Dividing Family Assets – Hobbies & Collections
In O’Bryan v. O’Bryan, the British Columbia Supreme Court considered whether a collection of sports memorabilia accumulated by the husband was a “family asset” that required division as per section 56 of the Family Relations Act. The defendant argued that his sports memorabilia collection his own personal property and not a family asset. In the alternative Mr. O’Bryan suggested that only the portion of his collection that was on display in the family home should be considered a family asset.
The O’Byrans had been married for 10 years. Mr. O’Bryan accumulated the majority of the items before the marriage, with only approximately $5,000 (US) of the collection being purchased during the course of their marriage. His collection was stored, for the majority, in the den of the their family home, which was used exclusively by him. Only a few select pieces worth approximately $8,700 were on display elsewhere in the rest of the home. His entire collection was valued at approximately $208,000, though Mr. O’Bryan had sold his baseball collection for $55,000 (US) in the year proceeding the couple’s separation.
Although the plaintiff, Mrs. O’Bryan, occasionally accompanied Mr. O’Bryan on trips to card shows, she rarely attended the actual events. The couple had discussed selling the collection to purchase a summer home, but this never happened.
How have British Columbia courts dealt with hobbies and collections?
The jurisprudence on whether hobbies are considered family assets in British Columbia is mixed and each case tends to turn on its facts. While some authorities, have maintained that hobby equipment is not a family asset, this has generally been in circumstances where the asset was exclusively used by one spouse and its value was particularly low.
The courts pay specific attention to the manner in which the collection is kept. For example, if it is displayed as an ornament in the family home, it is more likely to be considered a family asset. This was the case in Hollinger v. Hollinger where a gun collection was found to be a family asset when it was used as a decoration.
In Matheson v. Matheson, the British Columbia Supreme Court noted that the a collection of cars fell into the category of a family asset because the wife had made a “substantial and equal contribution to the acquisition of the vehicles by contributing her earnings toward family expenses and her time to effectively managing the household and raising the children, thereby achieving savings and giving Mr. Matheson freedom to use his time and money furthering his car collection.”
Was Mr. O’Bryan’s collection a family asset?
The court in O’Bryan followed Papineau v. Papineau, a decision that held each case must be determined on its own facts. Papineau also maintained that a “hobby carried on during a marriage, even though it is the hobby of one spouse to the virtual exclusion of the other, should be considered a family asset…it may not be fair to order the equal division” of said asset.
In O’Bryan, Madam Justice Dillon concluded that although there must be an “arena of purely personal pursuit of interests which may be exclusive of family purposes” whether a collection is a family asset is a question that must be determined on its facts with the burden resting on the person claiming the hobby is not a family asset. The judge determined that since the sports memorabilia collection was partially displayed, the collection had to be considered a family asset. However, she held that any unfairness arising from this characterization could be dealt with through judicial reapportionment. In other words, the collection did not have to be distributed on a one-half interest basis. Mrs. O’Byran was awarded a 20% interest in Mr. O’Bryan’s sports memorabilia.
Tips for keeping your collections to yourself…
If you are entering a marriage and are concerned about the value of a particular hobby or collection you have a few options. First, you can endeavor to keep the assets as a “boxed collection.” By keeping the particular items out of the public family space you may be successful in maintaining a private interest. However, this also means might not be able to show off your collection easily to guests in your home. A better option may be to include a private ownership clause regarding the particular collection in a marriage agreement. Provided that the arrangement is not considered unfair as per s. 65 of the Family Relations Act, you will be safe to showcase your collection without turning the items into family assets.