Spousal Support: Is $175,000 a Month Excessive?

The Ontario court’s ruling late last year in McCain v. McCain achieved considerable notoriety for several reasons:  first, the husband happened to be Michael McCain, son of Wallace McCain (the founder of the well-known McCain’s food brand in Canada).  Secondly, it set a Canadian family law record for the highest monthly spousal support amount ever awarded. 

The facts offered a glimpse into the lives of the super-wealthy:  Michael had a net worth of over $500 million, and by all accounts he and his wife Christine shared an opulent and privileged lifestyle.   But about 15 years into their 30-year marriage,  Michael’s father Wallace insisted that the couple sign a separation agreement; otherwise Michael would be disinherited from the McCain family fortune. Christine acquiesced, and effectively gave up her right to both spousal support and an equalization payment in the event of divorce.

When the couple eventually divorced, Christine went to court and succeeded in having the spousal support clauses set aside.  The court determined that the separation agreement was unfair, and had effectively been signed under duress at time when Christine could not have foreseen the exceptional financial success and luxurious lifestyle that the future held for her and Michael.  

Instead, the court ordered Michael to pay Christine $175,000 per month in spousal support.  (And this, incidentally, was actually on the low side:  if the court had limited itself to using a strict application of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines formula, then – given Michael’s very large income – Christine would have been entitled to between $300,000 and $400,000 per month).

But outrageous as it may seem, the court’s $175,000 per month calculation attempted to take into account the wife’s actual requirements in connection with maintaining the former matrimonial home and continuing the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed during the marriage.  It also considered the fact that this was a 30-year marriage in which the wife had not worked for 26 of them, in order to stay home and raise the five children of the union and handle the couple’s extensive social calendar, which included both business and personal obligations. The family also had to relocate often to accommodate the husband’s career.

Needless to say, to most people the award is staggeringly high.  But the case also invites reflection on many other issues, among them is the ongoing legal debate about whether separation agreements should be upheld in situations where changing facts later render them subjectively unfair.  

But even leaving the legal aspects aside:   From just a sheer “numbers” standpoint, is $175,000 per month in spousal support an outrageous sum, even for the super-rich?  What are your thoughts?

Shulman Law Firm is a Toronto-area firm of experienced Family Lawyers who can provide practical advice and effective representation relating to the steps and processes involved in separating and getting divorced in Ontario.   Contact us to set up a free consultation.

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