TORONTO — A wealthy businessman will have to pay more than $50,000 a month in spousal support for 10 years to a woman with whom he had a long-term romantic relationship even though they kept separate homes and had no children together, Ontario’s top court has ruled.
Under Ontario law, an unmarried couple are considered common-law spouses if they have cohabited — lived together in a conjugal relationship — continuously for at least three years. But that doesn’t necessarily mean living in the same home, the court found.
“Lack of a shared residence is not determinative of the issue of cohabitation,” the Appeal Court said. “There are many cases in which courts have found cohabitation where the parties stayed together only intermittently.”
The decision comes in the case of Lisa Climans and Michael Latner, both of Toronto, who began a romantic relationship after meeting in October 2001. At the time, she was 38 and separated with two children, court records show. He was 46 and divorced with three children.
Although they maintained their separate homes, Latner and Climans behaved as a couple both privately and publicly. They vacationed together. He gave her a 7.5-carat diamond ring and other jewelry that she wore. She quit her job and would regularly sleep at his house. They travelled together and talked about living together.
Latner proposed several times and Climans accepted. He often referred to her by his last name. However, he insisted she sign a marriage contract and came up with several drafts. She refused.
Throughout their relationship, the two kept separate bank accounts and never owned property in common. Nevertheless, Latner gave Climans thousands of dollars every month, a credit card, paid off her mortgage and showered her with expensive gifts. He provided her and her children with a “lavish lifestyle,” the court found.
“Theirs was a committed relationship,” the Appeal Court said.
When their 14-year relationship finally broke down in May 2015, Climans asked the courts to recognize her as Latner’s spouse and order him to pay her support. He argued she had been a travel companion and girlfriend, nothing more. As such, he said, they were never legally spouses and he owed no support. An eight-day trial ensued.
In her decision in February 2019, Superior Court Justice Sharon Shore sided with Climans. She ruled they were in fact long-time spouses, finding that despite their separate home, they lived under one roof at Latner’s cottage for part of the summer, and during winter vacations in Florida. Shore ordered him to pay her $53,077 monthly indefinitely. Latner appealed.
The higher court leaned heavily on Shore’s analysis, finding she was right to conclude cohabitation can occur even when the parties stay together intermittently.
The Appeal Court did find Shore had made an error in deciding how long Latner would have to pay Climans support based on when they first began cohabiting. While Shore had found that to be almost from the get-go, the higher court said it wasn’t earlier than their first stay together at his cottage, meaning they didn’t reach the threshold for indefinite payments.
Instead, it ordered him to pay her support for 10 years.
Climans and her lawyers declined comment. Lawyers for Latner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 10, 2020.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press