Love and War in the House of McCain: inside the divorce that exposed the famous family’s deepest secrets
Love and War in the House of McCain: inside the divorce that exposed the famous family’s deepest secrets
Love and War in the House of McCain: inside the divorce that exposed the famous family’s deepest secrets
Christine and Michael McCain seemed like the perfect couple, with an uptown mansion, five well-adjusted kids and a circle of powerful friends—until Christine announced she wanted out
Two years ago, on a family vacation in Mustique, Christine McCain told her husband that she wanted out of their marriage. Michael was shocked by the announcement and wanted to discuss her unhappiness right then and there, but Christine resisted. She didn’t want to argue while on holiday with their five kids.
Michael and Chris (as she is called by family and friends) had built a significant profile for themselves over their 15-plus years in Toronto. Michael was a scion of the McCain Foods empire and the CEO of Maple Leaf Foods. As a couple, he and Chris were prominent members of the city’s establishment, regularly hosting tables at fundraising galas and throwing lavish parties at their Teddington Park home. They’d donated millions to organizations like SickKids and CAMH. When Maple Leaf Foods endured a listeriosis crisis in 2008, leaving 23 dead, Michael issued a heartfelt apology, took responsibility for the disaster, and instantly became a business school case study in model crisis management. He and Chris were a formidable husband and wife team, and the prospect of breaking up that partnership was unfathomable to him.
Over the next four months, they tried to sort out their differences. Michael enlisted the help of a marriage counsellor. Though Chris agreed to the counselling, she thought it was pointless: in family court documents, she says that her husband was too controlling and that she was no longer attracted to him. On June 25, 2011, she made it clear to Michael that the marriage was over. Five days later, he moved out of the family home.
Sometime over the next month, when Chris was trying to determine how much financial support she was entitled to, she dug up her marriage contract. She’d been asked to sign it at the behest of Michael’s father, Wallace, who wanted to protect his assets and ensure his fortune would be passed down through generations of his bloodline, not fragmented by divorce.
Under its terms, Chris was entitled to the matrimonial home, valued at approximately $10 million, as well as a lump sum payment of $7 million, less the $300,000 she was given as a kind of signing bonus after the contract was executed. There would be no equalization of property or ongoing spousal support. For the vast majority of Torontonians, a $17-million payout would be like winning the lottery. But Michael’s income that year was $9.6 million; he was worth an estimated $500 million. If it weren’t for the contract, Chris would have been entitled to plenty more.
Chris and Michael had always maintained a privileged lifestyle (a “fantastic lifestyle,” in Chris’s words) and were known among their friends as big spenders. Their annual household budget, which covered a half-dozen or so staff and the operation and maintenance of multiple vacation homes and an 80-foot yacht, was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2.5 million. If she kept living as she had been, Chris would blow through her one-time settlement in less than 10 years. Faced with that reality, she decided to fight it out.
At one time, Michael and Chris McCain were considered the perfect couple. Tall, good-looking, athletic, wealthy—they had everything going for them. They met as teens in Florenceville, New Brunswick, otherwise known as “the french fry capital of the world.” Michael’s family was far and away the biggest employer in the county; Chris was the daughter of Clayton and Maureen Buckingham, owners of Buckingham’s Department Store and good friends of the McCain family. Chris and Michael’s union was like something out of a fairy tale: the ambitious young prince marries the prettiest maiden in the village.
McCain Foods dates back to the mid-1950s, when two brothers, Harrison and Wallace McCain, opened their first frozen french fry plant. They started with $30,000 apiece, plus $20,000 each from their two older brothers, Bob and Andrew. The company remains private to this day, and descendants of the four founders dominate the board. McCain Foods now has 46 factories worldwide, employs 18,000 people and takes in $7 billion in annual revenue. One in every three french fries sold around the world is a McCain fry.
Harrison and Wallace lived next door to each other on Riverview Drive, a stretch that came to be referred to as Executive Row. Harrison and his wife, Marion (known as Billie), the daughter of the former New Brunswick premier John McNair, had five children: Mark, Ann, Peter, Laura and Gillian. Wallace and Margaret (the daughter of a mining engineer and a Liberal senator, known to friends as Margie) had four: Scott, Michael, Martha and Eleanor. Both Harrison and Wallace were larger-than-life characters, dynamic and fearless. Billie was an elegant woman, private and reserved, while Margie was an indomitable force, known around town as something of a busybody and a gossip.
Michael, who showed a keen interest in business, was anointed early on as the child who would one day take over in the family company for his father. He attended Mount Allison University, the alma mater of his parents and generations of Margie’s family, and got his business degree at Western University. Then, like many of the McCain children, he returned to Florenceville to take his place among the ranks at McCain Foods. He worked his way up in the company, doing sales, sales management and marketing, while learning the operations side of the business under the wing of his father. The two were extremely close and spoke on the phone nearly every morning up until Wallace’s death in 2011.
After Chris and Michael married on August 15, 1981, they lived in a renovated Victorian on Executive Row. For Wallace and Margie, Chris was the ideal daughter-in-law. She was kind, outgoing and beautiful. She was also known for her almost superhuman drive. According to one friend, she was “wild with energy,” the type of person who, after putting her young children down for a nap, would jump in the pool and swim 100 laps. She played tennis with Wallace and bridge with Margie and was at the centre of Florenceville’s tight-knit social circle. Her bubbly, unpretentious personality was a nice counterpoint to Michael’s seriousness and intensity.
In 1986, a year after the birth of his first child, Jonathan, Michael was named president of McCain Citrus, the company’s U.S. juice operation. The following year, while Chris was pregnant with their daughter Lauren, the family moved to a huge house with a pool in Hinsdale, a wealthy suburb just west of Chicago and not far from McCain’s U.S. headquarters in Lisle, Illinois. Michael devoted himself to the company, working six 12-to-15-hour days a week while Chris took care of their kids. While in Chicago, the couple had three more: Hilary, Scott and Hannah.
Meanwhile, back home in Florenceville, tension was growing within the McCain family. Wallace and Margie lobbied for Michael to eventually take over as CEO, but Harrison was skeptical. In 1990, Wallace appointed Michael CEO of the entire McCain Foods U.S. division, a move Harrison disapproved of. According to sources close to the family, Harrison (and many of the extended McCain clan) didn’t like Michael. They found him overly ambitious and self-interested. The ensuing feud was a pivotal moment for Wallace, Margie and their children—one that would define the family dynamic for the next two decades.
The battle over the multi-billion-dollar company eventually made its way before a Fredericton judge. During 10 weeks of arbitration hearings, Wallace and Margie lived in a Fredericton hotel suite, while Harrison commuted by jet from Florenceville. The two brothers’ legal fees reached a reported $20 million. In October 1994, Wallace lost his bid for McCain Foods and was removed as co-CEO. (He retained his share of the company.)
Margie, who had just begun a three-year term as the province’s lieutenant-governor, stayed in Fredericton, where she lived in her government residence. But Wallace left almost immediately and rented a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto, taking his personal chef with him. In Toronto, he embarked on a comeback plan, eventually acquiring the struggling Maple Leaf Foods in a $1.2-billion leveraged buyout that was partly bankrolled by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Michael helped out with the deal, flying back and forth between Chicago and Toronto. Once Harrison became aware that his brother and nephews were planning to build a food empire of their own, he fired Michael. Scott, who was VP in charge of production at McCain, resigned. When the Maple Leaf deal closed in April 1995, Wallace’s family holding company, McCain Capital, owned 32 per cent and Teachers’ owned 35. Michael was installed as COO of Maple Leaf, while Wallace became chairman. Scott was made vice-president of Maple Leaf’s agribusiness division.
Wallace bought a house on Thornwood Road in Rosedale. Michael and Chris bought their mansion in Teddington Park, on Riverview Drive—the same name, coincidentally, as their Executive Row street in Florenceville—overlooking the Rosedale Golf Club. Scott, his wife, Trish, and their three children moved to Lawrence Park.
Wallace and Margie were forever changed by the falling out with the rest of the family. Wallace became distrustful and anxious about his wealth and what his legacy would be. Margie became what one family friend described as a “manic image builder,” determined to emerge as a smarter, more generous, more perfect version of the New Brunswick branch of the McCains. The couple established themselves as a philanthropic force in Toronto. Over the next 15 years, they would donate more than $100 million to such institutions as CAMH, the National Ballet, and St. Michael’s and Princess Margaret hospitals. They also established the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation, which supports early childhood development programs.
Michael has described his relationship with his parents as “intense,” and according to sources, the parents exercised a great deal of control over their children. Every Christmas Eve and Day were spent in the company of Margie and Wallace, regardless of competing offers from in-laws. The McCains had a private compound in Jamaica, where their children and grandchildren would congregate every New Year’s. The grandchildren loved their grandparents and enjoyed the privileges and perks bestowed on them, but for the parents, the generosity came at a cost.
Margie chose which school her granddaughters would attend—Havergal, her alma mater—and devoted herself to choreographing all aspects of the family’s public profile. Every spring and fall, she would send bags of children’s clothes to her daughters-in-law, dictating her grandchildren’s wardrobe for the season. When the grandchildren were young, Wallace and Margie would organize yearly weekend getaways to a resort outside the city. But the get-togethers were more corporate retreat than family reunion. Over the course of the weekend, the McCain adults would meet about family business, while the grandchildren would take part in team-building and entrepreneurial exercises with hired consultants, who would teach them about the responsibilities of being board members and how to manage their money. They’d be given pretend dollars with which to build a make-believe business, an enterprise they’d pitch in a presentation later that evening before the parents.
Soon after the fallout with Harrison and the purchase of Maple Leaf Foods, Wallace engaged in some intricate estate planning. It was in the late fall of 1996 that he imposed a marriage contract on Michael and Chris. They were told that if they didn’t sign the documents, Michael would be cut out of Wallace’s estate. Michael’s siblings and their spouses were asked to sign similar contracts.
For Chris, the contract was a complete surprise and, in her words, “hurtful.” But she signed it anyway, because, as she says, she always did what her husband asked her to do. Chris claims Michael reassured her that whatever happened in their relationship, she would always be looked after.
In his financial disclosure at the time, Michael put his net worth at $3,218,673.76, making Chris’s entitlement to $7 million plus the family home seem more than fair. With the signing of the marriage contract, however, Michael took control of the family holding company, McCain Capital, which in turn controlled the family’s interests in Maple Leaf Foods and McCain Foods. Michael was a beneficiary of the Wallace McCain Family Trust, the Margaret Norrie McCain Family Trust and the GWF Holding Trust. The trusts were discretionary, meaning that any financial interest for Michael was entirely contingent upon he and Chris signing the contract. His net worth after the signing ballooned.
Two years later, in 1999, Michael was promoted to CEO of Maple Leaf Foods.
If Michael and Chris enjoyed a fantastic lifestyle in Chicago, their first decade in Toronto was even more ostentatious. They acquired a cottage near Honey Harbour on Georgian Bay, then bought a few more properties nearby to create a family compound. They went on dozens of trips every year, not only to the McCains’ Jamaica property, but to other exotic locations, as well, for business and pleasure. Between November 2010 and June 2011, Chris went on two trips to the Grenadines (by private jet), to a yoga retreat in California, to the British Virgin Islands for a long weekend (again by private jet), to Barcelona for a week with her daughter, on that week-long trip to Mustique (at a cost of $90,000), to New York (again by private jet) for a Saturday Night Live taping and again for a Stella McCartney fashion show, and on a trip to Tampa, Florida. The couple also spent at least three weeks a year aboard their 80-foot yacht, the Inukshuk, which has four staterooms and a three-person crew (captain, chef and deck hand). The boat was custom-built in Finland for over $7 million, and Chris oversaw the interior design. When the family wasn’t using it, the yacht could be chartered for about $40,000 a week. The annual maintenance costs are approximately $400,000.
The couple were generous—especially Chris, who does everything in the extreme. “She’s always been quirky and over the top,” says one friend. “If she was decorating for Christmas, and she could put up 15 trees instead of five, she’d go for it.” The couple threw parties at their house catered by North 44 or À la Carte Kitchen, and regularly hosted up to 35 people at their Georgian Bay compound on weekends. Chris pegged her clothing budget at the time at $240,000 a year. (Michael’s was about $50,000.) They spent $45,000 a year on fresh flowers.
The extravagance became a source of tension between the couple in their last few years together, when Michael started worrying about their finances. In December 2007, he took out a $4.7-million mortgage against their Riverview Drive home. The following February, he mortgaged two of the family’s cottages for a total of $2.5 million. Michael says the money went to pay down some of the debt he and Chris had recently incurred, but it also went to cover the purchase of two more cottages.
Chris and Michael showed little restraint during the 2008 celebration of their joint 50th birthdays, when they threw a party at the Sound Academy that included goodie baskets, a performance by Great Big Sea and a lobster dinner for 130 guests. The cover of the invitation featured the year 1958, accompanied by the words, “A simpler time when girls with kiss curls and boys with rat-tail combs danced to Paul Anka’s ‘Crazy Love,’ Sputniks were flying, hula hoops and 45s were spinning.” Then inside, “Join Michael and Chris McCain for a Maritime celebration of all those born in 1958.”
The guest list included friends and family from out east, along with a who’s who of Toronto’s wealthy expat Maritimers—Frank and Julie McKenna, Purdy and Beatrice Crawford, Richard and Beth Currie. There were old pals—Richard Lan, Michael’s close friend and the CEO of Maple Leaf subsidiary Canada Bread—as well as new-found business acquaintances, like Royal Bank of Canada CEO Gord Nixon and Woodbridge president Geoff Beattie. It was a casual yet extravagant affair, in keeping with the McCains’ dual East Coast–Toronto personalities. In hindsight, it was also the apex of their golden years in Toronto.
Around this time, Michael came under considerable pressure at work, faced with what he once described in a speech as a “series of cascading obstacles.” The Canadian dollar had risen from 65 cents to parity—a hit to Canadian exporters. Commodity prices, too, were on the rise: the cost of wheat had jumped 60 per cent in a year, a serious squeeze on his company’s profit margins, which, like any food business, were thin to begin with. Maple Leaf shareholders became restless. Then, on August 16, 2008, in the midst of the global financial crisis and a month before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, listeria was discovered at the Maple Leaf Foods facility in North York. It was the biggest test of Michael’s business career.
In the spring of 2009, another blow: Wallace was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Michael appears to have dealt with some of this stress by concentrating on issues at home. According to Chris, Michael was the type of father who, while on family vacation, would draft an itinerary outlining the day’s schedule. He was also prone to sitting the children down to discuss “family values.” In August of that year, he drafted a four-page document called Providing the Foundations of an Independent Life, which he distributed to his kids. It outlined his and Chris’s shared values (honesty, respect, hard work, helping others) and warned against the corrosive effect of entitlement. He stated that one of his objectives was to prepare his kids for the “benefits and burdens of wealth.”
While Chris agreed with the principles her husband espoused, she felt that they were already instilled in their kids, who were well on their way to being independent. Today, the three eldest children have careers of their own: Jonathan owns a scaffolding company in Toronto; Lauren is a marketing manager for Pepsi in London, England; Hilary is a management consultant in Toronto. The two youngest, Scott and Hannah, are still in university. Family friends say the children are all hard workers with solid values. “To say they were never spoiled would be silly,” says one friend. “They have their own cars; they shop at Holt Renfrew. They’re rich kids, but they’re understated rich kids.”
In the year leading up to Chris’s decision to leave Michael, the couple went from crisis to crisis, all while maintaining their demanding family, business and social schedules. Teachers’ announced it was selling a 10 per cent stake in Maple Leaf Foods to an activist shareholder, an inauspicious sign for investors. And in November, Chris’s father, Clayton, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for years, finally succumbed to the disease. That same month, Teachers’ sold its remaining shares in Maple Leaf, at a deep discount. All of the external stressors were exacerbated by Michael’s increasing concerns about money and his own father’s deteriorating health. By the end of 2010, the couple fought more often and appeared to be growing apart.
On January 13, 2011, Michael sent Chris an email with an attachment laying out certain issues he felt they needed to discuss. He mentioned his concern that Chris was “leading [the children] to handle serious situations and the realities of life in what many could see as a privileged world of party and entitlement.” They had both been “spending money like drunken sailors and needed to own this,” he wrote, “and you have ignored this call to action.”
But after the couple’s fight in Mustique a month later, Michael shifted his focus away from their joint financial issues to Chris’s own spending habits and, increasingly, to her mental state.
Michael claims Chris’s personality beganto change around the time her father died, and he attributed the changes to a mood disorder. He was convinced this was the cause of their breakup and said he was not only concerned about her well being, but also, as he put it, her “capacity to effectively manage a significant amount of money.” If he was going to hand over close to $7 million owed to her under the contract, it would be on the condition that the money be placed in a trust and managed by professionals.
Michael was worth an estimated $500 million.
If it weren’t for their marriage contract, Christine would have been entitled to plenty more than her $17-million payout
Michael went to great lengths to try to repair the relationship. First he arranged for marriage counselling with a San Diego–based family therapist named Cloé Madanes, who, in addition to her therapy practice, runs a company with the life coach Tony Robbins, called the Robbins-Madanes Center for Strategic Intervention. Michael and Chris met with Madanes, both together and separately, in San Diego and Toronto, over the course of 10 days, to the tune of $95,000 (not including travel). Chris says she didn’t see the need to fly to California when there are plenty of great therapists in Toronto. She also appeared to dismiss Madanes’s input, saying, “Quite frankly, I felt I knew the situation better than she did.”
Michael also enlisted the help of David Goldbloom, an acquaintance through CAMH and something of a celebrity psychiatrist for Toronto’s rich and powerful. (Michael had recently co-chaired the hospital’s $100-million capital campaign, to which his family contributed $2 million.) In April 2011, during a birthday brunch for his son at the family home, Michael had Goldbloom drop by and engage Chris in conversation to try to determine whether she showed signs of a mood disorder. Unable to make a diagnosis on the fly, Goldbloom suggested that Chris meet with a colleague of his, a psychiatrist named Arun Ravindran, who runs the mood and anxiety disorders program at CAMH. Chris agreed to meet with Ravindran, hoping to put Michael’s complaints to rest. She also met with Goldbloom again.
A month after the birthday brunch, at the age of 81, Wallace McCain died. Despite their private grievances, Michael and Chris arrived together at the funeral, which was held at the family church, St. Paul’s Anglican on Bloor. Long-time family friend Frank McKenna delivered the eulogy, and the entire service was simultaneously broadcast to two churches in Florenceville. In his own speech, Michael referred to Wallace as his parent, mentor, boss, business partner and best friend. Forbes magazine pegged Wallace’s personal fortune that year at $2.3 billion.
Michael says he regrets not being more attuned to the emotional toll the family deaths had on Chris. He became convinced she was exhibiting hypomania—a disorder characterized by, among other things, racing thoughts, excessive energy levels and erratic behaviour, such as out-of-control spending. Neither of the consulted doctors made a conclusive diagnosis, but they didn’t conduct full assessments.
Michael tried to involve friends and family—even his kids—in some sort of intervention with Chris. A couple of months after his father died, he sent a mass email explaining their marital problems and the reasons behind their separation. He also suggested she was unwell:
I have loved this woman for 34 years. I still do. All I want now is for her to be healthy and happy. This is spiraling out of control…
I am helpless [and] alone dealing with this.
The only hope here (not for her relationship with me, but for herself) is a full-scale intervention jointly and simultaneously by her brother, her sister, her two closest friends and her two oldest children. I would urge you to do this collaboratively sooner rather than later before something bad happens of her own making…
Soon after their split, Michael paid a visit to Tim Penner, the former president of Procter & Gamble Canada, and his wife Pat. Pat is Chris’s best friend, and the Penners spent quite a bit of time with the McCains. According to Pat, Michael had prepared a slide show presentation to help educate her and her husband on hypomania. She says Michael was intent on convincing Chris to go on lithium, telling her it was a neutral drug, that it wouldn’t harm her and that it would be irresponsible to not take it. (Chris, who is drug-averse and claims to have never taken so much as an aspirin in her life, refused.) Pat says that, apart from being sad over her separation and humiliated by Michael’s attempts to brand her as ill, Chris has never shown any change in her behaviour—or spending habits.
Another family friend points out how strange it is that Chris’s excessive energy—which was such an asset to the McCain family while she was busy raising five kids, taking care of the household and constantly entertaining friends, family and business associates—should suddenly become a liability at the moment when she decides to leave Michael.
Michael’s lawyers in the divorce are Gerald Sadvari and Stephen Grant, who had recently left McCarthy Tétrault and set up their own boutique firm, Grant & Sadvari. They are a fearsome duo, known for handling high-profile divorce cases, including the one between the billionaire David Thomson and his second wife, Laurie Ludwick. They’d even previously acted for two McCains—Michael’s brother, Scott, and sister Eleanor. A friend told Chris that if she were to stand a chance against them, she would need a really good lawyer. She was handed a list of names. Harold Niman was the first person who answered her call.
Niman, it so happens, also had a long history with the McCain family. He’d represented Trish McCain, Scott’s ex-wife, as well as Greg David, Eleanor’s ex-husband. Niman is widely considered one of the best family lawyers in the country—among the top five, along with Grant and Sadvari—and something of a shark when it comes to overturning marriage contracts. He agreed to take Chris on as a client.
Chris claims that in the first few months following their separation, Michael, who rented a 6,000-square-foot house in Lawrence Park, cut her off financially. He insists he was willing to support Chris, within reason, if she provided him with an itemized budget. Niman began sending requests for interim support, and Michael agreed to set aside $6.75 million for Chris. He also started paying her $18,000 a month, which he later increased to $29,334 a month.
For Chris, this wasn’t nearly enough. She estimated her monthly household expenses—including $4,092 in property taxes, $6,000 in landscaping, $20,000 for clothing, hair care and aesthetics, among other costs—at around $215,000. In an effort to cover these expenses, she’d taken out a line of credit in the amount of $231,000 and then dipped into her investment savings—the $300,000 signing bonus had since grown to roughly $780,000. Between July and December 2011, Chris blew through her available cash and was unable to keep up with household bills. In January 2012, while she was buying groceries, her debit card was declined.
That year, the lawyers went into high gear. Chris filed her application for divorce on January 13, and the next 10 months were a flurry of affidavits, motions and examinations for discovery (or “questionings,” as they’re called in family law), the intimate details of the McCains’ relationship, lifestyle and spending habits laid bare before the courts.
To build Chris’s case, Niman collected affidavits attesting to her sound state of mind. Pat Penner signed one, as did Simon Kattar, the executive chef at the catering company À la Carte, and Chris’s good friend Bill Mockler, a partner in the design firm Drawing Room Architect. Niman also arranged for Chris to undergo a full assessment by a psychiatrist named Graham Glancy, who found no evidence of hypomania or a mood disorder.
Michael was ordered to make monthly interim payments of $175,000 to Christine—the biggest spousal support award in Canadian history
Last November, Chris’s lawyers filed a second motion asking for an interim monthly support payment of $200,000. A month and a half later, Madam Justice Susan Greer, of the Ontario Superior Court, made a controversial decision. She ordered that all sections pertaining to spousal support in the original marriage contract be set aside, and that Michael pay interim support to Chris in the amount of $175,000 a month, retroactive to the date of their separation. It was the biggest spousal support award in Canadian history.
The decision sent shockwaves through the legal community and the city’s moneyed class. Lawyers were divided: some complained that Greer had no right to unilaterally overturn parts of the original marriage contract, especially on a temporary motion before all the evidence could be presented at trial. Others found the decision justifiable since, as Greer said, she had all the evidence she needed before her.
Greer had practised in the realm of trusts and estates, including some family law, before being called to the bench, making her something of a specialist. She is also known for her record-breaking spousal support decisions. Back in 2001, she ordered the real estate magnate Wolf Lebovic to pay his wife of 20 years, Cheryl, interim spousal support in the amount of $75,000 a month. In 2009, in the divorce case between Claude and Carol Ann Elgner, she awarded Carol Ann $110,000 a month; the Elgners had been married for 33 years, during which Carol Ann had been a stay-at-home mom raising three children while Claude made his fortune supplying plastic parts for car interiors.
Like Greer’s decision in McCain v. McCain, the Lebovic and Elgner awards seemed exorbitant at the time. What in the world, people asked, could these wives possibly do with all that money? Thanks to Ontario’s Family Law Act, which recognizes marriage as an economic partnership, they’ll live in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed. Judges and lawyers calculate support levels based on income, age and the duration of the marriage, among other factors. Greer’s interim award for Chris may have seemed high, but it came in below the recommended amount for people in the McCains’ income bracket, which, at the low end, is $299,375 a month.
Michael often sat the kids down to discuss their family’s values. One of his objectives was to prepare them for the “benefits and burdens of wealth”
But what about the contract? If a spouse agrees to a smaller chunk of the assets either before the marriage, as in a prenup, or during, as Chris McCain did, shouldn’t he or she be expected to honour that agreement? Well, yes and no. Marriage contracts are the subject of great debate in legal circles. They’ve increased in popularity as wealthy spouses-to-be try to find ways to protect their assets. Lawyers spend a lot of time drafting them and clients a lot of money paying for them—and yet it’s estimated that more than half of contested marriage contracts are overturned. Unlike commercial contracts, where it’s assumed the parties are dealing on a level playing field, domestic contracts are more nuanced and often involve a power imbalance. In almost every case where a marriage contract (or part of a contract) is overturned, the courts are trying to right that imbalance.
Greer said the McCain marriage contract was inadequate in that, when she signed, Chris “could not possibly have known what her situation would be in the future without spousal support.” She found Michael’s financial disclosures at the time were insufficient, and she didn’t believe that Chris had willingly signed the contract. Greer felt the duress was “subtle and psychological, in that [Chris] appeared to be the key to [Michael] remaining as one of his father’s heirs.” She pointed out that, during his questioning, Michael admitted the contract wasn’t fair to his wife.
In the years after his feud with his brother, Wallace would often say that the McCains had successfully transformed themselves from a “family business” into a “business family.” Business infiltrates every aspect of the McCains’ lives. It isn’t just what they do; it’s who they are. The McCain family marriage contracts were just another business matter, executed with the same cold calculation of a corporate merger.
In May, Michael and Chris finally reached a settlement, avoiding a trial that had been set for next November. Though the details of the settlement have been kept confidential, the amount is almost certainly in the realm of Greer’s interim support order.
Upon reaching their agreement, Michael and Chris sent Toronto Life a joint statement:
The dissolution of our marriage after over 30 years is difficult and painful. Despite this, we remain devoted parents, and together, our first concern will always be for our five children. We have reached a legal and financial settlement that is equitable and supports our desire to conclude this process privately and in a way that reflects our respect and caring for each other.
In the end, the very thing Wallace sought to avoid by having his children sign marriage contracts—a disruption in the family fortune—has come to pass. Not only has his daughter-in-law received a much larger share of the assets, but millions of dollars have been dispersed among lawyers and forensic accountants.
For now, Chris remains in the family’s Riverview Drive home, where she says she’d like to stay on account of her children. She’ll no longer go to the family compound in Jamaica at New Year’s or to Georgian Bay in the summer; the kids have made it clear they consider the cottage to be their dad’s turf. She says she’d one day like to buy a summer cottage of her own. It might not be a compound like Michael’s, but thanks to the settlement, it’ll be more than comfortable.