It’s a rare occasion when the Vancouver Courthouse is the setting for the divorce of a billionaire, but if Francesco Aquilini, Canucks co-owner and his wife don’t settle their dispute between now and next Monday, the biggest divorce trial in British Columbia history will play to standing room only.
Unlike a large percentage of high-net worth divorces, where private negotiations with a phalanx of lawyers, valuators and accountants, discretely results in big-money resolutions, this case has already been splashed across the media.
Earlier this year Talia Aquilini asked a judge to order the sale of her husband’s impressive wine collection so that she would have money to fund the litigation. At the same time, she sought an order that her husband be compelled to answer questions about the adultery allegations she made in her court filings.
On both counts she went away empty-handed, not because her husband’s lawyers outgunned her counsel, but because the law in British Columbia simply does not support the relief she sought.
In the case of the wine collection, it is unusual for a court to order the sale of family property before a trial, unless the parties both agree. Mrs. Aquilini wanted the proceeds of sale to pay for the litigation, however, in British Columbia, a court will not order an advance of family monies to pay a lawyer. A court may order that funds be advanced to hire an accountant or business valuator to value family assets, but the parties had already engaged accounting professionals to do that work.
Mrs. Aquilini’s divorce documents cite adultery as a reason for the breakdown of the marriage, a plea that is rarely invoked in modern divorce litigation. Now, it’s not that adultery has waned as a factor in divorce, it’s simply because it is much “cleaner” to divorce on the basis that the parties have been separated for one year.
When Canadian divorces were grounded in “fault”, either adultery or physical or mental cruelty, courts were regaled with graphic testimony from private detectives, paramours and other unruly scoundrels, a distasteful situation for all. Once divorce based on separation was enacted, judges gradually determined they did not need to have the “dirt dished”, a legal climate that prevails today.
Thus, Mrs. Aquilini’s application to force her husband to provide the gritty details was a non-starter.
So why would a litigant ask for orders that he or she is unlikely to obtain? Welcome to the world of high-conflict divorce, where legal sparring is de rigueur, where spouses seek to gain any advantage they can, even when the odds are against them, just because they need to win, even when they can’t.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang