A bizarre divorce trial involving a man with two wives wrapped up on Monday, with Judge Leigh Gower reserving his decision.
The protracted court case hasn’t gone well for Evangeline Ramirez, 61. She insists she never knew her husband of 16 years, Benjamin Toquero, had another wife in the country they both hail from, the Philippines, until their separation one year ago.
She’s outraged Toquero now seeks half of everything that she owns.
Bigamy is illegal in Canada. But Toquero, 64, isn’t being tried for this now.
Instead, the trial has focused on how much the couple’s assets are worth. And, on this matter, Ramirez has not been forthcoming.
That could be a big problem for Ramirez when Gower makes his decision. As the judge said on Monday, “Credibility is a huge issue in this case.”
And Toquero’s lawyer, Norah Mooney, has done a thorough job chipping away at Ramirez’s inconsistencies on financial matters.
And, if Ramirez isn’t being straight about this, Mooney has asked, why should the court believe her when she says she didn’t know about the previous marriage?
Her answer: they shouldn’t.
“She knew full well he was married, because he told her in the very first letter that he wrote to her,” said Mooney.
But whether Ramirez knew of the previous marriage, or not, may be a moot point. You can’t be married to two people in Canada, whether the second wife knows about the previous marriage or not.
Yet the validity of the marriage may not matter, said Mooney. That’s because all of the big assets owned by the couple, including two houses and four automobiles, are jointly registered in the names of both spouses.
“Whether you’re married or not doesn’t matter,” said Mooney. “It’s joint title.”
And, as the couple lived together for 16 years, they may have dwelled together on a common-law basis, even if their marriage is invalid, said Mooney.
While on the stand, Ramirez frequently didn’t answer the questions posed to her. Sometimes she wouldn’t say anything. Other times, she’d say she was confused.
And Ramirez frequently claimed she couldn’t remember the answers to key financial questions.
That’s strange, said Mooney, given Ramirez’s claim to being the “driving force” of the couple’s janitorial business. She suggested Ramirez has a “selective memory.”
Other times, Ramirez would simply change the subject. Inevitably, she returned to her husband’s previous marriage.
“He’s a bigamist and a perjurer,” said Ramirez.
But that wasn’t what the trial was about, so Gower would rein her in.
Ramirez hasn’t disclosed all of her financial information, despite having more than one year to do so.
She’s offered up a grab-bag of excuses: she’s been distressed since learning of Toquero’s previous marriage, has had trouble obtaining information from her accountant and called the wrong number to obtain her pension division statement.
Ramirez has also flouted court orders to pay spousal support to her husband. He sought these payments after Ramirez refused to provide him with several cleaning contracts to supplement his income as an automobile mechanic at Walmart.
Ramirez first insisted Toquero did very little to help the business. Only during cross-examination did she concede that he helped clean many buildings.
Ramirez also lowballed the value of the couple’s houses and vehicles. Mooney took her to task for sponsoring eight relatives from the Philippines to work at the family business.
They live rent-free at her houses. Grocery bills cost $3,000 per month. Ramirez has had to let some go from the business, because there isn’t enough work.
“The person who is the driving force in this company is driving it into bankruptcy,” said Mooney.
And Ramirez contradicted herself on the matter of Toquero’s missing passport. Toquero alleges she hid it to prevent him from becoming a Canadian citizen.
Ramirez first claimed she had never seen it. Later, she admitted she took the passport so Toquero could receive a security clearance to clean the airport. She says it then went missing
Toquero admits to having another wife in the Philippines. That’s at odds with his immigration and marriage papers, in which he swore he was single.
Lying about this was Ramirez’s idea, he asserts. And she filled out the paperwork for him, he said.
He never divorced his first wife because that’s not allowed in the Philippines. Annulments are on offer, but they’re expensive, and he couldn’t afford one.
Ramirez told the court she didn’t trust Toquero when he arrived in Canada, because he owed her money at the time.
Yet she sponsored him as a fiance, and in doing so, promised to financially support him for one decade. Then she went ahead and married him.
“That testimony is simply not believable,” said Mooney.
By comparison, Toquero’s testimony about his duties with the janitorial business was consistent.
Ramirez’s lawyer, Carrie Burbidge, has also had a tough time in court. Once, when Gower chided her for vague questions, she choked up.
And only after Gower expressed surprise Burbidge hadn’t prepared a written closing submission, did she vow to write one up.
Mooney wants all the couple’s assets sold to pay off the considerable debt they’ve incurred. The balance would be evenly split.
Burbidge suggested he get nothing. She appeared surprised when Gower asked how big a share of the couple’s wealth Toquero ought to receive, if it was split.
Pressed, Burbidge suggested 25 per cent, a number Gower said “just seems to be pulled out of thin air.”
Burbidge opposed the sale of the house and vehicles used by Ramirez. But this led Gower to wonder how he’s supposed to sort out the value of assets.
“A lot of information is lacking, because your client hasn’t provided it.”
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