In of Vanasse v. Seguin (the companion case to Kerr v. Baranow, heard at the same time) the common law couple was together for 12 years, from 1993 to 2005. For the first four years both parties pursued their careers. The common law wife (“wife”) then left her job to move to Halifax so the common law husband (“husband”) could pursue a business opportunity. Over the next three and a half years, their two children were born and the wife stayed at home to care for the family. The husband stepped down as CEO of the business he started and they returned to Ottawa in 1998, where they bought a home in both their names as joint tenants. In 2000, the husband received approximately $11 million for his shares in the business and from that time, until their separation in 2005, he participated more with the domestic chores.  

The trial judge found that there was no unjust enrichment for the first and last periods of the couple’s cohabitation, but held that the husband had been unjustly enriched at the wife’s expense during the period in which the children were born and was entitled to half of the value of the wealth the husband accumulated during the period of unjust enrichment, less her interest in the home and RRSPs in her name. 

The Ontario Court of Appeal set aside this award and directed that the proper approach to valuation was a quantum meruit calculation in which the value each party received from the other was assessed and set off, essentially treating the wife as an unpaid employee.

In the Vanasse appeal, the central problem was how to quantify a monetary award for unjust enrichment. The Supreme Court of Canada found that a monetary award for unjust enrichment need not, as a matter of principle, always be calculated on a fee-for-services basis, allowed the appeal, and restored the order of the trial judge.

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