The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld and taken equality principles in family law one step further today in its decision in Rick v Brandsema – a move welcomed by West Coast LEAF and LEAF.
“In our intervention in the case, we argued that a separation agreement should not be treated like a commercial contract in the law,” says LEAF counsel, Nitya Iyer. “We’re pleased that the Court agreed that the negotiation of separation agreements presents a unique set of circumstances, power relations, and vulnerabilities for women.”
In dispute was a separation agreement that left Mr. Brandsema with substantially more assets than Ms. Rick after 27 years of marriage. Ms. Rick suffered mental health challenges when the agreement was signed and identified herself as a survivor of domestic violence. Mr. Brandsema’s full disclosure of his assets was also in question.
In its unanimous decision, The Supreme Court of Canada found that the parties’ separation agreement was unfair and invalid because Mr. Brandsema exploited Ms. Rick’s vulnerabilities and purposely misled her about the state of their financial affairs. The decision establishes a firm right to equality in the negotiation of separation agreements.
“Another important principle established in this case,” says West Coast LEAF Executive Director Alison Brewin, “is a firm statement that getting legal advice does not automatically mean both parties are equal. The Court of Appeal initially suggested that just because Ms. Rick had some access to legal advice, the agreement was fair – which was not the case. If the Court of Appeal decision had stood, imagine the implications for women in the current climate who can only access a patchwork of legal advice.”
Alison Brewin, West Coast LEAF
(604) 684-8772 x 111