I see another full-blown Rockcliffe marital meltdown is headed for trial at the Elgin Street courthouse.
Bruce Acland, tennis-mad supremo of long distance minutes reseller Selectcom, and his erstwhile bride, Leah Mowers, artist, photographer and lady-who lunches, pulled the plug on their conspicuously consumptive good life in 2012.
The delightful couple, both 49, married in 1994 and had attained the whole proverbial package: put three kids through Ashbury College, built their million-dollar pile in Rockcliffe, bought the chalet in Mont. Ste Marie and the beach house in North Carolina.
Leah managed their stable of rental properties, between driving the kids to hockey, piano, horseback riding and gymnastics, and her duties on Ashbury’s parents, sports and gala committees. Bruce terrorized the Rockcliffe Lawn Tennis Club and grew sleek and prosperous in a deregulated telecom industry.
What went wrong? The “Respondent has committed adultery” box remains WASPily unchecked in Leah’s family court application form, but she notes in an affidavit that, “in 2011, I discovered the Respondent was having an affair.”
Bruce moved out, but “after ten days of separation, the Respondent begged for forgiveness and we eventually reconciled, and he returned to the house to live until October 2012.”
They fought the good Punch’n’Judy fight in couples therapy, but Bruce eventually decamped in favour of a rented townhouse and his extra-marital legover, whose name escapes me. Leah stayed put at 13 Rockcliffe Way, which remains in Bruce’s name. The arrangement, he claims, was always meant to be temporary.
“However, after the Respondent moved out of the home, she informed the Respondent that he could not return to live in the matrimonial home and she brought a motion for interim exclusive possession of the matrimonial home, which was resolved on consent. The Respondent was deceived by the Applicant.”
Bruce had even at one point mooted a two-estate solution, with plenty of room for both parties to live without having to even see one another. The 3200-square foot house, after all, with five bedrooms and four bathrooms on four levels, “is compartmentalized allowing for privacy and separate areas or zones.”
That went nowhere with Leah, and now that the kids, Jeremy (just turning 22), Emma (20) and Bianca (18), have all moved out for UBC and U of T, Bruce is keen to wrest back possession of the house. He’s also seeking $4,000 a month in rent from Oct. 1 to the date of sale or Leah’s eviction. Leah, for her part, wants the house and to have the chalet and beach house declared matrimonial homes as well.
Also a matter of raging dispute is Bruce’s actual income, ranging, according to his 2009 to 20012 tax returns, from $197,190 to $280,034.
Of course the tax-efficient whoppers one tells CRA and one’s actual circumstances are two different matters, and Bruce and Leah jointly hired a bean counter, Steve Pittman of Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton LLP, to plumb the family’s corporate underbelly, including Selectcom, holding company Falcon Telecom and the family trust.
Pittman pegged Bruce’s actual take-home at $380,036 to $456,092 over the same period, which Bruce found a little rich:
“The Respondent did not agree with Mr. Pittman’s conclusions as to his income, and therefore retained an independent expert, Patricia Day of Ginsberg, Gluzman, Fage and Levitz LLP, to review and critique Mr. Pittman’s reports. Ms. Day has concluded that the Respondent earns an annual income of approximately $227,000 for support purposes, which includes money paid to the Applicant.”
And the long-distance resale and, er, landline biz, Bruce kvetches, ain’t what it used to be: “In recent years, the consumer and commercial marketplace has changed dramatically due to three principal factors; migration to other technologies (email, cellular, VOIP, etc), severe end user price compression due to competitive factors and suppliers that have either stopped selling to resellers or raised their prices prohibitively.”
“Selectcom,” Bruce claims, “is in the last phase of its viability as a business.”
Leah meanwhile, subsists on an annual stipend of about $120,000 from Selectcom. She claims her reduced circumstances have taken their toll:
“As a result of the parties’ separation, Leah has suffered a decrease in her standard of living. Prior to separation, Leah took regular vacations, ate at expensive restaurants and spent a significant amount on her wardrobe. She cannot maintain this standard of living on any income she could reasonably earn.”
As a high-school grad who hasn’t worked outside the home since the kids were born, she rates her employment prospects poor, and she’s further held back, your honour, by “medical setbacks including suffering from recurring periods of depression and anxiety since learning of Bruce’s affair and since the separation for which she has had, and is undergoing treatment.”
Bullshit, claims Bruce: “The Applicant is able to work. She is active in other aspects of her life.
“The Applicant has travelled extensively since the separation, including frequent travel to North American destinations such as Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, New York City, Washington D.C., and travel to international destinations such as Mexico, Ethiopia and Tanzania. During one of these trips, the Applicant climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, which is a challenging endeavour that requires dedication, focus and general good health.
“The Applicant has pursued various hobbies since separation, including yoga teacher training, which requires good health and physical fitness. She plays tennis three times a week.”
As for the whole style-to-which-she’s-become accustomed soft-shoe, Bruce points out that for most of their marriage the couple lived as commoners in Aylmer, “where most of their friends were in what would have been considered low to middle income ranges. The Rockcliffe home was completed in 2008 and was the first ‘high-end’ trapping of their lifestyle.”
Post movin’-on-up, Bruce alleges, Leah went all Marlen Cowpland on him:
“The Applicant abandoned the earlier more conservative spending habits and began to insist on the finest of everything in an effort to keep up with her new social set. She was intent on climbing the social ladder, regardless of the expense, or the effect on her marriage and family.”
Leah initially lawyered up with Mary Jane Binks (Augustine Bater Binks LLP), who has repped the ex-wives of, among others, Sens coach Jacques Martin and cross-dressing serial killer Col. Russell Williams.
As hostilities mounted over the valuation report in December 2013, Leah switched to Katherine Shadbolt of Perley Robertson Hill McDougall LLP.
Bruce’s briefs were initially carried by Paul Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald Family Law), but in March, he traded up to Carol Crawford (Franks passim, sine praejudicio).
Readers may recall the top-dollar Gowlings legalist from Michael Potter’s extended quagmires with ex-wives Alana Kainz and Veronique Dhieux. Frank vividly recalls just one 2012 skirmish between Potter and Dhieux over which school their daughter would attend that fall.
At issue was whether Lilli would stay at Lycee Claudel, the tony private euro-trash academy, as per Veronique’s plans, or, as Mike preferred, join her half-sisters Michaela and Tennyson at Elmwood School for Girls with Ponies.
Elmwood – and Michael — prevailed, and he subsequently presented a $289,946 bill for costs and asked the court to stick it to Veronique. Judge Stanley Kershman raised a learned eyebrow at the 750 hours claimed by Crawford and underlings (and her hourly rate of $420) and chopped the award down to $78,028.
Despite Crawford and Shadbolt’s best efforts so far, settlement conferences in September failed to produce a lasting peace, and the Acland-Mowers are scheduled for trial November 16.
Good seats still available.