Mar 18, 2014

Summary of Heinemann v. Heinemann

Heinemann v. Heinemann, 1989 CanLII 196 (NS CA)
The parties were divorced after a 17 year marriage and the appellant was ordered to pay $1500 per month in spousal support. The respondent wife had worked as a nurse but had not advanced in her career since she had moved from place to place with her husband as he was transferred. Eventually she obtained work as a medical secretary. At the time of the divorce, the appellant husband was earning approximately $100,000 and the respondent wife earned $21,500. The appellant sought to avoid any payment of maintenance to the wife, arguing that the respondent could be self-sufficient if she would retrain and seek employment as a nurse rather than work as a medical secretary.Dismissing the appeal, that the trial judge made no error that would justify upsetting his findings. The court held that the trial court (1) had considered the roles played by the parties in the marriage and had determined that the wife had suffered economic disadvantage while the husband had gained economic advantage; (2) that the court had determined the wife's needs based upon a reasonable standard of living not unrelated to that she had enjoyed during the marriage and awarded maintenance to allow her to live at this standard; (3) that the court had related the standard not to her former husband's future affluent standard, but to that which she would have obtained had she not foregone her career opportunities; (4) that although there was a burden on the wife to maximize her earning capacity, nursing was never more than a job to her, which was subordinated to the needs of her family, and in which she had therefore acquired no seniority. The Appeal Court discussed the general principles in awarding spousal maintenance and compared a traditional marriage, where one spouse is the breadwinner and the other is the child-rearer, with the modern marriage, where both spouses participate in the economic advancement of the family unit. It stated that when, in a modern marriage, one spouse may be disadvantaged for a period of time by deserting career opportunities, this can be balanced upon dissolution by promoting self-sufficiency, at which time both parties will go their own ways. The court further stated that between the two extremes there are a variety of other marital arrangements and enumerated the following general principles: (1) that in short-term marriages the greatest emphasis will be placed upon the complete separation of the parties and the acquisition of self-sufficient economic status for each; (2) that the tendency will be to return the spouses to the position in life they would have attained had they not diverted their talents to the development of a family; (3) that the standard of living to which they will be entitled will be that of a reasonable standard under all of the circumstances and not tied to that of the spouse; (4) that maintenance payments should not be utilized to equalize the standard of living of the former spouses but should be directed towards the re-establishment of both parties to positions of reasonable economic self-sufficiency and then be allowed to cease; (5) that in the case of a lengthy marriage, the economic disadvantage incurred by the dependant spouse should be redressed upon dissolution of the marriage; (6) that if the dependant spouse has limited or no employment skills, that spouse is entitled to a reasonable standard of living to the extent the other spouse is able to pay and that this standard should approximate that which the dependant spouse would have been able to attain had the normal career path been followed, but should not be wholly unrelated to that enjoyed during the marriage. *86 N.S.R.(2d)278; N.S.L.N.15:009(trial)