An interesting case out this month, where a husband’s failure to follow the Dower Act cost him $75,000 and his house.
The Dower Act is a 100-year-old relic of a time when women had to be protected in case their husbands gave the family farm away in his will or sold the family home and ran off with the money. That happened occasionally with horrific results for the wife and children. With the Dower Act in place, the wife would either have a right to stay in the home until she died or to sue her husband for half of the sale proceeds.
Today the Dower Act protects all married people from having the family “homestead” sold out from under them – regardless of which spouse is on title. If you are married, and if you and your spouse slept in a property either of you owned for even a single night then you must either get that person’s consent to sell that property or ask a judge to allow you to sell the property without your spouse’s consent.
In practice the Dower Act doesn’t do much heavy lifting. People know it exists and arrange their affairs so as to not violate it. But every once in a while someone screws up. This was the case in this month’s Court of Appeals case of Joncas v. Joncas, 2017 ABCA 50, where the husband sold a property that he and his wife used to live in without her consent. Big mistake. He sold the property for $325,000, but his net proceeds after paying off debts registered on the property and taxes was $87,699. His wife sued, won, and got ½ of the sale proceeds ($162,500) in damages. So assuming he doesn’t further compound his misery by ignoring the judgment, he ended up losing almost $75,000 and his house by taking a shortcut.
This is just another reason why working together with your spouse to wind up your marriage is a good idea.
The court of appeal did not determine the effect of the damages award on the division of matrimonial property. That issue was sent back to the lower court to be decided with a review of the entire situation.