Ottawa Citizen
October 26, 20002

Ex-wife used divorce court for 'revenge'

Judge orders 'vengeful' woman to pay $200,000 for 'outrageous' trial

Cristin Schmitz
The Ottawa Citizen

A "vengeful" woman who was found by an Ontario divorce court to have falsely accused her ex-husband of hiding assets, homosexual adultery and other marital misconduct has been ordered to pay him $200,000 in legal costs.

Superior Court Justice Peter Hambly ruled the actions of Louise Hockey-Sweeney of Milton, Ont. -- in forcing Lawrence Sweeney of Toronto to endure an arduous, unnecessary divorce trial and run up more than $500,000 in legal costs -- were "so outrageous that an order of costs against her is required."

The judge found the 47-year-old mother of three "used the trial proceedings not for the purpose of resolving honest differences on the facts and the law, but for the purpose of wreaking revenge on her husband for her perception that he destroyed her relationship" with a younger gay man for whom she harboured an unrequited passion.

Family law lawyers said the mid-August decision, which is under appeal, is a warning to warring spouses of the financial peril they face if they opt to engage in mudslinging and unnecessary litigation.

"It is a cautionary tale for lawyers and clients to not advance positions that impute dishonesty without appropriate evidence," said Toronto family law specialist Philip Epstein.

In his judgment, reported this week in The Lawyers Weekly, Judge Hambly emphasized Ms. Hockey-Sweeney could not be permitted "to make a fool of the court."

"Any litigant who attempts to use the court for a purpose other than the resolution of honest differences between the parties on the facts or the law or both must suffer the consequences in costs," he wrote. "The court cannot permit itself to be used by a litigant for that litigant's own agenda."

Since suing Mr. Sweeney for divorce in 1999, alleging cruelty and adultery, Ms. Hockey-Sweeney's objective was "to embarrass her husband and to cause him to incur substantial legal fees," the judge found.

"She made allegations of assault, intentional infliction of mental suffering and a homosexual adulterous relationship against Lawrence. She alleged that he was hiding assets and income. She had no credible evidence to support any of these allegations."

Despite these attacks, Judge Hambly said the affluent businessman displayed "infinite patience" toward Ms. Hockey-Sweeney, whom the judge described as "emotionally unstable."

The husband, whom the judge found assumed custody of the children after their mother indicated she no longer wished to care for them, had offered before the trial to pay his wife $5,000 a month in spousal support. He also offered to forego his half-share of the value of an expensive boat and their large home on 22 hectares near Milton.

Mr. Sweeney also assumed full financial responsibility for the children and offered to pay his own legal tab, which by then had run into a few hundred thousand dollars.

Ms. Hockey-Sweeney's decision to proceed to a trial with the "complete fabrication" that her husband had an extramarital sexual liaison with the gay man about whom she obsessed, and other spurious allegations the judge found she knew to be untrue, had disastrous financial consequences for her.

In addition to being ordered to pay $200,000 for her husband's legal costs -- the maximum the judge concluded she could pay -- Judge Hambly also ordered her to pay her ex-husband $553,390 for his half of the matrimonial assets.

The judge also cut her monthly spousal support to $3,500, noting the final outcome was "greatly inferior" to her husband's very generous offers. Ms. Hockey-Sweeney went through eight lawyers before representing herself at the five-week trial.

The judge found Ms. Hockey-Sweeney was "obsessed with anger" because she believed her husband destroyed her relationship with the gay man, who obtained a one-year peace bond against her in 2000. She sent the man a letter earlier this year suggesting they might get engaged after her divorce, noting she had seen him in a dream where "your eyes were all gouged out and filled with gray yucky stuff and blood."

One of Mr. Sweeney's lawyers, Deborah Zemans of Toronto, said her client remains concerned about his ex-wife, but was "very pleased" the judge saw through her false allegations.

© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen