McConnell v. Huxtable was based on a summary judgment motion brought under rule 16 of the Family Law Rules by the common-law husband. The common-law wife served an application where she made a constructive trust claim for an ownership interest in the husband’s house, arising from what the wife claims was a 13-year cohabitation. The husband moved for dismissal of the wife’s claim on the ground that the claim was barred by a limitation period.
One of the issues raised before the judge was:
- Is a claim in a family law case in which the claimant pleads facts to establish a constructive trust and asks the court to award an ownership interest in land, with alternative claim for monetary compensation, governed by the 10- year limitation period set out in section 4 of the Real Property Limitations Act or by the two-year limitation period set out in section 4 of the Limitations Act 2002?
Justice Perkins held that the expiry date for claiming a constructive trust should be in accordance with the Property Limitations Act, which provides that a claimant has 10 years after the discovery of a constructive trust to make a claim.
The Limitations Act 2002, on the other hand, has a general two-year limitation period for constructive trust claims with two years beginning as soon as an applicant discovers that they have a constructive trust claim. Perkins held that this legislation could not reasonably apply to family law cases.
Justice Perkins stated that it is more practical in family law to apply the Real Property Limitations Act, a difference of eight years for claims to recover land. He held that is it is too difficult to know when the clock on the limitation period starts ticking in a common law relationship or a marriage. In family law, exact dates (such as when a relationship began to break down) are more difficult to ascertain than, for example, the date and time of a car accident. As such, Perkins held that for:
“a family law case in which the claimant pleads facts to establish a constructive trust and asks the court to award an ownership interest in land is an ‘action to recover land’ governed by section 4 of the Real Property Limitations Act, with a 10-year limitation period. The 10- year limitation period also applies to a claim in the alternative for monetary compensation in such a case.”
Although this matter may be appealed by the common-law husband, it is a positive ruling for family law. The extended time-period allows for parties to negotiate their family law matter without the pressure of a two-year limitation. The two-year limitation would increase litigation in family law which could be harmful to family units.