at the motion as one of the grounds to set aside the agreement regarding spousal support.
It is also interesting that the Court did not adhere to the SAAG and instead opted to make a decision based on the wife’s proposed budget. The SAAG based on the husband’s income of $9,700,000, in the low-range was $299,375 per month, which is more than $100,000 over the $175,000 the Judge ordered.