The Supreme Court of Canada has recently ruled on a case involving two parents who each began divorce proceedings, with the complication being that they each brought the actions in different countries. The ruling, which applies to all Canadian jurisdictions, sheds interesting insight into how issues involving multiple international jurisdictions.
A wealthy and mobile family
The parties involved met in the 1990s while living in Paris. The father was from France, while the mother was from Morocco. They had two children, born in 1997 and 2002 respectively. The family was very wealthy, and they eventually moved from France to Belgium in order to save money on taxes. This move took place in 2004. They got married that same year and worked on a separation of property under the laws of Belgium. The family eventually renounced their French citizenship and became citizens of Belgium in 2012.
The family eventually started to eye Canada, specifically Quebec, as a new place to live. This started in 2008 and they eventually purchased property there in 2013. They followed this by moving to Quebec in the summer of 2013.
Unfortunately, the couple’s relationship began to fall apart shortly after the move. The mother told the father during a vacation to Belgium that she planned to file for divorce. She did this in Quebec, while the father did the same in Belgium.
Where does the divorce take place?
The father’s decision to file for divorce in Belgium was not made out of convenience. The father was hoping to revoke gifts valued at over $33 million that he had given the mother of the years. This would be allowed under Belgium’s divorce law, but not under Quebec’s. He applied to the province’s Superior Court asking for it to stay proceedings there while waiting for the outcome of the divorce in Belgium. The court responded stating it would not do so because it saw the ability to revoke the gifts as being discriminatory. However, Quebec’s Court of Appeal stated that the lower court’s decision was premature because it was acting on the assumption that Belgian courts would allow the father to revoke the gifts.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision
The husband’s application to stay the divorce in Quebec required specific conditions to be made in order for the father to be successful. The first requirement is that the parties must be the same in each action, the action must have originated in a foreign court, and the foreign court’s decision must be recognizable under Quebec law. The court added “a foreign decision will not be recognized if its outcome runs counter to the moral, social, economic or even political conceptions that underpin Quebec’s legal order.”
The court decided that the divorce could continue in Quebec, but the father would be able to revoke gifts purchased while the family was in Belgium. The court wrote, “There are a number of factors in support of the possibility that that outcome will not involve the revocation of the gifts, and therefore that it will not be manifestly inconsistent with this international public order. This is enough to meet the third condition.”
At Gelman & Associates, our experienced family law lawyers provide clients with the information they require to make educated decisions about the division of property upon separation or divorce. In addition to the extensive web-based resources available to our clients, all clients are given complimentary access to our firm’s webinar “Understanding Your Financial Statement – A Primer on Getting it Done”.
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