Toronto Star

September 17, 1999

Wealthy father loses child support battle

FIGHT OVER: Multi-millionaire Tom Baker lost child support battle to his ex-wife Monica Francis, a teacher.

$10,000 a month to ex-wife must continue: Court

By Valerie Lawton
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - A mother who raised two daughters in a high-crime neighbourhood while her multi-millionaire ex-husband lavished the girls with high-priced luxuries on weekends has won a bitter child support battle in Canada's top court.

Monica Francis, a Toronto high school teacher, was relieved by yesterday's Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

But a costly 12-year legal fight with her former husband, lawyer-turned-businessman Tom Baker, means her daughters have spent most of their childhood going back and forth between two worlds.

``It's a tremendous moral victory,'' Francis said yesterday. ``I think it validates my life and the fight I've had . . . It says to me that my children deserved this all along.

``They deserve to partake in his lifestyle.''

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a lower court was correct to order Baker to pay $10,000 a month in child support. Legal experts said the decision has a narrow impact because it affects only very rich parents.

Francis has been receiving the $10,000 monthly payment since 1997, but claims much of it was used to pay her lawyers. She also says she struggled to make ends meet after the breakup and before the lower court awarded the higher payments.

The divorced couple's daughters, now 15 and 14, have lived a sort of split existence.

With mom, dinners out meant Swiss Chalet. With dad, it's dining at the finest restaurants.

`It's a tremendous moral victory. I think it validates my life and the fight I've had . . . It says to me that my children deserved this all along. They deserve to partake in his lifestyle.'
- Monica Francis
Winner in battle over $10,000 child support payments.

Excursions with her were a day on the rides at Wonderland or mini-golf.

With him, it meant jetting off to a posh Whistler chalet for ski weekends, European holidays, and a private box at Blue Jays games.

Weekdays were spent in their mother's modest Jane-Finch area home - a house worth less than their father's art collection alone. The house has been broken into twice.

They went to a pricey private school where the tuition was paid by dad. A security service driver has ferried them to and from school.

On weekends, the girls have been chauffeured over to Baker's $5-million, turreted Bridle Path mansion where the cars parked in the garage included a Ferrari, Mercedes and pair of BMWs.

``That was all they knew. Maybe that's why they're so solid,'' their mother said. ``They are good, solid kids and they have had a good, happy home life because money is not everything.''

She said the girls only began to notice the stark difference between how their father and mother lived as they got older. It's difficult for them to understand why their half-siblings have such a different lifestyle, she said.

Baker has six children - two with his first wife, the two girls he had with Francis, and two more in his third marriage.

Francis and Baker split in 1985 after six years of marriage.

She was eight months pregnant when Baker said he thought their relationship was in trouble. He wasn't there for his youngest daughter's birth and left when she was five days old.

She was forced to go back to her teaching job when the baby was just three months old, instead of taking a year of maternity leave as planned.

A separation agreement she signed against her lawyer's advice gave her $30,000 from the sale of their house, a 1984 Pontiac and $2,500 a month in support.

Baker, meanwhile, went on to join the ranks of the super-rich.

How he made his millions is controversial. He and an associate face criminal tax fraud charges in a massive, $18-million money-laundering case that stretched from Toronto to the Cayman Islands. A preliminary hearing is ongoing.

The charges are in connection with the controversial takeovers of Seven-Up Canada, Agnew Shoes and two other companies.

Baker also faces accusations of professional misconduct and conduct unbecoming a lawyer before the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Once the president and chief executive officer at Seven-Up, Baker went on to own the Wrap and Roll fast-food restaurant chain in Toronto.

Francis began proceedings against him to get increased child-support payments not long after they officially divorced in 1987. The case didn't go to trial until 1997 because of numerous pre-trial motions and difficulties getting full financial disclosure from Baker.

At that point, Francis was making $63,000 a year. Court documents show Baker was raking in almost $1 million a year and had a net worth of $78 million.

The trial judge ordered Baker to pay a lump sum of $500,000, plus $10,000 a month in support.

His appeal was dismissed by Ontario's Court of Appeal.

While the Supreme Court also said Baker had to pay $10,000 a month, it agreed with Baker that Canada's support-payment rules needed to be interpreted differently than the Court of Appeal had ruled.

The child-support rules, introduced in 1997, set out exactly how much parents must pay depending on their income. The idea is to ensure fair and consistent arrangements.

For people earning over $150,000, the rules say that, if the prescribed amount is ``inappropriate,'' the judge can order another amount. The lower court judge had said that meant a payment was inadequate.

The Supreme Court sided with Baker that the word inappropriate can also refer to a child support payment that is too high. But there must be ``clear and compelling evidence'' for not following the table of payments in the guidelines, the court said.

The judges also decided Baker had failed to show $10,000 a month was excessive. He argued such a large figure would amount to a windfall for his ex-wife and went well beyond the reasonable needs of his children.

``It's too bad we won the war and lost the battle,'' said Baker's lawyer, Stephen Grant.

But Nicole Tellier, who represented Francis, said the decision limits judges' discretion to deviate from the amounts set under the guidelines.

``It sends a message to (wealthy child-support payors) that the circumstances under which a court will award something less than the amount in the table are going to be rare,'' she said. ``Just the sheer size of the award alone is an insufficient basis for saying, well, it's too much, we have to lower it.''

Grant described Baker as a good and generous father.

Francis said her ex-husband hasn't been in contact with their daughters for weeks, and didn't show up to take them on a planned trip to Whistler in August.

``It is very sad,'' Francis said.

Contents copyright © 1996-1999, The Toronto Star.