From Friday's Globe and Mail Published on Thursday, Dec. 03, 2009 8:58PM EST Last updated on Friday, Dec. 04, 2009 2:13AM EST
A 61-year-old Toronto woman whose marriage fell apart after 33 years has won a record-setting spousal support award of $110,000 a month.
The extraordinary award – which also included two years of retroactive support at $140,000 a month – was based on the length of Carol Ann Elgner's marriage to Claude Elgner, coupled with Mr. Elgner's annual income of $3-million to $4-million.
Julie Hannaford, a lawyer representing Ms. Elgner, says the amount reflects a growing feeling within the judiciary that spousal support has not kept up with the times.
“It was always thought of as something that keeps the heat and lights on, and the gas in your car,” she said. “Courts are taking a very different view of support – especially in cases where there is a high income. Spousal support used to be kind of punitive against wives. I think there is a stripping away of that kind of undercurrent.”
Ms. Hannaford said Thursday that family lawyers she has spoken to agree it is the largest spousal-support award ever in Canada.
“You never expect an award of that amount,” she said. “You never really know what to expect.”
The couple separated in 2007, after Ms. Elgner had spent their entire married life at home raising their three children – now aged 31, 28 and 27. During that time, Mr. Elgner's businesses – supplying plastic fixtures used in automotive interiors – grew at a colossal rate.
The main companies he owns are ABC Group Realty Holdings and Elgner Group Investments Ltd.
“The parties, late in the marriage, took on an elegant lifestyle,” Madam Justice Susan Greer of Ontario Superior Court said in the judgment. “By the time they separated, they travelled extensively from one residence to another, and spent time at their various timeshares.”
Their assets included a $1.5-million home in Toronto, a $2.6-million summer residence in Muskoka, a $3.5-million home in Florida and a condo in Whistler, B.C., along with five timeshares.
“The wife should not have to eradicate her savings to pay for her living expenses,” Judge Greer said. “She sacrificed a career to be a stay-at-home wife and mother for all those years. This is a family with extensive wealth, and both parties should live out their retirement years in a style that can easily be afforded.”
Mr. Elgner, 62, argued at trial that his former wife has already received $6.2-million in cash and investments directly from him, and that his remaining wealth ought to be largely excluded from the net family assets that are equalized at the time of a divorce.
He also pointed out that Ms. Elgner received $775,443 in after-tax income last year, largely as a result of dividends.
However, in a financial statement prepared for the court, Ms. Elgner said her monthly expenses last year were $115,439, part of which goes to support her sister and much of which went into home repairs, maintenance and gardening.
“The wife says that in 2009, her expenses have decreased to $88,790.33 per month,” Judge Greer said. “This equates to $1,065,483.90 per year.”
The judge noted that Mr. Elgner's income could soar above its current level of nearly $4-million a year.
“It is a reasonable inference that his income may go higher than that, depending on what he requires and how he and his brother – as directors of the various corporate interests – determined what each brother's income should be each year,” she said.
The judge took into account the fact that Ms. Elgner is not employable.