Canucks co-owner Aquilini settles divorce just as trial to start

VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canucks co-owner Francesco Aquilini has settled his divorce with his estranged wife Taliah, his lawyer said just as the parties prepared to begin court proceedings Monday.

Lawyer George Macintosh confirmed a deal was reached Sunday afternoon after five days of talks. The fine details are still to be worked out and will be presented to the judge on Wednesday.

During about five minutes of court time, Taliah’s lawyer said he was “pleased” to announce the deal that will put an end to the couple’s 16-year marriage.

Francesco Aquilini was not in court Wednesday, but issued a statement via Twitter saying he too was “pleased.”

“This settlement means we will be able to keep our personal lives private and, most importantly, avoid the negative impact of a trial on the children we both love. I would also like to thank the many people in our community who have reached out to offer me their support and encouragement.”

The small courtroom was crammed with reporters who had been anticipating for weeks to hear a story about the lives of one of British Columbia’s wealthiest families. But court sat for only a few minutes and adjourned until later in the week, when the divorce will be pronounced and the settlement finalized.

“We think we have arrived at a settlement agreement,” Paul Daltrop, Taliah’s lawyer, told the court when the proceedings began.

“It is subject to some further paperwork and documentation that will be required. … We have agreed on what it’s going to look like.”

Taliah Aquilini did not comment as she walked into the courthouse Monday morning. As she left when court adjourned, she said she would have a statement Wednesday.

Francesco’s lawyer, Karen Shirley-Paterson, said protecting the couple’s five children was the main concern, and the pair were able to achieve that goal.

Francesco Aquilini had said previously he wanted portions of the trial covered by a publication ban to protect his family’s financial interests and also to protect his five children.

The couple had been married for almost 20 years and pre-trial skirmishes, including how to divide a valuable wine collection, had already made headlines.

Francesco is one of five partners — along with his parents and two brothers — in the Aquilini Investment Group, a holding company that controls a network of corporations and business interests.

The investment group purchased half of the Canucks franchise from Seattle businessman John McCaw in 2004 for about $250 million and then bought the other half two years later.

Aside from the Canucks, the company’s holdings include Aquilini Development and Construction, which is behind several condo developments in Vancouver and elsewhere.

The investment group also owns Golden Eagle Group, which controls a sprawling section of agricultural land in Pitt Meadows, east of Vancouver, that is home to a golf course, tree nursery, blueberry farm and cranberry farm.

Little concrete information is known about the value of the company, which as a private corporation isn’t required to disclose its financial records.

Francesco and Taliah Aquilini were married in 1994, but they have been separated since January 2011. They have four children together, while Francesco has a fifth child from a previous marriage.

The four children from the Aquilinis’ marriage currently live with Taliah in the couple’s matrimonial home. While there is no formal order for child or spousal support, Francesco deposits money into a joint bank account each month to cover living costs for his estranged wife and their children, according to a previous court decision.

Taliah and Francesco each filed for divorce, and because they have been separated for more than a year, the formal dissolution of their marriage was little more than a formality.

They remained deeply divided on the custody of their children and the division of assets, both in terms of which assets should be considered and how they should be divided.

Those assets include vacation properties and Francesco’s ownership shares in the Aquilini Investment Group.

Earlier this year, a judge rejected Taliah’s request to force the sale of a wine collection estimated to be worth nearly $800,000 to cover her legal expenses. She also asked for an order giving her access to vacation properties, hockey tickets and other perks associated with the Canucks while the case works its way through the courts, but that, too, was rejected.

Francesco’s lawyers are expected to argue much of the disputed assets are covered by a pre-existing marriage agreement, but earlier court decisions in the case foreshadowed the validity of such an agreement would be disputed at a trial.

Taliah also alleged adultery as grounds for divorce and asked the court to force Francesco to answer questions about those allegations during pre-trial discovery, but those allegations have been kept out of the case.

Earlier this year, a judge concluded that because the couple’s year-long separation was enough to grant the divorce, there was no need to hear the sordid details of any alleged infidelity.