Maryland court releases Payette divorce documents

A Maryland court has released documents detailing the legal proceedings around governor general-designate Julie Payette's divorce from fighter test pilot Billie Flynn.

Former astronaut to be installed as governor general this fall

Former astronaut Julie Payette will be installed as Canada's governor general this fall. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

A Maryland court has released documents detailing the legal proceedings around governor general-designate Julie Payette's divorce from fighter test pilot Billie Flynn.

The documents, which cover a mutual agreement to separate in 2013 and extend to proceedings that ended this June, were released to a group of Canadian media organizations, including the CBC, last week after Payette dropped a bid to have them sealed for reasons of privacy.

The documents only became an issue after iPolitics reported in July that Payette had been charged with second-degree assault in 2011, a charge that was quickly dropped and later expunged.

On the same day the iPolitics report appeared, Payette's lawyers filed a motion to seal her divorce proceedings, a move that was opposed by the CBC, CTV, the Globe and Mail, National Post, the Toronto Star and iPolitics on the grounds that they might be in the public interest given her high-profile appointment. 

The documents deal with matters typical of any divorce and contain only one reference to the charge. During a hearing in January 2015 to discuss whether proceedings should be heard in Quebec or Maryland, Flynn's lawyer tells the court there was an "issue of domestic violence" in reference to the assault charge in Maryland.

That drew a rebuke from Payette's lawyer, who noted the case had been dismissed. The judge deemed it "not relevant" and there is no other mention of it.

In her only comment on the matter, Payette said the assault allegation was "unfounded."

"‎For family and personal reasons, I will not comment on these unfounded charges, of which I was immediately and completely cleared many years ago, and I hope that people will respect my private life," Payette told iPolitics in a statement.

Governor general-designate Julie Payette's ex-husband, Billie Flynn. The two divorced shortly after her motor vehicle accident. (Billie Flynn/LinkedIn)

Payette said last week her primary concern in seeking to seal the documents was shielding her son from the details of the divorce.

"Not wishing my family to revisit the difficult moments we have been through, it was my hope that our privacy would be preserved," Payette said in a statement to those media organizations last Monday.

"As a mother, I need to be mindful of the impact on my family. Very few families are immune from difficult moments in life — mine included. Divorces are about fractured relationships and often, a sad parting of ways. This is particularly difficult when children are involved, thus the importance of protecting the ones we love and care about."

Rideau Hall confirmed last week that Payette has been covering all of her legal fees personally.

The choice of the accomplished Payette — a former astronaut, computer engineer, pilot, academic, executive and musician — for the vice-regal appointment was met with widespread praise when it was announced in early July.

But Trudeau was forced to defend his government's vetting process after the assault charge came to light and after the Toronto Star reported Payette had struck and killed a pedestrian with her SUV earlier in 2011. An investigation concluded the death was an accident and that Payette was not at fault.

"I assure everyone that there are no issues that arose in the course of that vetting process that would be any reason to expect Mme. Payette to be anything other than the extraordinary governor general that she will be," Trudeau said.​

Payette is expected to be installed in early October. Gov. Gen. David Johnston's term expires next month.


  • An earlier version of this story erroneously quoted the judge hearing Julie Payette's case in January 2015 as saying the assault charge against Payette was 'irrelevant' to the case before the court. In fact, the judge said it was 'not relevant.'
    Aug 29, 2017 1:43 PM ET