July 22, 2024
Property

Businessman dealt double blow in property rights court battle with ex-wife | News


A Jamaican businessman who tried to deny his Trinidadian ex-wife a 50 per cent interest in a St Andrew family home they had purchased together and who also sought a court order for her to pay him occupational rent from 2016, claiming she had put him out of the house, was left disappointed after the Supreme Court ruled in the woman’s favour.

The businessman, defendant Steve Hanna, also unsuccessfully sought to challenge his wife’s 50 per cent claim in a rental property in downtown Kingston, which was gifted to the couple by the husband’s father. The couple met in 2000 while the claimant, Janet, was visiting the island, and later got married in September 2003.

However, Justice Althea Jarrett, in the judgment handed down earlier this month, not only ruled that Janet was entitled to an equal share of the property, but ordered that she be paid half of the rental from November 2016, the year the couple separated, to date when the property is sold or her interest is purchased. The property, which is rented to a bookshop, earns over US$5,000 monthly.

Pertaining to the order for rent, Steve wanted his ex-wife to pay him occupational rent, and through his lawyer, Kevin Williams, argued that she was the one who had ousted him from the home, and as a result, was responsible for paying rent. His lawyer disclosed that his client has been paying US$12,000 monthly for rent.

However, the court accepted the claimant’s lawyer Gordon Steer’s argument that the defendant’s removal from the house was consensual and that Steve, in a separate custody and maintenance proceeding, had indicated his position that he wished for the children to remain at the house with their mother. The court also accepted that there was no evidence that the defendant was barred from returning to the home.

RULING

The judge, in arriving at a ruling on the issue of rent and considering the defendant’s position that his wife should pay him half of the rent for occupying the home with their children, was of the view that it would not be just and equitable for the claimant to pay the occupational rent as she was a parent at home who was shouldering the daily responsibility for the children.

The businessman, in challenging his ex-wife’s 50 per cent interest in the Kingston 8, Waterworks Crescent, home, claimed that she was not entitled to an equal share as his father had contributed a substantial portion of the funds to purchase the home and had a beneficial interest. However, the court found that there was no evidence to support his claim.

With respect to the other property, he contended that his father and his uncle, who were the owners of the property, had intended for it to remain in the Hanna family and was to be his and his cousin’s inheritance.

According to him, he had no intention of giving his wife the property or part of it and that she was aware that she had no beneficial interest in the property.

The defendant further claimed that his wife’s name was only added to the title because she nagged him to do so.

The court, however, ruled that the transfer of the property by Steve’s father and uncle was by way of gift to the couple as joint tenants.

Noting that the transferors were seasoned businessmen, the judge described the transfer as “a perfect gift” while adding that “the transferors could have transferred the property solely to the defendant if they wished to do so and if the intention was for him to benefit solely”.

Janet, who had filed the claim under the Property (Rights of Spouses) Act 2004 (PROSA), also sought to obtain a declaration for an entitlement to 48 per cent of shares in S.H.H. Worldwide Trading company operated by her ex-husband.

The claimant, in her affidavit, said that the company was jointly owned by her and her ex-husband, and as a result, she was allotted 48 per cent of the company’s 200,000 shares. She also contended that she worked in the company as an accountant, collection officer, and other roles throughout the marriage while managing the household and caring for the children.

At the same time, she said she was never paid a salary although she worked from Monday to Friday, and it was recorded in the company books that she received a salary. She also said that she did not receive any share in the company’s profits.

YEARLY VISITS

The claimant said before the marriage, she used to visit three to four times yearly and was involved in the business.

However, the defendant, who said he was a director, denied her involvement in the business, claiming that she played no part in the running of the company. He said that although she was one of the company’s two directors, she was never employed and that the monthly $600,000 she was given to run the house came from the business.

Further, he said the company was not owned by them and that he was not aware of her taking home any of the company’s work. He said, however, that towards the end of the marriage, she did a few tasks but was neither effective nor efficient.

He also denied that she did any domestic work in the home, noting that she had a full-time helper and gardener.

However, although the defendant could not say if the claimant owned the shares or if the company’s document recorded the allotment, the company’s annual return for 2017 showed that she owned 96,000 shares, which the defendant claimed was not accurate.

The judge, however, refused her request for declaration for ownership of the shares and profits on the grounds that any interest in the company ought to have been properly made out against the company and that the company should have been properly joined as a party in the claim.

Williams had argued that the Kingston 8 property was not a family home because it was not solely owned by the couple. He submitted that his client’s father had a beneficial interest in the property because of his contribution and that it would be unjust to find that the house was the family home.

Steer, who represented the claimant along with Abigail Heslop, argued that the Kingston 8 property was in fact the family home and that there was no factor to justify a departure from the equal-share rule. He also pointed out that the defendant’s father was not a party to the proceedings, and further, that when parents contribute to the purchase of a matrimonial home, the inference is that the gift is given to the couple.

As it relates to the other property, he argued that his client was entitled to an equal share in the property and the rental income. He added that the property was never the defendant’s to give to the claimant or to add her name to the transfer.

The judge, in arriving at her rulings, found several inconsistencies in the defendant’s pleadings and his responses under cross- examination and ultimately found that he was not credible.

tanesha.mundle@gleanerjm.com



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