In a recent British Columbia decision, a court allowed a woman who had only met a man in person four times to pursue a spousal support claim against him.

Man and Woman Meet at Buddhist Ceremony

The woman first met the man at a Buddhist ceremony in 2014 in a brief encounter. The man is a high lama of Tibetan Buddhism and the women was seeking to become a nun of Tibetan Buddhism. 

In October 2016, she began a 3-year meditation retreat at a monastery in New York State. The woman publicly encountered the man once at the retreat. 

Man Allegedly Sexually Assaults Woman Resulting in Pregnancy

The woman alleges that on October 14, 2017, the man sexually assaulted her in her room at the monastery and she subsequently became pregnant from the assault. 

After she learned that she was pregnant, the woman asked to meet the man and told him about the pregnancy. The man initially denied responsibility but gave her his email address and a cellphone number. According to the woman, he said he would “prepare some money” for her. 

Thereafter, the woman abandoned her plan to become a nun, left the retreat and returned to Canada. She never saw the man again.

Man and Woman Communicate Online 

After the woman returned to Canada, she and the man began regular communication over an instant messaging app. They also exchanged emails and occasionally spoke on the telephone.

Additionally, throughout 2018, the man transferred funds to the woman, totalling approximately $770,000. According to the woman, this money was to care for their child, to buy a wedding ring and to purchase a home for herself and their child. 

On June 19, 2018, the woman gave birth to a daughter in Richmond, B.C. In a communication dated September 17, 2018, the man wrote to the woman, “Taking care of [our daughter] and you are my duty for life”. 

However, in October 2018, the man wrote to the woman telling her he had to “disappear” to Europe. In January 2019, the woman lost all contact with the man.

Woman Seeks Court Permission to Pursue Spousal Support Claim 

The woman commenced a family law case on July 17, 2019, seeking child support, a declaration of parentage and a parentage test. 

The woman later sought to amend her notice of family claim to seek spousal support.

Thus, at issue before the court was whether the woman’s allegations gave rise to a reasonable claim that she lived with the respondent in a marriage-like relationship, so as to give rise to a potential entitlement to spousal support under British Columbia’s Family Law Act (“FLA”). In essence, under the FLA, the woman had to prove that she had lived in a marriage-like relationship with the man at some point in time.

Parties Present Their Cases

The woman claimed that what began as a non-consensual sexual encounter evolved into a loving and affectionate relationship, even though that relationship occurred almost entirely over private text messages. She submitted that they could not be together because the man was forbidden by his position and religious beliefs from intimate relationships or marriage. Nonetheless, she alleged that they had formed a marriage-like relationship that lasted from January 2018 to January 2019.

In response, the man denied any romantic relationship with the woman. While he acknowledged providing emotional and financial support to the woman, he stated that it was for the benefit of the child she had told him was his daughter. 

Court Rules Woman Can Pursue Spousal Support Claim

The court explained that the determination of whether the man and the woman had lived in a marriage-like relationship was a fact-specific inquiry that a trial judge would need to make on a “holistic” basis. 

After reviewing the parties’ arguments and evidence, the court concluded:

“[The woman]’s claim is novel. It may even be weak. Almost all of the traditional factors are missing. The fact that [the woman] and [the man] never lived under the same roof, never shared a bed and never even spent time together in person will militate against a finding they lived with one another in a marriage-like relationship. However, the traditional factors are not a mandatory check-list that confines the “elastic” concept of a marriage-like relationship. And if the COVID pandemic has taught us nothing else, it is that real relationships can form, blossom and end in virtual worlds. 

In my view, the merits of [the woman]’s claim should be decided on the evidence. Subject to an overriding prejudice to [the man], she should have leave to amend the notice of family claim. However, she should also provide meaningful particulars of the alleged marriage-like relationship.”

In the result, the court therefore granted the woman leave to amend her notice of family claim to include a claim for spousal support.

Get Advice

At Feigenbaum Law, our goal is to help you move forward following the breakdown of a relationship while retaining as much financial stability as possible and ensuring your children are provided for. Mark Feigenbaum is able to counsel his clients on all potential risks that may result from a family law dispute, not just those related strictly to the breakdown of a marriage. Contact Mark online or call him at (905) 695-1269 or toll-free at (877) 275-4792 to book a consultation.