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Adult Interdependent Partners – A Case Review

Leslie Taylor

Associate

Tel:       403.692.5201
Email:  ltaylor@vogel-llp.ca

In the recent case of Corlett v Cavanagh, 2019 ABQB 316, the Court was tasked with determining whether or not the parties, as a result of their 18 year relationship, were “adult interdependent partners” pursuant to the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act, SA 2002, c A-4.5 (“AIRA”). This was an important determination in respect of Ms. Cavanagh’s claim for unjust enrichment and partner support. Mr. Corlett denied being in an adult interdependent partner relationship with Ms. Cavanagh, stating instead that his relationship with Ms. Cavanagh was merely one of friendship and employment.

An “adult interdependent partner” is defined at section 3 of the AIRA, as follows:

3(1) Subject to subsection (2), a person is the adult interdependent partner of another person if

(a)    the person has lived with the other person in a relationship of interdependence

(i)    for a continuous period of not less than 3 years, or

(ii)    of some permanence, if there is a child of the relationship by birth or adoption,

or

(b)    the person has entered into an adult interdependent partner agreement with the other person under section 7.

(2) Persons who are related to each other by blood or adoption may only become adult interdependent partners of each other by entering into an adult interdependent partner agreement under section 7.

A “relationship of interdependence” is further defined at section 1(1)(f) of the AIRA, as follows:

1(1)(f)    “relationship of interdependence” means a relationship outside marriage in which any 2 persons

(i)    share one another’s lives,

(ii)    are emotionally committed to one another, and

(iii)    function as an economic and domestic unit.

And a further definition of “function as an economic and domestic unit” is provided at section 1(2) of the AIRA, as follows:

1(2)  In determining whether 2 persons function as an economic and domestic unit for the purposes of subsection (1)(f)(iii), all the circumstances of the relationship must be taken into account, including such of the following matters as may be relevant:

(a)    whether or not the persons have a conjugal relationship;

(b)    the degree of exclusivity of the relationship;

(c)    the conduct and habits of the persons in respect of household activities and living arrangements;

(d)    the degree to which the persons hold themselves out to others as an economic and domestic unit;

(e)    the degree to which the persons formalize their legal obligations, intentions and responsibilities toward one another;

(f)    the extent to which direct and indirect contributions have been made by either person to the other or to their mutual well‑being;

(g)    the degree of financial dependence or interdependence and any arrangements for financial support between the persons;

(h)    the care and support of children;

(i)    the ownership, use and acquisition of property.

The Court confirmed the analysis for determining whether persons were adult interdependent partners, required a consideration of all of the circumstances of the relationship.

The facts were such that Mr. Corlett had initially hired Ms. Cavanagh to clean his home located in Jasper. The parties began dating in 2000, following which Mr. Corlett hired Ms. Cavanagh as an executive housekeeper at the resort he owned in Jasper, paying her a monthly salary of $2,500. Ms. Cavanagh continued to be an employee of the Jasper resort until 2017, with the exception of a brief period between 2008 and 2009. Ms. Cavanagh moved into Mr. Corlett’s home in Jasper in 2004. The parties had a brief falling out during which time Ms. Cavanagh purchased and moved into condominium in Jasper. She and Mr. Corlett soon after reconciled and Ms. Cavanagh’s evidence was that she spent very little time at the condominium thereafter. The parties were intimate at various residences between 2000 to 2008. Ms. Cavanagh regularly accompanied Mr. Corlett to Vancouver where he owned another home and spent time with his daughter. The parties spent Christmases together, travelled together and vacationed with family. The parties relationship broke down in early 2017.

The Court looked at each of the factors set out at section 1(1)(f) of the AIRA, and found that:

Section 1(f)(i) – The parties shared each other’s lives extensively, including: vacationing together, cohabiting together in Jasper, travelling together to Vancouver where they cohabited, looking for home in Phoenix together (which Ms. Cavanagh furnished and decorated) and spending Christmases together including with each other’s children. The Court noted further that Mr. Corlett gifted Ms. Cavanagh $30,000 worth of jewelry and a Lexus. The vacations and gifts were seen as going beyond that of an employer/employee relationship.

Section 1(f)(ii) – The parties were emotionally committed to each other. The Court looked at e-mails between the parties which included the exchange of terms of endearment, thoughts of having a child together and the value placed on the relationship.

Section 1(f)(iii) – The parties functioned as an economic and domestic unit and were a couple, having considered:

Section 1(2)(a) – The parties had a conjugal relationship, with the last conjugal encounter occurring in 2014. Importantly, the Court commented that “nothing turns on the fact that they did not have a conjugal relationship after 2014. To the extent that the legislation is intended to provide non-married couples with protections similar to married couples and that married couples remain married notwithstanding that they may not have sex, the lack of a sexual component from 2014 is not fatal to a determination of adult interdependent partnership.”

Section 1(2)(b) – With respect to exclusivity of the relationship, there was conflicting evidence in that Mr. Corlett stated the relationship was not exclusive after 2008 (though this proposition was not supported by the evidence of Mr. Corlett or Ms. Cavanagh) while Ms. Cavanagh’s evidence was that she assumed Mr. Corlett was faithful, which he confirmed. In any event, the Court was “not be prepared to find that an isolated incident of infidelity would be sufficient to find that it was an open relationship.”

Section 1(2)(c) – The conduct and habits of the parties in respect of household activities and living arrangements was such that there was nothing traditionally domestic about the relationship insofar as mutual assistance except that Ms. Cavanagh was expected to do the housekeeping until her back prevented her from doing so.

Section 1(2)(d) – With respect to the degree to which the parties held themselves out to others as an economic and domestic unit, the Court noted that Mr. Corlett referred to the parties as a couple, the parties travelled together with another couple and the staff of the resort believed Ms. Cavanagh to be more than a personal assistant.

Section 1(2)(e) – There were no written agreements formalizing the parties’ legal obligations, intentions and responsibilities to one another, however the relationship was seen to be very formal in the sense that Mr. Corlett maintained an employer/employee relationship, allowing Ms. Cavanagh to continue to receive employment insurance throughout 2008. Mr. Corlett relied upon this fact to argue that he fell within an exception of the AIRA with respect to caregivers for compensation:

Section 4(2) A relationship of interdependence does not exist between 2 persons where one of the persons provides the other with domestic care and support for a fee or other consideration or on behalf of another person or organization, including a government.

                However, the Court dismissed this argument on the basis that Mr. Corlett did not pay Ms. Cavanagh, the resort did. Further, Ms. Cavanagh was not providing domestic support and personal care to the resort.

Section 1(2)(f) – The extent to which direct and indirect contributions were made by either to the other or their mutual well-being was such that the parties kept each other company, they socialized together and cooked meals together. Mr. Corlett expressed concerns with Ms. Cavanagh’s drug abuse and she took meaningful steps to prevent it.

Section 1(2)(g) – Ms. Cavanagh was seen as being clearly financially dependent on Mr. Corlett for her salary, rent free housing and travel. The Court commented further that there was no meaningful interdependence in that Mr. Corlett did not need Ms. Cavanagh’s financial assistance.

Section 1(2)(h) – With respect to the care and support of children, both parties where noted as having their own children, and while neither helped the other look after them in the traditional sense, they were seen to have shown mutual support of the other’s children.  Ms. Cavanagh’s son lived in a suite in Mr. Corlett’s Vancouver home where Mr. Corlett’s son also maintained an office. Mr. Corlett’s son and his family lived in Ms. Cavanagh’s Jasper condominium on two occasions. The parties children were seen as being integrated into their relationship.

Section 1(2)(i) – Finally, with respect to the ownership, use and acquisition of property, Mr. Corlett was noted as owing the bulk of the property before and during the relationship. Ms. Cavanagh, however, had full use of Mr. Corlett’s property in Jasper and Phoenix, and use of Mr. Corlett’s Vancouver home on at least one occasion when he was not there. The Court did not accept Mr. Corlett’s argument that Ms. Cavanagh’s presence at the Jasper house was a business proposition in that she fulfilled the role of custodian. Mr. Corlett conceded that he had told Ms. Cavanagh that she would be entitled to half of his equity in the Phoenix property if it were sold.

In contemplation of the above analysis, the Court found that the parties functioned as an economic and domestic unit.

The Court then looked at section 3(1)(a)(i) of the AIRA, whether the parties lived together for a continuous period of not less than 3 consecutive years.

The parties differed in their evidence in this regard: Ms. Cavanagh’s evidence was that the parties lived as though they were married throughout the relationship whereas Mr. Cavanagh’s evidence was that he always lived in Vancouver by himself and that he visited Jasper for brief periods where Ms. Cavanagh would visit his home. The Court reviewed the law with respect to “living together” as follows:

[25]  While they did not always live under the same roof during their relationship, there is no requirement that “lived with” for the purposes of s. 3(a)(i) of the Act means occupying the same space at the same time all the time. In Wright v Lemoine, 2017 ABQB 395 (CanLII), a similar case involving parties who did not own or rent one residence but were together in various locations when one party’s work schedule permitted, Justice K. Nixon reviews the case law respecting this issue which begins with the following principle from Hodge v Canada (Minister of Human Resources Development), 2004 SCC 65 (CanLII) at para 42:

Cohabitation in this context is not synonymous with co-residence. Two people can cohabit even though they do not live under the same roof, and conversely, they may not be cohabiting in the relevant sense even if they are living under the same roof. Such periods of physical separation as the respondent and deceased experienced in 1993 did not end the common law relationship if there was a mutual intention to continue.

The Court preferred Ms. Cavanagh’s evidence, commenting on the parties’ intimacy and that they would share a bed when together. The Court noted that after 2009, Ms. Cavanagh’s condo was leased to Mr. Corlett’s son or the resort such that Ms. Cavanagh had no other residence other than Mr. Corlett’s home in Jasper. The Court commented that Mr. Corlett’s efforts to minimize the length and quality of time the parties spent together was not believable.

The Court concluded the parties lived together for a continuous period of not less than three years such that the parties were adult interdependent partners.

The Court declined to determine which years the parties maintained the status of adult interdependent partners, commenting however, as follows:

[29] … I do not see any merit in that determination at this stage, which is simply a determination of their status. The relationship began in 2000. It ended in March 2017. I do not find that there was a discernible one year period between 2000 and 2017 where they lived separate and apart with an intention that their relationship end, which would have terminated the relationship under s. 10(b) of the Act.

[30]  There were times between 2000 and 2017 where the relationship was stronger than at other times. That will have some bearing on Ms. Cavanagh’s unjust enrichment claim, which involves a determination of her contribution to the acquisition of assets. It also may have some bearing on her claim for support, namely whether her financial support from Mr. Corlett during the relationship helped or hindered her ability and inclination to become self-sufficient. Those are not determinations that I need make for the present purpose.

2019-10-28T11:55:15-07:00October 29th, 2019|

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