Stulberg v. Batler: The Definition of a Spouse

This case deals with whether the parties were considered spouses for the purpose of claiming spousal support. According to section 29 of the Ontario Family Law Act, a spouse is defined as either of 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.

Essentially, the above definition of a spouse is broken down into a three part test whereby two persons who are not married and have no children must show the following:

  1. that there was cohabitation;
  2. that this cohabitation was continuous; and
  3. that this continuous cohabitation spanned a period of no less than three years.

Without the above, the parties lack a legal standing that is required for common law couples who are claiming spousal support. In this case, the parties were never married and no children were involved. The male in the relationship was claiming that the parties were not a common law couple because they did not cohabit continuously for three years or more. The female in the relationship claimed in her amended Application that the parties lived together in February 2006 to February 2009. The female stated that the breakdown in the relationship was due to the conflicts with the other party’s daughter.

The Court noticed that despite the female’s amended Application, she did not correct the vagueness problem in relation to the time span of the relationship. However, the female provided third party evidence via affidavits from friends who used factual evidence to corroborate the cohabitation relationship. The Court found that all of the affiants did not have much contact with the parties during the alleged cohabitation period. For the most part, the affidavits were either vague or lacking a factual basis for the stated opinion.

The female also provided the Court with email exchanges between the parties that were meant to show that a husband-wife like relationship continued after December 31, 2008. However, the Court found that these emails represented a person that cared for the other’s wellbeing, and a person that was somewhat angered that his generosity had been manipulated. Nothing had suggested to the Court that this was a romantic relationship. Also, the Court noted that the male had changed the locks on the residence he had purchased during the “cohabitation” phase of this relationship, and he did not provide her with a key. The Court stated, “A relationship comes to an end when either party regards it as being at an end, and by conduct, has demonstrated in a convincing manner that this particular state of mind is a settled one”.

The Court decided that the husband-wife like relationship ended as of December 31, 2008, which was marked by the change of the locks, and the email exchanges that did not show a continued relationship. Once the Court decided that the female was not a spouse to the male because she did not meet the section 29 definition, the female was precluded from making a spousal support claim.

Andrew Feldstein

The Feldstein Family Law Group (FFLG) is one the largest family law firms that practices Family Law exclusively in Greater Toronto, with ten lawyers and counting. The boutique law firm has won the Top Choice Award for Family Law™ in Toronto for the past eleven years (2007 to 2017 inclusive).

Managing Partner Andrew Feldstein has been practicing family law for more than 20 years and frequently comments on Family Law issues through the media. The Feldstein Family Law Group offers vast written, video, and media resources on its website to those who find that they need to end their relationship.

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