When a family goes through a divorce or separation, it’s easy for disagreements to escalate into serious conflict requiring litigation to resolve. What happens to a couple’s shared property when a marriage breaks down can be one such source of conflict. However, once divorce orders are issued and property issues are recognized as resolved, it can be difficult to attempt to relitigate in the event that one of the parties changes their mind. This was the situation in a recent application made to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Questions about car ownership leads to dispute

The issue first arose in late 2019 as the couple was working through their divorce. One of the key issues at the time was who owned the minivan the couple shared. The husband was seeking a declaration that he is the exclusive owner of the vehicle, and that the wife was unjustly enriched by her continued possession and use of the vehicle.

The court explained that the separation of the parties was a high-conflict affair. The minivan was a part of this conflict, with the wife stating that the parties had an oral agreement that she enjoy possession and use of the vehicle; something the husband disputes.  

Things reached a head on August 29, 2019, when the husband sent a tow truck to the wife’s residence and had the vehicle towed to a car dealership. The husband was later seen going through the minivan by a security officer at the dealership who in turn called the police.

The police called the wife after talking to the husband. She told them she had discovered the minivan missing and was about to file a police report of her own, and explained to the police that she had the understanding she would be the primary owner and user of the vehicle. The police arrested the husband and kept him in custody overnight before deciding to release him without laying charges.

Final order of divorce is issued

On September 21, 2020, a final order was issued. It stated that neither party was to pay the other an equalization payment and that they would each be responsible for their own debts. The wife was ordered to return the minivan to the husband, which she did.

However, the husband later decided that he wanted to pursue damages against the wife for unjust enrichment and for damage done to the vehicle while it was in her custody. The wife, meanwhile, took the position that all of the couple’s issues were resolved by the September 2020 order and that he had no grounds to pursue damages against her.

The court stated that there is a real interest to society in minimizing the costs of ongoing litigation. If the husband had intended to pursue damages against the wife for her use of the car in the runup to the final order, he should have brought those issues to court at that time. The court said the husband knew all of the facts that he now says support his causes of action at that time, and that they should have been a part of the original matrimonial proceedings.

If you are contemplating a separation, or have already begun the process, contact NULaw in Toronto as soon as possible. Obtain experienced legal guidance and ensure that you receive a fair division of your property and assets. Contact us online or at 416-481-5604 to book a consultation with family lawyer Lex Arbesman.

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