Hunt v Worrod, 2017 ONSC 7397 (“Capacity to Marry”)

The following is a summary of an Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision exploring what capacity to marry is and how it applies to a case involving a man who suffered massive brain injury as a result of an ATV accident. Capacity to marry is demonstrated through an understanding of the legal obligations and consequences of marriage. Here, extensive medical evidence, medical testimony and witness testimony were relied upon to determine whether the applicant - who had suffered the injury - sufficiently understood the nature and consequences of the marriage contract. Introduction The parties to this dispute are:

  • Kevin Hunt [“Hunt”] – a 50-year-old man who suffered a severe brain injury – and his Court appointed guardians and sons Bradley James Hunt [“James”] and Justin Abraham Hunt [“Justin”], as well as

  • Kathleen Anne Worrod [“Worrod”] Hunt’s on-and-off-again girlfriend turned wife


Questions the Court Considered The Court had to consider whether Hunt had the capacity to marry Worrod. Subsequent to this first issue, the Court had to answer one of two sub-questions:

  • If Hunt lacked the capacity to marry on the day in question, is the marriage void?

  • If Hunt did have the capacity to marry Worrod, would the marriage be void based on the equitable doctrine of unconscionability or unjust enrichment?

In addition, the Court had to address the question of whether Worrod had an entitlement to the home owned by Hunt as a result of the marriage. Finally, the Court was asked to render a decision on whether a restraining order prohibiting contact and communication between Hunt and Worrod should be issued.

Facts of the Case

Hunt and Worrod met online in 2009 and were involved in “an on again, off again relationship”.1 After a year of dating, they co-signed an agreement of purchase and sale for a home. As their relationship deteriorated, Hunt and Worrod prepared and signed a Property Settlement Agreement using an online template. . This document (which was witnessed) outlined the terms and conditions under which Hunt subsequently purchased Worrod’s interest in the house.

On June 18, 2011, Hunt was involved in an ATV accident and suffered a “catastrophic brain injury”.2 He was in a coma for 18 days and underwent “extensive” rehabilitation.3 On October 21, 2011, Hunt was discharged from the hospital and went to his residence in Novar, Ontario where he was under the care of his sons. On October 24, 2011, James and Justin discovered Hunt was missing and began to worry as he had left without his medication. On the morning of October 24, Worrod’s uncle drove Hunt to Collingwood, Ontario where “arrangements had been made” for Hunt and Worrod to marry.4 By the time the sons arrived, the wedding had already occurred. While the wedding was attended by members of Worrod’s family, no members of Hunt’s family or friends were in attendance, or even aware of the wedding.

Sources of Law

Relevant Legislation on the matter of capacity to marry

The Marriage Act prohibits the issuing of a marriage license or performing of a marriage ceremony for an individual, who there are “reasonable grounds to believe, lacks the mental capacity to marry”. 5

Relevant Case law

The British Columbia Court of Appeal outlined the mental capacity requirement for marriage in Ross-Scott v. Potvin as “a person is capable of entering into a marriage contract only if he or she has the capacity to understand the nature of the contract and duties and responsibilities it creates”.6 The Court in that decision held that an inference of mental capacity can be made from the individual’s ability to “manage themselves and their affairs”.7

Although provincial court decisions from other jurisdictions are not legally binding, they are nevertheless persuasive and an important source of guidance for Ontario courts.

Rationale for Decision

The Medical Evidence

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice relied on extensive expert medical testimony, medical reports, and witness testimony to determine whether Hunt had the necessary capacity to marry. Due to the circumstances surrounding Hunt’s injury, the Court had access to medical opinions and reports based on evaluations conducted both before and after the wedding day from an array of professionals, including a psychologist, psychiatrist, and speech language pathologist. . The medical professionals overwhelmingly agreed that Hunt sustained significant cognitive impairments and suffered deficits in executive function (decision-making ability) and a lack of understanding of his own cognitive impairments, suggesting an inability to “infer consequences of events”8. In addition, a capacity assessor concluded – prior to the day of the wedding – that Hunt lacked the capacity to both manage property and personal care. A subsequent medical report indicated that Hunt described his relationship with Worrod as “confusing and complicated” and was unable to recall details about the wedding day.9 The speech and language pathologist observed that Hunt had difficulty retaining verbal information, and demonstrated “moderate to severe cognitive communication deficits”.10 A psychologist concluded from the information outlined above that Hunt lacked the capacity to marry on the day of the wedding due to damage to his frontal lobe , which made him unable to appreciate the consequences of marriage.11

Witness Testimony

The sons’ testimonies corroborated that Hunt was unaware of the injuries he had sustained and how they impacted his cognitive and physical abilities. A close friend of Hunt’s testified that following the accident Hunt was “slower mentally and physically”.12 Hunt testified that he did not know why he wanted to marry Worrod and expressed confusion over whether they were still married. He also stated that he had no part in planning the wedding and did not remember how he proposed nor who had picked him up the morning of the wedding.

Worrod’s witnesses (herself and family members) said that Hunt appeared well and self-aware, testifying to the following:


  • Hunt “did not seem confused at the wedding” and “made a thank you speech to everyone after the ceremony”.13 (Worrod)

  • Following his accident Hunt expressed his eagerness to marry Worrod.14 (Worrod’s daughter)

  • Hunt requested to be picked up and that Hunt “appeared happy, was smiling and joking around, and clearly wanted to get married”.15 (Worrod’s uncle)

  • Hunt “appeared excited to get married” on the day of the wedding.16 (Worrod’s aunt)

Conclusions

The Court held Hunt lacked the “requisite mental capacity to marry” on October 24, 201117, and declared the marriage to be void ab initio (from the beginning, as if it never existed). The evidence provided by the appellants overwhelmingly corroborated the conclusion that Hunt “lacked the ability to understand the responsibilities or consequences arising from a marriage”.18 Hunt’s inability to manage property and personal care was found to be suggestive of an incapacity to marry. The Court rejected the evidence presented by Worrod and her family, which was in stark contrast to the medical evidence. Hunt was found to not have understood the nature of the marriage contract into which he entered, and the legal obligations implicated in entering that contract.

In addition, despite Worrod’s claim that the Property Settlement Agreement was not properly executed and thus invalid, the Court held the agreement was legally enforceable and Hunt was the sole owner of the property.

Further, the Court found Worrod’s continued communication with Hunt, during which it was established she attempted to persuade Hunt to lose trust in his sons, hindered the efforts of the sons in caring for their father. The Court issued a permanent non-communication order.

34 views0 comments