Oil-rich couple back in court over divorce payments

EDMONTON — An oil-rich Edmonton couple was back in divorce court over taxes on the estranged wife’s $100,000-a-month interim spousal support payments.

EDMONTON — An oil-rich Edmonton couple was back in divorce court over taxes on the estranged wife’s $100,000-a-month interim spousal support payments.

Marie Hughes, the estranged wife of Hughes Petroleum Ltd. owner Brian Hughes, was appealing a judge’s order from June which set out interim orders for expenses and spousal support leading up to their eventual divorce.

Lawyer Elsa Rice argued the judge did not have the authority to order $400,000 worth of interim spousal support payments based on the two sides having an agreement in place regarding $2.2 million worth of property.

Rice said the order had the effect of “sort of wrecking” the deal the couple had reached and leaving Marie Hughes, 54, with an “additional tax burden” of $160,000.

Michelle MacKay, the lawyer for Brian Hughes, 67, told the appeal court panel that while there had been an oral agreement between the parties and no request for interim spousal support, she concluded there was not a binding agreement in place that had been before the judge.

The three-judge panel unanimously upheld the order, saying there was no error, and dismissed the appeal.

In a written ruling in March from the same judge regarding management of the impending divorce case, he noted the Hughes’ had an “extremely lavish” lifestyle.

“An objective observer might characterize the spending pattern of the last five or six years as unwise if not obscene,” said Justice Sterling Sanderman.

He noted the company had an anticipated revenue in 2008 of more than $310 million, Brian Hughes’ net income for 2007 was more than $4.4 million with the same expected in 2008, and Marie Hughes draws an annual salary of $100,000.

“Ms. Hughes thinks nothing of flying her tennis pro from California to Edmonton to give her private lessons as she feels that the instruction she can obtain at the Royal Glenora Club in Edmonton is inadequate,” he wrote.

“She puts her budget to pursue her interest in ballroom dancing at $100,000 a year.”

The Hughes’ 30-year marriage ended in May 2008 and Marie filed an affidavit alleging her husband had cheated on her. She also accuses him of wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars “on his girlfriends.”

In his own affidavit, Brian Hughes accuses Marie of “totally abdicating” her role as a mother since their separation and says she is the extravagant one.

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