This case concerned the enforceability of settlement agreements made following a couple’s separation.
LEAF and West Coast LEAF intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada.
Nancy Rick and Berend Brandsema were married in 1973, and separated in 2000. During their time together, they had five children, established a dairy farm and owned other property as well. They entered into a separation agreement which left Mr. Brandsema with significantly more assets than Ms. Rick. At the time they entered into the agreement, Ms. Rick faced mental health challenges. She also self-identified as a survivor of domestic violence.
Ms. Rick later brought an application asking to set aside the agreement. The trial judge agreed, finding that Mr. Brandsema had exploited Ms. Rick’s mental health challenges and deliberately hidden or under-valued assets. The British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned the decision. Ms. Rick appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
LEAF and West Coast LEAF argued that courts needed to set aside agreements based on the misrepresentation of financial information, or the exploitation of power imbalances between spouses. Separating spouses were not the same as commercial parties negotiating a contract. Women oftenfaced economic, informational, and psychological disadvantages which negatively impacted their ability to negotiate in their own best interests. The court needed to recognize a duty on spouses to act in good faith when negotiating separation agreements.
The Supreme Court of Canada restored the trial judge’s decision, and set aside the separation agreement. The Court held that separating spouses were required to provide full and honest disclosure of their finances when negotiating separation agreements. In this case, Mr. Brandsema had failed to do so. He had also exploited Ms. Rick’s mental health challenges. As a result, the agreement needed to be set aside.
LEAF is grateful to Nitya Iyer 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].