National Post

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Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Precedent-setting case began with two people in love
Promising start

Charlie Gillis with files From Mark Hume
National Post


Jeff Vinnick, National Post / Frank and Marie Bracklow on their wedding day.


Jeff Vinnick, National Post / Marie Bracklow sits by the fireplace in her basement suite in Burnaby, B.C. Bracklow has filed an alimony suit against her second husband, Frank Bracklow, and is awaiting a landmark decision from the Supreme Court tomorrow.

The circumstances that made the marriage of Frank and Marie Bracklow unique will become the stuff of legal history tomorrow, as the Supreme Court of Canada rules on Ms. Bracklow's claim for additional support from Mr. Bracklow following their divorce. But the story of their relationship was a familiar one, for a time:

'WE CLICKED'

It was, according to Marie Bracklow, love at first sight: At age 36, she agreed to meet a man named Frank Bracklow on a blind date arranged by a girlfriend of hers. To her surprise, it proved to be much more than the mild thrill she expected. "We clicked," she said in an interview yesterday, recalling that first meeting over dinner in a restaurant.

The two immediately began dating and, within a month, they were living together. It was a fast courtship, they acknowledged at the time, but after that they took things slowly. They had been living together four years when they were married before a justice of the peace on Dec. 23, 1989, formalizing what seemed a solid, trusting relationship.

Neither partner was new to matrimony. When they met, Marie had been married and was raising two teenaged children from a previous relationship -- Mark, now 28, and Michelle, 27. Mr. Bracklow had been married once before. But their mutual attraction wiped away any misgivings.

Even now Ms. Bracklow looks back fondly on the early years of their marriage. "We golfed, curled, bowled, we walked, we went dancing a lot," she said. "We entertained a lot. We had a lot of friends. Frank played baseball. We did a lot with the kids. It was good."

Marie worked full time as a keypunch operator, while Frank, who is five years younger than she, worked as a heavy duty mechanic for the City of Burnaby to pay for the couple's rented home. In the meantime, Ms. Bracklow kept up her studies to become a certified general accountant. For the time being, their combined outlook was good.

IN SICKNESS AND HEALTH

Why their relationship unwound remains a matter over which Mr. and Ms. Bracklow still differ, though the Supreme Court is focusing specifically on the extent of Mr. Bracklow's obligation now that the marriage is over.

In an interview yesterday from his home in Mackenzie, B.C., Mr. Bracklow said "there are a lot of things [concerning the marriage] that I just don't want to talk about . . . it just went wrong."

Mr. Bracklow says he remains friends with Mark, Ms. Bracklow's son from an earlier marriage, and does not harbour many ill feelings toward Marie.

His former wife tells a different story, casting Frank as a nervous husband who grew increasingly distant as she began to show symptoms of illness. At one point, she suffered from a headache that lasted seven months. Her sickness was later diagnosed as fibromyalgia, which causes her chronic pain and fatigue.

Ms. Bracklow says she came home with the diagnosis in 1992, and that Frank left on a two-week hunting trip the next day. Upon his return, Ms. Bracklow recalls him telling her, "It's over. I don't love you anymore."

"He was really determined not to have a sick wife," she said.

Whatever his motivation, Mr. Bracklow's decision had a profound effect on Ms. Bracklow, cementing her resolve to follow the case through the courts, convinced that Frank should be bound by his vow to care for her "in sickness and in health."

At first, he agreed to pay $200 a month in support, an amount a divorce judge later increased to $400 a month for three years. But Ms. Bracklow disputed that decision in B.C. Supreme Court and the provincial Court of Appeal, arguing that his obligation to care for her went beyond what the judge had granted.

IT'S ABOUT THE LAW

Today, Ms. Bracklow says she could use the support more than ever. She lives in a basement suite in Burnaby, B.C., and suffers from a wide range of emotional and physical disorders that prevent her from working.

She's been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, among other things, and relies heavily on her children to help her through day-to-day chores.

Mr. Bracklow, by contrast, has remarried and attempted to build a new life in northern B.C. He has found steady work with Slocan Forest Products in Mackenzie as a heavy duty mechanic.

But both he and his lawyer, Bruce Clark, argue that he, too, has suffered during the years of court proceedings, four of which he has bankrolled himself.

Only when the case reached the Supreme Court did Mr. Bracklow apply for legal aid, Mr. Clark points out, while Ms. Bracklow had been using legal aid to pay her lawyers all along.

"When it comes right down to it, the case now before the Supreme Court is not really about him and his wife anymore," said Mr. Clark. "It's about the law. And this case laid out in clear terms a piece of law in Canada that needs to be settled.

"In a way, the issue of support for a spouse in need was just sitting there, waiting for two people like this to come along."

Copyright Southam Inc.