This April 2010 Supreme Court of Canada decision has been dubbed one of the most important family law cases of the decade. Our very own Pam MacEachern was trial counsel alongside Nelligan O’Brien Payne alumnus John Johnson (who retired from the firm in 2016), representing Ms. Vanasse, one of the appellants. The decision was heard at the same time as a companion case, Kerr v. Baranow, which is how it is generally cited. Both cases involve damage awards for unjust enrichment.

Ms. Vanasse was in a common-law relationship that lasted 12 years. For three and a half years during that period, she took a leave of absence from her employment and stayed at home to care for their children. During this time, her partner was CEO of his business and worked long hours and travelled extensively. When they separated in 2005, the couple were in starkly contrasting financial positions. Ms. Vanasse initiated proceedings claiming unjust enrichment, arguing that providing childcare and domestic services to their household had enabled her partner to pursue his business interests. Therefore, he had benefitted financially from her decision to stay at home.

The Supreme Court of Canada declared that Ms. Vanasse was entitled to half of the value of the wealth her partner had accumulated during the period of unjust enrichment (less her interest in the home and RRSPs in her name).

This was a significant decision for unmarried common-law spouses, as for the first time it clarified that spouses can claim a share in the wealth accumulated during a relationship.

To read more about the decision, see our Family Connection blog post here.

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