Family, Estates & Trusts 


Joint Family Ventures

In a recent Alberta case involving a wife’s claim to farm property, the court allowed a wife’s unjust enrichment claim, finding that the common-law spouses had been involved in a “joint family venture” and that the husband was enriched by the wife’s provision of domestic services, child rearing, and farm help during the couple’s 14 years of co-habitation (see Lemoine v. Griffith, 2012 ABQB 685, aff’d, 2014 ABCA 46).

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The joint family ventures model has proven to be a dynamic and resilient approach. It comes in handy when starting a business, investing in real estate, etc. In this article, we will explore all dynamics of joint family ventures. We shall uncover the benefits, challenges, and key considerations. 

What is a Joint Family Venture?

What is a Joint Family Venture?

The concept of proportionate sharing of property acquired through the joint efforts of married spouses or a common-law partner is well-established in BC family law. As such, a finding that spouses were involved in a joint family venture can form the basis for an unjust enrichment claim.

To determine whether the spouses were engaged in a joint family venture, the court will consider concepts such as mutual effort, economic integration, and the actual intent of the spouses. Factors such as the pooling of effort and teamwork, the decision to have children together, and the length of the relationship will be considered to determine whether and to what extent the spouses have formed a partnership and jointly worked toward mutual goals. Let’s examine the facts of Lemoine, a successful unjust enrichment claim arising from a joint family venture, to demonstrate the concept.

The Structure of Joint Family Ventures

The structure of a joint family venture usually hinges on roles and responsibilities of family members while running the business. 

Roles and responsibilities of family members

Here is a general overview of potential roles and responsibilities for family members in a joint family venture. It is important to keep in mind that the specific roles may vary depending on the type of venture, skills of the family members, family dynamics, etc.

Some of these roles and responsibilities are:

Leadership: Family members under this role may be the CEO or board members. They would be responsible for detecting the strategic direction and making key decisions within the venture.

Operations and Management: In this case, they could be the operations manager, ensuring smooth operations and managing resources. Or, handle human resources by training employees and handling recruitment within the venture. Under this function, there could also be an inventory or logistics manager who manages supply chain, inventory, and distribution channels

Finance and Administration: Under this function, family members could be part of the administration or accounting team. Someone could also be the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). They would help handle financial documentation and manage administrative tasks.

Sales: People who are part of the sales team develop and implement sales strategies to achieve revenue targets. They also build and maintain relationships with customers.

Marketing and Public Relations: For this function, we have people creating and executing marketing and advertising plans. The public relations team is in charge of managing the venture’s public images through media and other platforms.

IT Support: The IT support team handles technical issues, software development and cybersecurity.

Legal and Compliance: They provide legal counsel, ensuring that the venture adheres to industry standards and legal requirements.

Succession Planning: The succession planner develops and implements plans for the smooth transition of leadership to the next generation.

Decision Making Processes and Conflict Resolution

Decision Making Processes and Conflict Resolution

Conflicts are usually typical, especially when running a venture with others, including family members. Diverse economic interests are usually at play and it could cause conflicts. It is why a joint family venture needs a structured decision-making process to avoid these conflicts.

With a decision-making framework, everyone is carried along with the venture’s vision. It ensures that no one is sidelined as there would be regular meetings, and everyone would have an opportunity to express their views.

In cases where an unanimous agreement is not feasible, it is necessary to have mechanisms that help everyone come to an agreement. Open communication is the best way to avoid conflicts in a joint family venture.

Formalizing a conflict resolution process in the initial agreement can provide a roadmap for addressing disputes. It could be third-party interventions, mediation, or arbitration.

The goal is to ensure that conflicts are addressed promptly and constructively. It helps to preserve both the venture and family bonds.

Benefits of Joint Family Ventures

Benefits of Joint Family Ventures

Running a joint family venture can be beneficial. Some of the benefits are:

Financial Stability and Pooling of Resources

By combining the financial capacities of multiple family members, ventures can access a more sustainable capital base. Thus, increasing the financial strength of the business and increasing its growth opportunities.

The concept of pooling resources promotes financial stability. It also fosters a sense of collective ownership and responsibility.

Emotional Support and Shared Responsibilities 

The emotional bonds shared among family members helps to better the working environment. It fosters a culture of trust and loyalty.

Even in times when the business may face challenges, family members can navigate the storms collectively. It also provides a form of emotional resilience.

When running a joint family venture, roles and responsibilities would be shared among family members based on strengths and skills. It helps to enhance efficiency of daily operations.

With the concept of shared responsibilities, workload is distributed equitably. This prevents burnout and improves the overall well-being of everyone.

BC Family Lawyers Summarize The Facts in Lemoine

BC Family Lawyers Summarize The Facts in Lemoine

Mr. Griffith and Ms. Lemoine began living together in 1995 on a farm property owned by Mr. Griffith’s father and soon thereafter became engaged to be married. When the parties started living together, Mr. Griffith was involved in a ranching and farming partnership with his father.

In 1999, more than three years after their engagement, the parties entered into a Matrimonial Property Agreement (MPA), stated to be effective whether or not the contemplated marriage took place. The parties never married but did have a child together. In the years that followed, Mr. Griffith sold and acquired land. Certain of the properties which he sold were listed in Schedule “A” of the MPA, and these transactions considerably increased his personal net worth. When the parties separated in 2009 after 14 years together, Ms. Lemoine commenced an action claiming unjust enrichment.

A trial judge found that the MPA was of no force and effect because of undue influence. She further found that the parties, throughout their relationship, were involved in a joint family venture that formed the basis of an unjust enrichment claim.

Ms. Lemoine was found to be an equal partner in the family. In assessing the “overall domestic and economic activity engaged in by the family unit”, the court awarded Ms. Lemoine a 30% share of the increase in Mr. Griffith’s net worth during the parties’ cohabitation for her contribution to their family venture – a sum of $915,440.

Domestic Services And Contribution To Increase In Value Of Property

Mr. Griffith appealed the unjust enrichment award, arguing that there was no causal link between the increased value of his property and Ms. Lemoine’s contribution to the joint family venture. In particular, he argued that the bulk of the wealth that he accumulated during the parties’ cohabitation was attributable to profits made from his land holdings, and his trading in land, and that the profit made from his various land sales was due solely to inflation and market forces.

The court held that increases due to outside influences, such as inflation, are not excluded where neither party contributed any more than the other to the increase. Further, the court dismissed his appeal, rejecting the argument that there was no link between the husband’s accumulation of wealth and the wife’s contributions to the joint family venture.

The courts have been clear that domestic services are linked to the family’s accumulation of wealth. For example, the courts recognize that Spouse A may not have been able to make the efforts he or she did to build up a company were it not for Spouse B’s assumption of household and child-rearing responsibilities. Spouse A reaped the benefits of Spouse B’s efforts by being able to focus time, energy, and effort on building a company.

Domestic Services And Contribution To Increase In Value Of Property

BC Family Lawyers Discuss Other Important Points From Lemoine

The court held that where there is a joint family venture, each individual asset does not have to be assessed separately and there is no requirement to demonstrate a direct contribution relating to a particular asset. Rather, the overall domestic and economic activity engaged in by the family unit can be assessed as a form of joint family venture and dealt with in a fashion that will take practical realities into account. Unless it can be demonstrated that the parties to a joint family venture intended to place specific property outside the joint venture (e.g. through a valid marriage agreement) it is not appropriate to consider a party’s contribution to individual assets.

Take Home Points on Joint Family Ventures From Our BC Family Lawyers

An unjust enrichment claim can be used to prevent one spouse from leaving the relationship with a disproportionate share of the wealth accumulated as a result of the joint family effort.

Contributions need not be direct as long as they are made to the overall value of the joint family venture, so can include domestic services that enable one spouse to focus on increasing the family’s wealth.

Increases due to outside influences, such as inflation, are not excluded where neither spouse contributed any more than the other to the increase. If you need more information bringing an unjust enrichment claim, contact Onyx Law Group at 604-305-2923 to schedule your initial 30-minute complementary consultation with one of our BC family lawyers

With our years of experience in family law, we have a team of legal experts on standby to guide you through any questions you may have. We help ensure that no one files an unfair joint family venture claim against you. Reach out to us now for a consultation.

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