Can I Sue for Breach of Promise to Live Together

July 14th, 2014 by

Ira Marcovitch, Summer Law Student

For this edition of my blog, we are digging through the jurisprudential vaults to answer an interesting question: can you sue somebody for breaching a promise to live together? While an academic point for most of us, I’m sure there are a few spurned partners and roommates for whom this topic will hit a chord.

The issue arose in the 1997 case of Graham-Rowe v. Culver, 1997 Carswell 131, where Ms. Graham-Rowe sued to enforce Mr. Culver’s supposed promise to allow her and her daughter to live with him. Ms. Graham-Rowe and Mr. Culver were married (though not to each other), and had engaged in a long-term sexual affair. After approximately 30 years of fooling around, Ms. Graham-Rowe and her daughter left Regina and moved into Mr. Culver’s Simcoe, Ontario home. After but three weeks of cohabiting, Mr. Culver left the premises; at which time Ms. Graham-Rowe launched her claim for exclusive possession of the house. She claimed that while the parties were living together, Mr. Culver intimated to her that she and her daughter could live permanently in the house.

Mr. Culver quickly brought a motion to strike her claim for exclusive possession, which the Court was as quick to grant. The Court accepted Mr. Culver’s argument that s.32 of the provincial Marriages Act had abolished a right to sue for breach of promise to marry and that, if no such right existed, then by extension no statutory right to sue for breach of promise to cohabit was possible. The Court then considered whether such a right could be found at common-law. Relying on promissory estoppel, an equitable doctrine that allows parties to a contract to sue to enforce extra-contractual promises, Ms. Graham-Rowe argued that the parties’ 30 year sexual relationship gave rise to a pseudo-contractual state that would allow her to sue. The Court rejected this argument, noting that the parties’ relationship did not give rise to any legal, contractual obligations that would give rise to a right to sue. Without any further ground to stand on, the Court dismissed Ms. Graham-Rowe’s application.

It seems well-settled law in Ontario that a party cannot sue to enforce a promise to live together. However, it should be remembered that this case arose in the context of an oral promise between the parties that, for all intents and purposes, was not recorded in any way. It may stand to reason that a Court may find a right to damages where the promise to cohabit was contained in a legal instrument, such as a valid contract. For more information on this, or any other family law matter, contact one of our experienced family law lawyers.

For more information regarding this topic or any other family law related topics, please contact our Family Law group at Devry Smith Frank LLP or call us at 416-449-1400.


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