Should You Use the Family Courts for Revenge?

January 18, 2014
Ron Shulman

Article written by Ron Shulman

I came across an Ontario case recently that piqued my interest.  Although it’s from more than a decade ago, the lesson to be taken from it is still just as valid today.

In that case, called Hockey-Sweeney v. Sweeney, 2002 CanLII 2721 (ON SC),  the wife sued the husband for divorce, and in the time leading up to the resulting 5-week trial – where she represented herself – she had been represented by no fewer than eight different lawyers.

The matter came before the court to determine legal costs.   First of all, the court observed that trial resulted in a complete victory for the husband:  he was successful on every one of the issues.  Moreover, he had made offers to the wife along the way that were far better than the result she achieved at trial.

But what troubled the court was the conduct of the woman both prior to the litigation, and during it.

In particular, the wife had used the litigation to wreak revenge on the husband, whom she blamed for a failed relationship with her next-door neighbor, with whom she had fallen in love (while still married) and who happened to be a younger homosexual man.   Not only did the neighbor not reciprocate the wife’s feelings, but he had actually been forced to obtain a one-year peace bond against her.   Apparently, having been repeatedly frustrated in her vigorous romantic pursuit of the neighbor, the wife turned her frustration on the husband, accusing him in the divorce petition of having an adulterous (and homosexual) affair with the neighbor himself.  As the court said, “It was a complete fabrication.”

The court also catalogued various other unusual tactics by the woman during the litigation, including unfounded allegations that the husband was hiding enormous wealth, and that he had assaulted her.   All in all, the legal costs topped $500,000 in what the court concluded was an arduous and unnecessarily long divorce trial.  The court concluded that the wife’s objective throughout the proceedings was to embarrass the husband and run up substantial fees.  (Those legal fees, incidentally, topped $500,000).

Overall, the court found that the wife’s conduct was “so outrageous” that she should be ordered to pay $200,000 in legal costs (which, the court said, was the maximum it could order under the circumstances – hinting that it might otherwise have been more). The wife was not permitted to “make a fool of the court”, and that there would be consequences to any litigant who tried to use it for their own agenda.  (Incidentally, the wife’s subsequent appeal  of the court’s order, which necessitated yet another hearing, was dismissed. )

What’s the moral of the story?   Using the courts to get revenge on your Ex – whether that revenge is warranted or not – is never the way to go.

Have you heard stories of people using the courts for revenge?  Tell us about it below.