This case concerned the availability of spousal support for senior women.  

LEAF intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Facts 

Willis Boston and Shirley Boston were married for 36 years. During this time, Shirley had primary responsibility for raising the couple’s seven children and worked exclusively within the home. When they separated, they agreed to divide their assets. The value of Willis’ pension at that time was considered as part of the assets to be divided. In addition, Willis agreed to pay Shirley $3,200 per month in spousal support.  

After he retired, Willis received $8,000 a month in pension income. $5,300 of that came from assets he had when the couple separated, which had been taken into account when the couple divided their assets. Willis applied for an order varying the amount of spousal support he paid to Shirley. He argued that the court should only consider the portion of his pension based on assets he had earned after the separation – otherwise, Shirley would be allowed to “double dip” (i.e. she would have been allocated money based on Willis’ pension both when they separated, and after Willis retired).   

The motions judge agreed with Willis, and reduced the amount of spousal support he had to pay to $950 a month. The Ontario Court of Appeal allowed Shirley’s appeal, and raised the amount to $2,000. Willis appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Arguments 

LEAF intervened out of concern for the availability of spousal support for senior women, especially those who had worked inside the home and therefore were unable to obtain a pension themselves. LEAF argued that the courts should avoid imposing a strict rule on “double dipping” or “double recovery”, and should instead analyze spousal support on a case-by-case basis. The courts needed to keep in mind the social and economic realities of the spousal support recipient, and look to address the feminization of poverty.  

Outcome 

A majority of the Supreme Court held that Willis was only required to pay $950 a month in spousal support. The majority did accept LEAF’s primary submission that there should be flexibility within family law to deal with support issues generally, including allocating support from pension income. While the majority held that “double recovery” might sometimes be necessary, it stated that the practice was generally to be avoided. In the particular facts of this case, the majority found that it would not be fair to allow double recovery.  

LEAF is grateful to Nicole Tellier and Joanna Radbord, counsel in this case. 

Download the factum here.

Read the Supreme Court of Canada’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].