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The Litigation Process: Becker v. Pettku Case


Failure to resolve controversies through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) approaches prompt the parties involved to consider legal actions. Litigations concerning business matters usually affect the operations of the affected businesses by deviating attention and resources. The litigation process adopts a process that seeks to facilitate the realization of equality and fairness. However, in some instances, some limitations in the judicial systems undermine the dispensation of justice. The Becker v. Pettkus (1980) 2 S.C.R. 834 issue represents one of the legacy litigations that reveal the adverse implications of an ineffective judicial approach.

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The matter involved a couple that engaged in a common-law relationship for almost 20 years before its deterioration prompted the splitting of property, owing to the joint efforts involved. As such, the accused, Miss Becker, claimed that she jointly put her efforts with the defendant, Mr. Pettkus. Thus, she deserves a portion of the property and business they created together. Surprisingly, the trial moderator made a judgment that failed to consider the constructive trust existing between the clashing parties. However, the Appeal Court of Ontario issued a different judgment that required the accused to be awarded a one-half share of the property and business gained through unjust enrichment. In this respect, this paper provides a comprehensible description of the Becker v. Pettkus litigation process. An identification of the weaknesses revealed by the matter will also form a part of this paper. Finally, this paper will elaborate on whether an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method of a given kind or another would have facilitated the attainment of a satisfactory outcome.

The Litigation Process in Becker v. Petkus

The litigation process usually follows four crucial steps that ensure the dispensation of justice. According to Duplessis, O’Byrne, King, Adams, and Enman (2016), the essential steps include pleadings, discovery, trial and decision, and enforcement. The pleadings phase entails the presentation of official documents about the basis of the legal matter. The discovery step entails the revelation and demonstration of the facts consistent with the claims and allegations made by the disputing sides. The trial phase requires the burden of proof to be on the plaintiff’s side before the judge makes the decision that provides a resolution to the matter. The fourth phase requires both the winner of the court to facilitate the enforcement of the verdict through the assistance of the court (Duplessis et al., 2016). The Becker v. Pettkus case saw the matter move to the appeal phase where the party unsatisfied with the decisions made by the trial judge by appealing to a higher in the hierarchy of the Canadian judicial system.


The Ontario Court saw the parties in controversy present their official documents supporting their claims, allegations, and defenses. The accused and defendant emigrated from central Europe individually before settling in Canada in the 1950s. In 1955, the two met in Montreal where they embraced a conjugal relationship and started living together as husband and wife, despite being lawfully married. Miss Becker claimed that she suggested the formalization of their conjugal relationship. However, Mr. Pettkus ignored it by terming it unnecessary at that particular point. However, Mr. Pettkus always introduced Miss Becker as his wife to friends and family. Therefore, the plaintiff underlined that several individuals close to Mr. Pettkus and her acknowledged their common-law relationship.

In the former years of their relationship, Mr. Pettkus and Miss Becker worked for different employers. Miss Becker claimed that she made a weekly income of $28 when she first secured employment. Nonetheless, the plaintiff worked harder to earn an average weekly income of $67 per week as the defendant made a slightly higher income of $75 per week. Therefore, the plaintiff underlined that the resulting trust between her and Mr. Pettkus played an integral role in influencing the future success of their endeavors.

However, as Miss Bucker paid for the expenses incurred by the couple, including food and rent, Mr. Pettkus deposited all his earnings in a personal savings account between 1950 and 1965. As such, the plaintiff pleaded that Mr. Pettkus earned a sustainable income by providing motor vehicle services while he failed to allocate the money for the expenses incurred by the couple. In defense, Mr. Pettkus argued that Miss Becker used her earnings to pay for living expenses out of free will since they did not create an agreement for her to cater to the living costs incurred by both. Thus, there was no need for him to spend, but to save.

Mr. Pettkus claimed that he used the money saved in the account to pay for the expenses incurred during their trip to Montreal in 1960. The trip purposed the search for a strategic location to set a bee-keeping operation. Nonetheless, Miss Bucker underlined that Mr. Pettkus refused to pay for living expenses once they returned home from Montreal. Mr. Pettkus also pleaded that he withdrew $5,000 from his savings bank account to acquire the property for the bee-rearing operation at Franklin Center, Quebec. The defendant emphasized that he used his money to facilitate the realization of his goal of establishing a profitable business venture. Moreover, the funds came from a bank account bearing his name. As such, he saw the essence of naming the title of the property after himself.

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In response, Miss Becker pleaded that she played a part in financing the repair of the newly acquired farmhouse. The plaintiff informed the court that she used unemployment insurance payments to facilitate the maintenance of the farmhouse. Therefore, Miss Becker injected her funds jointly with Mr. Pettkus to bolster the operations of the bee farming venture. To underscore her claim statement, Miss Becker pleaded that she labored in the farmhouse for almost 15 years since she worked together with Mr. Pettkus to see the bee-keeping business prosper. As such, the plaintiff emphasized that she participated physically in the operations of the business venture by maintaining the beehives and ranch. However, Mr. Pettkus barred her involvement in the financial aspects of managing the cottage.

The couple acquired a second property at Hawkesbury, Ontario, in the early 1970s through the revenues generated by the bee-keeping business, as well as some money from Mr. Pettkus’ savings account. Therefore, the plaintiff underlined that she played a part in the generation of some of the resources required to purchase the second property at Hawkesbury property. The title of the second property was also named after Mr. Pettkus, irrespective of the contribution of Miss Becker in facilitating its purchase. The plaintiff also pleaded that the worsening of her relationship with Mr. Pettkus in 1972 prompted her to leave her for at least three months. The defendant agreed that she gave the plaintiff forty apiaries worth $3,000 in cash and a car when she left him. The defendant pleaded that her share of the property could not even account for 10% of its value.

The following year, Mr. Pettkus convinced Miss Becker to return. The couple met a marriage counselor who facilitated an agreement that would see Miss Becker receive $500 annually for being in a common-law relationship with Mr. Pettkus. However, Miss Becker returned the apiaries, excluding the bees. Additionally, she returned $1,900 out of the $3,000 issued by Mr. Pettkus. Eventually, in late 1974, the common-law relationship between Mr. Pettkus and Miss Becker ended after the latter accused the former of neglect. The plaintiff pleaded that Mr. Pettkus issued her with $2,600 generated through the operations of the farmhouse. The plaintiff stressed that the car and money given to her did not match the proportion she deserved for jointly putting efforts to gain the two properties and the business.


The Supreme Court of Ontario Made several discoveries regarding the matter contested by Miss Becker and Mr. Pettkus. Notably, the court found out that Mr. Pettkus and Miss Becker engaged in a common-law relationship. However, the Canadian authorized systems did not recognize common law marriages in determining issues concerning the sharing of property between disputing couples. The fact that the relationship lasted for 20 years prompted the need to foster the realization of justice.

The defendant opened a personal savings account where he deposited his entire earnings as the plaintiff catered for the household expenses incurred by the couple. Thus, the resulting trust connecting the couple allowed Mr. Pettkus to open and operate an individual savings account where he deposited his entire income. The court also acknowledged the contribution of Miss Becker in facilitating the attainment of property title with Mr. Pettkus’ name. The properties bearing the defendant’s name included the Franklin Center farmhouse and the land situated at Hawkesbury. The defendant held the legal ownership of the asset in question. The purchase of the first property at the Franklin Center area saw its financing emanate from Mr. Pettkus’ savings account. The revenues gained from the farmhouse accounted for a portion of the finances required to purchase it. The remaining amount came from the bank account going by Mr. Pettkus’ name.

Trial and Decision

The decision was realized by the trial judge awarded the plaintiff, Miss Becker, 40 apiaries, and $1,500. The money awarded represented the revenues generated by the hives for consecutive years starting from 1973. The judgment mandated by Chartrand disregarded the possibility of unjust enrichment in the Becker v. Pettkus case.


The Ontario Court of Appeal issued a judgment different from the one mandated by the trial moderator. The court requested the defendant to issue a 50% share of the bee rearing business and property. The judgment was based on the evidence that showed that the defendant enriched himself unjustly. Particularly, the appeal judges identified constructive trust as the key factor that prompted the equitable sharing of the property jointly generated through the efforts of the accused and the defendant.

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Weaknesses of the Justice System in the Becker v. Pettkus Litigation Procedure

Oversight Concerning Constructive Trust in the Ruling

A powerful argument about the Becker V. Pettkus care needed a boost of the argument founded on the standards of unjust enrichment (Duplessis et al., 2016). Consequently, the trial stage of the lawsuit procedure ought to have incorporated the idea of a constructive trust to direct the choice about the common of the matrimonial property. In this light, it would be fair to argue that the lawful process did not have the flexibility to incorporate the pertinent standards of equity. The judgment resulted in the case where the idea of unjust enrichment was overlooked. Founded on the constructive trust, unfair enrichment takes place by pointing out three key conditions, namely, corresponding deprivation, enrichment, and absence of any juristic basis for enrichment (Duplessis et al., 2016). Mr. Pettkus’ association with Miss Becker fulfilled these three conditions. Subsequently, the Ontario Court of Appeal founded its ruling on the attainment of the constructive trust essentialities. The considering of these essentialities means that Becker v. Pettkus’ case involved unjust enrichment happening in a matrimonial association.

Restricted Justice Procedure

The justice procedure assumed for the ruling of the Becker V. Pettkus issue shows different restrictions that undercut the provision of justice fairly. Particularly, the judgment resulted in Becker being compensated 40 hives devoid of bees and $1,500 as honey proceeds from 1973 and 1974. The justice procedure overlooked the subsequent trust and constructive trust ideas essential to affect the choice concerning the division of property and business obtained jointly. Moreover, the lack of foundation for peculiarity restricted the trial judge from quantifying the right share of Miss Becker’s contribution towards obtaining property and the foundation of a beekeeping enterprise. This weakness added to the differentiation of the Ontario Court of Appeal to the ruling by the trial judge. Furthermore, botching to compensate Miss Becker a half of her share of the property and enterprise resulted in her suicide. The situation signifies another weakness of the lawsuit procedure, particularly in ascertaining the execution of the court ruling.

Questionable Application of the Unjust Enrichment Idea

The Becker v. Pettkus case was unsuccessful to utilize the systematically the reasonable rules of undue enrichment. According to Duplessis et al. (2016), the idea of unjust enrichment happens on occasions where the first individual obtains his or her wealth unduly and consequently deprives second person devoid of a lawful foundation. Numerous cases regarding unfair enrichment, the assets legally owned by the first individual garners value via exertions that are not accounted for by the second party. Therefore, the court should base its ruling on the fact that the second individual is eligible to obtain a beneficial interest in the assets.

Nevertheless, the choice realized by the judge on the bench to admit the beneficial interest in the asset necessary to be allowed to Miss Becker in its lawful possession being entitled to Mr. Pettkus was biased. The presence of a resultant trust guaranteed that both parties were underwritten directly and indirectly to the attainment of the two land properties located at Franklin Center and Hawkesbury. Remarkably, the chamber uncovered that by accommodating for the cost of living and permitting Mr. Pettkus to bank part of his revenue for future use, Miss Becker implicitly swayed the attainment of the asset entitled lawfully to the former. Additionally, Miss Becker added implicitly to the development of the beekeeping investment by getting involved in maintaining the farmhouse in person at Franklin Center. Also, the litigant made her contributions obtained from revenue-generating undertakings, including babysitting and money through joblessness insurance. In this way, the combined exertions to the plaintiff and defendant in the procurement of assets meant that both demonstrated their dedication based trust (Duplessis et al., 2016).

Consequently, the justice system was unsuccessful in demonstrating the occurrence of a resultant trust associated with the exertions of Mr. Pettkus and Miss Becker. More so, the standard of common intention indicated the determination of a resulting trust in the common exertions of couples. Therefore, the judge on the bench envisaged it challenging to authenticate the claim of Miss Becker that what she did was influenced or guided by the matrimonial association between Mr. Pettkus and herself. The inquiry of whether or not one of the parties ought to have benefited from the contributions towards the creation of wealth lawfully bestowed in the name of the other partner came up. Therefore, the common law association evident in Mr. Pettkus and Miss Becker that lingered for 19 years demonstrated the presence of the resultant thrust. The lawful procedure incorporating the case ought to consider the resulting trust coming from the conjugal association amid the clashing parties (Duplessis et al., 2016). In this way, Miss Becker needed a share of the generated property, which was nevertheless entitled lawfully to Mr. Becker because of the collective intention by the couple.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Apart from resolving the concern via the utilization of the Canadian Judicial system, the parties in the clashes could have used alternative dispute resolution approaches such as mediation and arbitration. The judgment made by the judge on the bench did not regard the idea of ADR when handling the case, a move that led to the unfair ruling to Miss Becker. Arbitration would have acknowledged the part she played in acquiring and sustaining the disputed business before the deterioration of her almost two-decade common-law relationship with Mr. Pettkus (Duplessis et al., 2016). The trial judge ought to have considered the typical intention that enabled the purchasing of the Franklin Center property, even though Miss Becker was mutually working with Mr. Pettkus at the farmhouse. Further, she helped in financing the purchasing of building materials for the construction of the Hawkesbury asset.

ADR of a particular kind would have led to better results compared to the deployed litigation procedure. According to Duplessis et al., (2016), arbitration is a strategy of the alternative approaches that would have facilitated the attainment of a compulsory contract binding Becker and Pettkus’ affairs. Using arbitration, a third party would have been appointed and agreed among the disputing individuals to listen to the claims from both sides regarding the sharing of assets and enterprises gained through the conjoined efforts of the disputant parties.


The case of Becker v. Pettku’s procedure is an enthusiastic lawsuit that has influenced the strategies and standards in family and corporate law. The ruling made in the trial demonstrated significant discrepancies in the utilization of the standards of unjust enrichment. On appeal of the case, the constructive trust idea realized was integrated, thus resulting in the application of the standards of unjust enrichment. Further, the lawsuit procedure also portrayed restrictions since the court was unsuccessful to enable the half disbursement to the accuser.

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Duplessis, D., O’Byrne, S., King, P., Adams, L., & Enman, S. (2016). Canadian business and the law. Toronto, ON: Nelson College Indigenous Publishers.

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