Friday, January 9, 2015

Ottawa family wants $500,000 ‘dowry’ back after young couple splits

The two split after a year and a half of marriage and entered a bitter dispute over a gift the groom's family gave Banifatemi -- half ownsership of a $1-million home.
Torstar News Service
She was a beautiful, young exchange student from Iran. He was a handsome, well-spoken Canadian from a well-heeled Iranian family in Ottawa.

They met in calculus class at Carleton University, fell in love and just over a year later, the two 20-somethings got hitched in a lavish ceremony in Toronto attended by both their families.

But the April 1 — April Fool’s Day — marriage proved prophetic, says the groom’s family.

In keeping with Iranian tradition, the groom’s family gave the bride a generous gift — half ownership of a $1-million Ottawa home — a “dowry” that is now the source of a bitter dispute between the now-separated couple and their families.

Last week an Ottawa judge dismissed the husband’s family’s claims for an order that the bride, 23-year-old Shakiba Banifatemi, transfer her portion of the property back to her ex’s parents. The judge also dismissed claims for orders that she reimburse them for the cost of the wedding — around $50,000, the groom’s mother says — and return any wedding gifts she received.

“I’ve been betrayed,” Sima Abdollahpour, the groom’s mother, told Torstar News Service in a phone interview Tuesday. “We can not trust anybody anymore.”

According to the judge’s ruling documents, the Abdollahpours alleged Banifatemi “acted fraudulently by tricking” them into gifting her partial ownership of the home and having their son sponsor her for permanent residency. They also alleged Banifatemi’s Iran-based father told them all gifts would be returned if Banifatemi “left the marriage or acted inappropriately” towards the groom, 26-year-old Ahmad Reza Abdollahpour.

Justice Robert Smith rules that the evidence presented in court did not support the allegations.

“The gift was made without any expectation of remuneration but with the expectation that Shakiba would marry Ahmad, which occurred,” Smith said in his reasons for judgment. “The parties entered into a valid marriage, which was consummated, and they lived together as man and wife for approximately one year and a half.”

Smith stated in his judgment that Banifatemi’s older brother, Shahab, lives in Ottawa and could have sponsored her for permanent residency.

The documents also state that Banifatemi’s father filed an affidavit in which he denied making a promise to return gifts if his daughter left the marriage.

“She married him in good faith and that’s what the court found,” Banifatemi’s lawyer, Kevin Kavanagh, told Torstar. “Sometimes things don’t work out, unfortunately, but you can’t go back a year and half or two years later and allege that there was fraudulent intent.”

Shakiba Banifatemi and Ahmad Reza Abdollahpour on their wedding day in 2012. A subsequent split has led to a bitter legal battle over a “dowry.”

In a statement, Banifatemi — who still lives in Canada but is currently visiting her parents in Iran — told Torstar News Service  she is pleased with the judge’s decision.

“I am very pleased with Justice Smith’s decision and I am respectful of comments, but I want to keep my personal life as private as possible,” she wrote in an email.

Kavanagh told Torstar that Banifatemi didn’t want to leave the marriage and still loved her husband, but no longer wanted to live with his parents.

Court documents read, “Shakiba states that it was unbearable for her to continue living with her mother-in-law, as her husband always supported his mother rather than his wife.”

Banifatemi left the family home — one of three houses owned by the Abdollahpours and not the home of which she is part-owner — in December 2013.

Her ex, who goes by Reza, filed for divorce last January, he said.

“I prefer to think that she’s non-existent,” he told Torstar Tuesday in a phone interview from Ottawa.

Reza and his mother, Sima, also told Torstar there was no bad blood between Banifatemi and Reza’s mother.

“Not at all. I loved her,” Sima told Torstar. “We had the most beautiful relationship.”

Reza said the whole family was so close that at one point his younger sister was engaged to Banifatemi’s older brother — an arranged marriage he said was organized by Banifatemi’s family.

The entire family lived in the Ottawa home until the siblings’ engagement was called off in the spring of 2013.

“You can see how messed up this is,” Reza told Torstar.

The Abdollahpours, who own an Ottawa jewelry business, say they still want the gifts returned.

In Iranian culture the “dowry” is supposed to be returned if a wife leaves her husband, said Reza.

Sima told Torstar News Service that the home at the centre of the dispute is worth $1 million and the family usually rents it out. In the court documents, the judge states the 50-per-cent claim is valued at approximately $300,000.

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