Spousal or child support obligations can be a significant source of stress following the breakup of a marriage. It’s not entirely uncommon for people who have to pay child or spousal support to try to find ways to pay less than they were originally ordered to. The most common reason people try to vary support orders is due to a change in circumstances, such as a lost job. In some cases, people might voluntarily leave a job in favour of one that doesn’t pay as much in order to pay less support. A situation we don’t see nearly as often is one where a party alleges they were coerced into agreeing to the terms of support, which is what occurred in a recent hearing before the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta.
Husband was the sole income earner
The parties separated after being married for 17 years. At the time of the separation, the husband was the sole income earner, making $85,000 per year. They separated in 2018 and shortly thereafter entered into a consent order which required the husband to pay $2,000 per month in spousal support to the wife. Fast forward about two years and the husband approached the court claiming that he had been coerced into the consent order and that it should be disregarded.
Husband says he felt pressured to agree to order
The husband wrote in an affidavit that he and the wife entered into the agreement, but said “I felt pressured to agree, although even then I was concerned I would not be able to make the payments.”
The court noted that the husband did not detail the source of the pressure (whether he felt pressure internally or from outside forces), where they came from if external, or what the consequences of not agreeing would be. He also failed to provide any evidence.
The court stated there are four factors to consider when exploring whether a divorce agreement was signed under duress. They are:
- Whether the person alleged to have been coerced, protested;
- Whether, at the time he or she was allegedly coerced into making the contract, he or she had an alternative course open to him such as an adequate legal remedy;
- Whether he or she was independently advised; and
- Whether after entering the contract, he or she took steps to avoid it.
In this case, the court was shown no evidence that the husband protested the agreement, how that pressure impacted his ability to negotiate, whether he raised concern with his own lawyers, or if he tried to decline the argument.
In short, it’s not enough to say that pressure was felt in order to prove coercion. As with many legal matters, it is important to work with an experienced lawyer and record evidence of issues such as coercion, so that if it does become an issue to be heard before the courts, that there is more than just one party’s work against the other’s.
Following a divorce or separation, it can be difficult to get back on firm financial footing. Support claims can be further complicated if one spouse is self-employed, a full-time caregiver, or has significant offshore assets. Our family law lawyers know how to gather evidence, build a persuasive case, and fight for your rights and the rights of your children. Whether in the courtroom or at the negotiating table, we are diligent advocates on behalf of our clients.
If you have questions about spousal or child support rights or obligations, call HMC Lawyers at 1-800-480-3534 or contact us online. We represent clients primarily in Calgary and surrounding areas.