National Post

Friday, February 19, 1999

Support payments must rise with income, top court rules
Man whose earnings doubled after divorce ordered to pay more

Janice Tibbetts
Southam News

In the second of a series of Supreme Court rulings that will change the way couples divorce in Canada, a Winnipeg businessman whose income doubled 10 years after his divorce was ordered yesterday to double his support payments to his son, and increase spousal payments to his former wife.

Walter Hickey, whose net worth rose to $1-million over the 10 years following his divorce, and who now earns $200,000 a year, must pay $1,500 a month in support to his 18-year-old son. Despite reaching the age of majority, the son, who lives at home, is regarded as a dependent.

The Supreme Court rejected an argument from Mr. Hickey's lawyer that his former wife of 15 years, Patricia Davis, made a fair deal when the couple divorced in 1987 and she should stick to it.

"Where's the logic here," said Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube. "It's not generous by today's standards."

Spousal support for Ms. Davis, who earns $33,000 a year working several part time jobs, was increased to $1,300 from $1,000 a month.

Reasons for the ruling will be released in the next few months.

The snap decision from the bench was the second time in three months that the court has come down hard in the fierce battle over the financial obligations of divorced couples.

It ruled in November that Manitoba stepfather Gerald Chartier must continue to support the step-daughter who bore his name during his six-year live-in relationship with the girl's mother.

The court accepted the argument that Mr. Chartier was close enough to the girl that he was her father in the "mind and heart of the child."

He had moved in with her mother when the girl was one year old. Mr. Chartier was ordered to pay $200 a month until a permanent amount is settled in a Manitoba court.

More ground-breaking decisions are expected soon.

In the next few months, the judges will hear the case of a wealthy Toronto lawyer, Tom Baker, who is challenging a massive increase in child support he was ordered to pay because of the federal government's new child-support guidelines.

A ruling is also expected soon in the case of Frank and Sharon Bracklow. Mrs. Bracklow, who suffered emotional and physical problems during and after her marriage, now finds it impossible to work.

She is seeking support from her former husband, who, her lawyers have argued, once promised to care for her "in sickness and in health."

And a decision is imminent in a case known as M versus H, in which a Toronto woman is seeking alimony from her wealthier lesbian lover after a 10-year relationship collapsed.

Yesterday's decision was handed down immediately after a one-hour hearing.

It effectively supports the federal government's new child-support guidelines, which calculate payments on a grid system based solely on the income of the non-custodial parent rather than on the financial needs of the recipient.

Lawyers on both sides -- who were surprised the court decided to hear the case at all because battles involving support increases are usually settled in family courts -- speculated that the judges are pursuing a theme of family obligations after relationships fail.

"They want to make a statement across the country on this," said Leonard Levencrown, the Ottawa lawyer representing Mr. Hickey.

Randall Horton, Ms. Davis's Winnipeg lawyer, agreed the Supreme Court seems to be stepping into a lot of family battles lately.

"I think their spirit is clear," Mr. Horton said outside the court. "You're going to have to pay your fair share."

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