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Overturn a Marriage Agreement You Disagree With

A wife with way more means than her husband applies to Ontario court to have her new marriage annulled and a too-rich-for-her-tastes marriage agreement overturned. It’s the ultimate “he said-she said.”  

An Epic Marriage Battle

Marriage gets messy, no more so than when two powerful people lock horns in a family courtroom, as happened between Canadian heiress Eleanor McCain of frozen fries fame and former Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) president and CEO Jeff Melanson. The case wound on for two years in Ontario Superior Court of Justice. For a quick glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous, this one had it all.

Asking Ontario Court for an Annulment

McCain, whose father Wallace co-founded McCain Foods of Florenceville, NB, brought a vast fortune into her brief, nine-month union with Melanson in April 2014. By January 2015, the couple was separated. Melanson, as McCain relayed it, ended the marriage with a “self-serving email.” She filed for an annulment in March 2016. 

Requesting Divorce Due to Marriage Breakdown

Melanson had a different version of events. He countered that the marriage should be ended by divorce. With $426,000 in debts, he asked the court for a $5 million settlement promised in their marriage agreement and a share of any increase in value of their matrimonial home.

Marriage Agreement Included Generous Payout  

Melanson’s unusual marriage agreement, signed two days before the ceremony, waived all spousal support and property if the marriage dissolved. Instead, the pair agreed Melanson would receive a lump sum settlement of $5 million, minus any gifts or money McCain gave him during the marriage. The agreement’s terms stated it would survive if the marriage was annulled or they divorced.

Unpleasant Court Case Erupts

As is so often the case, divorce court became the couple’s battleground. McCain accused Melanson of sexually harassing employees while president of the Banff Centre for the Arts. She alleged romantic texts he sent during their courtship echoed those to a colleague he harassed. He resigned his TSO job weeks later. 

Tricked Into Marriage

In her opening shot, McCain told court she had been tricked into marrying the white-haired executive. Her annulment application stated she did not give her free and enlightened consent to be married because Melanson had lied and “deliberately misrepresented himself”. Melanson, for his part, accused his former wife, a singer and songwriter, of using family money to “buy opportunities for herself”. (Toronto Life called her a torch singer.)

What She Said

The allegations were far reaching. McCain’s lawyer stated her client had been pursued relentlessly and pushed to marry Melanson “because he thought that marrying her and being associated with her family would help redeem him from his scandalous behaviour in Banff and would give him an excuse for not being able to fulfill his grandiose plans at [the Banff Centre].” Melanson had planned an abandoned $1 billion expansion.

What He Said

Melanson called her comments “distorted and untruthful”. It was, he said, a “smear campaign…under the guise of seeking an annulment.” His lawyer claimed he couldn’t agree to an annulment because it would make McCain’s allegations appear to be true.

Divorce Application Wins the Day

All arguments aside, the Ontario court sided with Melanson, ordering a divorce instead of annulment. McCain won a partial victory on the prenup and marriage agreement she claimed would unjustly enrich her former husband. Melanson got a lump sum, but not the $5 million he anticipated. 

Who Pays Legal Fees in Divorce

Perhaps the final insult was asking the court to pay his legal fees. After six months of road trips across North America and Mexico, Melanson was broke, so he said, unable to get justice and unemployable because of the negative publicity. The court ordered McCain to give him $125,000 for his legal fees.

Grounds for Annulment in Ontario

While her lawyers didn’t successfully make the case for annulment, Ontario courts can void a marriage under one or more conditions:

  • One spouse is married, which the new spouse didn’t know.
  • The officiant wasn’t legally able to perform marriages.
  • A spouse didn’t understand the ceremony was a marriage.
  • They lacked the mental capacity to enter into a valid marriage contract.
  • They were intoxicated and couldn’t give consent.
  • The marriage was a fraud (McCain’s argument) or they were pressured to get married.
  • They were a minor under 16 or between 16 and 17 but married without parental consent.
  • The marriage couldn’t be consummated because of a physical inability or mental condition that wasn’t discovered until after marriage.

McCain’s failed to prove her claim of fraud, but it was a dramatic conclusion to a high profile marriage. As for the final settlement, it’s a warning to Ontario couples. Be careful what you put in a prenuptial agreement — it may just come back to haunt you. 

Change or Overturn a Marriage Agreement in Ontario 

Axess Law Ontario family lawyers offer legal advice on your rights and responsibilities under a marriage agreement when you file for divorce or annulment. Virtual lawyers are available 7 days a week, day or evening. Call toll-free to 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto at 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form to make an appointment. In person meetings with licensed Ontario lawyers are available at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s family law services.

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