Separation agreements not final, Supreme Court rules

Canwest News Service February 20, 2009

Separation agreements between divorcing couples are not final if one spouse gets a bad deal, the Supreme Court of Canada said yesterday in a ruling that ordered a B.C. dairy farmer to pay his former wife $650,000.

The Supreme Court unanimously concluded that Ben Brandsema exploited his wife’s fragile mental state by allowing her to sign an "unconscionable" agreement in which he failed to disclose all his assets.

The ruling is a reminder that if you try to "pull a fast one" on your estranged spouse, a judge can rescind the agreement even years later, said Toronto family law expert Phil Epstein.

"This is an attack on final agreements," said Epstein.

The decision is a victory for Nancy Rick, of Abbotsford, who convinced the court that her ex-husband took advantage of her mental instability when she signed a deal in 2001, following the collapse of a 27-year marriage that produced five children.

"Special care must be taken to ensure that, to the extent possible, the assets of the former relationship are distributed through negotiations that are free from informational and psychological exploitation," wrote Justice Rosalie Abella in the 7-0 decision.

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