This case concerned the ability of women to access pension plan credits following a separation or divorce.
LEAF intervened before the Ontario Divisional Court.
Maria Albrecht and Adolf Albrecht separated after 35 years of marriage. They entered into an agreement which said that Mrs. Albrecht had no claims against her former husband for maintenance or against his property. In exchange, she received a payment of $40,000.
A few years after the separation, Mr. Albrecht took early retirement and began receiving payments under the Canada Pension Plan. The Canada Pension Plan contained a provision which limited the effect of spousal agreements on the division of pensionable earnings. Mrs. Albrecht requested and received from Canada Pension Plan a division of the pension credits between her and her former spouse. This caused Mr. Albrecht’s payments to decrease by almost half.
Mr. Albrecht applied to the Ontario District Court for an order that Mrs. Albrecht was not entitled to the pension credits. The Court agreed. Mrs. Albrecht appealed to the Ontario Divisional Court.
LEAF argued that, if the requirements under the Canada Pension Plan were not met, there could be no waiver of the right to a division of pensionable earnings. Finding a waiver in these circumstances would be inconsistent with the purposes of the Plan as a whole, including ensuring that former spouses, primarily women, who contribute to society outside of the formal workforce, get the benefit of the pension program.
LEAF also argued that women’s economic disadvantage was a sex equality issue. The provision in the Canada Pension Plan limiting the effect of spousal agreements clearly invoked the constitutional equality rights of women and, in particular, elderly women and women with disabilities. It needed to be interpreted in a manner consistent with s. 15 of the Charter.
The Ontario Divisional Court overturned the lower court’s decision, and held that there could be no contracting out of the right to a division of pension credits unless the requirements of the Canada Pension Plan were met.
LEAF is grateful to Helena Orton and Carole Curtis, counsel in this case.
Download LEAF’s factum here.
Read the Ontario Divisional Court’s decision here.
Our records are imperfect, but we are doing our best to update them – if you were involved with LEAF on this case but your name is not reflected here, please email us at [email protected].