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Posts from the ‘Adult Children’ Category

Kid Applies to Court to Formally Withdraw from Parental Control – Do Parents Get to Participate?

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Kid Applies to Court to Formally Withdraw from Parental Control – Do Parents Get to Participate?

In a recent case heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal, the issue was whether the parents of a 17-year old girl had any right whatsoever to participate in a court proceeding declaring that she had officially and legally withdrawn from their control as parents.

The girl had gone to court for a “declaration” (which is a formal court statement pronouncing on the existence of a legal state of affairs) that she had withdrawn from parental control.  This had followed a period of extreme acrimony between her and her father, with whom she lived full-time, over numerous matters.  The main precipitating event was the girl’s unilateral decision to finish high-school in Ontario a year early, in order to attend the University of Miami where she had obtained a full scholarship.

The father strongly opposed her plans, and wanted her to stay in Ontario to finish grade 12.  He even began court proceedings in Florida to force the university to disclose the contents of her application file, which impelled the university to ask the girl for proof that she was an independent minor.   Since her father had repeatedly said he would “do everything he can to stop” her from going to Miami, she needed the formal court declaration; without it he could demand that the university withdraw both her application and the scholarship.

The lower court had granted her application without hesitation, adding that “[t]he evidence indicates that [the girl] is a remarkable young woman.”  The court found the parents had no right to be included in or even have notice of the proceedings.

The father appealed, claiming that the mere fact that the court had not allowed or invited both parents to participate – including the full right to object, file evidence, and cross-examine – was grounds enough to overturn the declaration.

The Appeal Court disagreed, but conceded that the parents did indeed have a right to be part of the proceedings.  But there was still no reversible error here, since the required level of parental participation had been met, even though neither mother nor father were ever made official parties to the girl’s application.

The court’s reasoning was technical:  First, it pointed out that under the CLRA the girl had a unilateral stand-alone legal right to withdraw from parental control once she reached age 16.  The court added:

Once a child declares an intention to withdraw from parental control, her independence may – as it was here – be recognized by the police and the schools. There is no formal court process for a child to withdraw. … Unlike jurisdictions such as Quebec which have procedures for “emancipation”, Ontario law does not have a formal process for withdrawing from parental control. The child simply has to take control of the incidents of custody which include decision making regarding residence and education. No court process is required.

However, there was a narrow distinction between withdrawing from parental control, and obtaining a declaration from the court to that effect.  The former was a legal right that the girl could exercise unilaterally; the latter was a request to the court that it exercise its jurisdiction to make a declaration.  Here, the girl had appeared before the court for the second item, the declaration, which triggered consideration of the various legal interests of both the child and the parents.  In this matter, some of those interests were in conflict and called for a balanced inquiry.  Also, the CLRA expressly provides that the parents must be before the court in any application in respect of a child.

In short, and based on the legislation and basic legal principles, the court found that the parents must indeed be parties to their own daughter’s application to withdraw from parental control, but that the court has a broad discretion to direct the extent of that participation.  Here, although the father had not initially been named as a party by the lower court judge, he had been allowed a certain level of involvement nonetheless. He had been allowed to file material and make submissions.

The court also concluded that the merits of the girl’s application justified the order made. The prior judge had fully considered the extensive court record, which included more than a dozen affidavits providing information on which the best interests of the girl could be assessed.  The judge’s findings were supported by the evidence, and there was no procedural unfairness in granting the declaration.

As the Appeal Court stated: “The declaratory relief was not exercised in a vacuum. There was a clear reason for it.”

The father’s appeal was dismissed.

R.G. v. K.G.,

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

Child Support Law Changing to Include Adult Children with Disabilities

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Child Support Law Changing to Include Adult Children with Disabilities

As I reported back this past summer, a court challenge by a single mother of a 22- year-old disabled young man, based on an asserted breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, succeeded in upending the law relating to the eligibility for child support for such disabled adults.  The mother had successfully claimed that the child’s father – to whom she was never married – should continue to have a support obligation for the son they had together. She convinced the court that as compared to married parents, the differential treatment parents in her situation was contrary to Charter values.

On the heels of this decision, the Ontario government had promptly announced plans to amend the provincial legislation governing child support by way of Bill 113, as I reported shortly after the ruling was released.

Those amendments, included in omnibus budget legislation called the Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures) Act, 2017 (Bill 177) [RA: Add link to http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&Intranet=&BillID=5316], were introduced on November 14, 2017.  They alter the provisions of the Ontario Family Law Act, so that the legislation now requires that every parent provide support, to the extent that the parent is capable of doing so, for his or her unmarried child who is “unable by reason of illness or disability to withdraw from the charge of his or her parents.”

The legal impact of the upcoming amendments is that:

  • the category of adult children who are eligible for child support is now expanded (since previously it included only adult children who are attending school full-time);
  • the child support obligation applies in respect of not only children of parents who are married, but also those with unmarried parents; and
  • the Family Law Act is now in-line with federal Divorce Act legislation, and with the law in many other Canadian jurisdictions.

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

 

In Custody Case, Court Avoid Declaring Either Warring Parent the “Winner”

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In Custody Case, Court Avoid Declaring Either Warring Parent the “Winner”

The parents of a now 13-year-old boy and of three other now-adult children had separated very acrimoniously in 2012.  The court describes the end of the relationship this way:

The parties separated at the end of December, 2012. There was a meeting of the family, not including [the 13-year old son], in early January, 2013. It was hoped that that meeting would be civil, and would set the stage for an orderly transition to the parties living separately. Instead, matters went rapidly downhill thereafter. There were allegations of abuse, violence, theft, destruction of property, assaults, and other allegations of a similar nature. The [father] began videotaping interactions between the parties and their children. The police were called on many occasions. The Children’s Aid Society was involved.

After the ill-fated family meeting, the mother had primary care of the boy, while the father had access only on alternating weekends.  The court heard that under this arrangement, the boy was by all accounts thriving in his school and social environments.  He had a strong attachment to both parents, and was equally happy spending time with either of them.  His stated preference was to spend equal time with them both.

Nonetheless, the father applied for sole custody of the boy.  He claimed that the mother had abused all children for years, and indeed two of them and their paternal grandmother gave testimony to confirm that opinion. (And the court noted that two of those three adult children no longer wanted anything to do with their mother.)   Two of the boy’s siblings gave evidence that the boy would be much better off living with his father, and one of them felt that he would be better off not seeing the mother at all.  One sibling was more conciliatory, but also believed that the boy would do better living with the father.

The father’s opinion of the mother was unequivocal:  He claimed she was a “vindictive, destructive, and evil” person.

The court was left to resolve all this competing evidence in a high-conflict situation, to arrive at a workable resolution.  In doing so, it reiterated the guiding principle in such matters:

It is trite that decisions respecting the custody of or access to a child must be made in accordance with the best interests of the child. The interests of the parents are entirely secondary.

The court then added:

Having heard 16 days of evidence, it is quite clear that each party is, for the most part, concerned with his or her interests first and foremost. The hatred of these parties for each other is palpable. Control is of paramount importance.

Both parties have behaved unreasonably.

Against this background, the court concluded there had been no abuse of the boy, and that – when not embroiled in litigation – were good parents and have the boy’s best interests in mind.  Even though the parents lived quite some distance away, and assuming that the father could commit to getting the boy to school, there would be an order for joint custody, with an equal shared / parallel parenting regime involving at least 40 per cent of the boy’s time being spent with each parent.  (And if the father could not commit to the school-day driving then the current arrangement would remain, but with increased access to him).

The court added that it also wanted to avoid making an order for sole custody to one parent or the other, for fear that the chosen parent would consider themselves the “winner” and use such a determination as an “instrument of oppression.”

For the full text of the decision, see:

Hart v. Krayem

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

Was Parents’ Money a Gift or Loan? The Perils of Poor Documentation

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Was Parents’ Money a Gift or Loan? The Perils of Poor Documentation

Picture this not-uncommon scenario:   The parents provide their newly-married adult daughter or son with a significant amount of money to put towards the down-payment of a first home.

All goes well until a few years later when that son or daughter, ensconced in the home purchased partly with the parents’ money, decides to divorce.  How does that money get treated in that divorce settlement?  Was it a gift to the couple, or a loan that was expected to be repaid?

The question is a very important one because under Ontario family law, the characterization of the parents’ money in the hands of the adult son or daughter becomes a prime consideration in the valuating separation-date assets. Under the Family Law Act, funds that are gifts to the couple during marriage get put into the “pot” for equalization of Net Family Property as usual; funds that are considered loans must naturally be repaid to the original lender.

So the intent behind the advance of funds is key.

In a recent 130-paragraph judgment in a case called Chao v. Chao, the courts scrutinized the evidence to determine what the parents’ intentions had been a full 37 years earlier, when they advanced over $450,000 to their newly-married son, as well as half the cost of the couple’s new $260,000 home.

The then-newlyweds used invested those funds wisely:   For the last 25 years of their marriage, neither husband nor wife worked at anything other than small jobs here and there, and essentially lived off the income generated from investments purchased with the money from the husband’s parents.  By the time of the trial, their investments and various account balances had grown so that the couple’s assets were nearing the $2 million mark, although neither party provided reliable figures.

Indeed, the court commented specifically on the unsatisfactory state of the financial and other evidence that had been given, some of which was purported to come from the husband’s mother, who was now 89 years old.  (The husband’s father had already passed away).  As for murky evidence of the intent behind the initial advance of funds, the court wrote:

 It is noteworthy that neither the [wife], the [husband], nor the [husband’s] mother … gave evidence of any verbal agreements, representations, expressions of intent or discussions between either of the [husband’s] parents and one or more of the parties surrounding or touching upon the [financial] advances. The evidence of each of the affiants regarding the intentions of the [husband’s] parents in making the advances consist of assumptions, understandings or conclusions of what was intended by the parents, rather than indications of what one or more of the parties may have said at the time.

By way of illustration, the husband said that in 1975 when the parents advanced half the costs of their first home, there was “an understanding” between him, them and the wife that whenever the house was sold, half the proceeds would be returned to the parents.  However, the court noted that he “never asserted that anyone ever expressed this understanding verbally or in writing.”

The court also dismissed some other late-breaking evidence put forth by the husband:

 I would strike out exhibit D to the [husband’s] affidavit as it is stated by the respondent to be undated handwritten lists made by him which he “discovered” when he “found” a file and “discovered” that it contained “some evidence to support my case that while I was unemployed, my mother provided investments in our names for our living expenses.”

The handwritten list is self-serving, has marginal probative value and in any event should have been disclosed earlier by the [husband] The probative value of handwritten list is marginal because there is no suggestion by either party that the investment accounts owned by them or with their children originated from their own earnings or resources. It is common ground that the investments were derived from advances made by the [husband’s] parents. The issue is how to properly characterize those advances, whether as gifts, loans or as subject to a resulting trust.

Ultimately the court considered what little evidence had been provided, in the context of deciding a motion for summary judgment which (if granted) would obviate the need for a trial on this issue.   It found as follows:

Based upon all of the evidence before me I find that the presumption of resulting trust in favor of [the husband’s mother] has been rebutted. I also find that the various advances made by the [husband’s] parents cannot be characterized as loans from them to the [husband]. Based upon the evidence the reality of the situation is that there never was any expectation, prior to the parties’ separation, on the part of [the husband’s mother] that the [husband] and the [wife] would be required to repay any portion of the funds advanced by her and her husband. … [I]t would be unfair to permit the [husband] to receive a credit for a debt to his mother, with the financial benefits that would flow to him from that credit on the equalization calculation.

The lesson to be learned from Chao v. Chao is a simple one.  Parents:  Put it in writing. 

Anytime parents advance funds to adult children with the expectation of being paid back, they must make sure there is ample evidence in the form of clear documentation that a loan was intended.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Chao v. Chao

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

 

Mother Wins Constitutional Challenge on Child Support for Disabled Adult Child

Mother Wins Constitutional Challenge on Child Support for Disabled Adult Child

The recent decision in a case called Coates v. Watson represents a landmark of constitutional law, with the court finding that section 31 of the Ontario Family Law Act discriminates against the adult disabled children of unmarried parents and is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The case involved an unmarried Ontario mother who was responsible for caring for her adult disabled son named Joshua. The biological father had paid some child support, but was looking to have the support payments terminated now that Joshua was an adult.

Joshua suffered from DiGeorge syndrome, which left him with both physical and mental health issues. These in turn prevented him from attending school full-time.

The legal issue arose because section 31 of the provincial Family Law Act (“FLA”) states that every parent has an obligation to provide support, but only if the child is a minor or is in school full-time. The meant that in cases where the disabled child cannot attend school, section 31 actually operates to prevent him or her from falling within the definition of “child” and thus qualifying for child support. When applied to Joshua’s case, the law effectively eliminated the biological father’s obligation to assist in supporting his son.

In contrast, the federal Divorce Act contains no such qualification, and imposes a support obligation on the parents of disabled adult children, regardless of whether the child attends school.

In noting this discrepancy between the federal and provincial legislation, the court ultimately concluded that section 31 of the FLA was unconstitutional, because it discriminates against adult disabled children of unmarried parents on various grounds including parental marital status, and disability. That discrimination is contrary to s. 15 of the Charter, which enshrines the principle that every individual is “equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

If the ruling in Coates v. Watson stands (and is not overturned on appeal), then there is speculation that the FLA might have to be amended by expanding the definition of “child”, or by incorporating the definition found in the federal Divorce Act.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Coates v. Watson, 2017 ONCJ 454 (CanLII)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

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Deceased’s Estate Division Pits Sister and Ex-Wife Against Each Other

Deceased’s Estate Division Pits Sister and Ex-Wife Against Each Other

Here’s a slightly convoluted tale, but it’s an interesting one involving a dispute between the estranged wife and sister of a deceased man over his estate. Here is the cast of players:

1) Paul, who died in 2013.

2) His wife Pauline, from whom he separated in 2002.

3) Paul’s sister Rita, to whom he left half his estate, and who was also his Estate Trustee.

When Paul and Pauline separated, Paul agreed under their separation agreement to designate Pauline as beneficiary of a $150,000 insurance policy and keep up the premium payments. If Paul failed to maintain the insurance, it was agreed that Pauline would have “first dibs” against his estate for $150,000, in the role of a creditor.

In fact, Paul did not maintain the life insurance as agreed, and it lapsed before he died.

But there was a problem: Paul’s estate was too small to pay Pauline the $150,000 he owed, since his assets at death totaled only about $100,000.

Enter Paul’s sister Rita. As a beneficiary under his Will – and but for Pauline’s $150,000 claim – she stood to inherit 50% of Paul’s estate. In the role of Estate Trustee, she had obligations to all estate creditors, including Pauline. These duties These duties included ascertaining the debts and liabilities of Paul’s estate, and paying them. So Rita essentially wore “two hats”.

Pauline’s asserted first-dibs claim against Paul’s estate became a contentious issue, and the matter went to court for resolution. In an earlier application, the court rejected Rita’s argument that Pauline had missed the deadline for bringing her claim against Paul’s estate, which she did in 2015, more than two years after Paul’s death.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal confirmed that finding. The reason for Pauline’s delay was actually Rita’s own obfuscating conduct, and it would be unfair to hold her to that deadline in the circumstances.

As Estate Trustee, Rita had control over the information Pauline needed to ascertain whether Paul held any insurance policy for her benefit, as the separation agreement required. Pauline could not obtain the information from the insurer directly, so she was understandably beholden to Rita to provide it. Only Rita knew whether Pauline’s debt claim against the estate even existed; this put her in a unique and privileged position.

The problem was, Rita was not forthright with Pauline, and withheld the information she needed.

Initially, she had her lawyer advise (inaccurately) that Paul had maintained the life insurance, and later had the lawyer advise that the policy “may have lapsed”. Neither of these statements were true: Rita had known early on that Paul had let the life insurance lapse despite his obligations under the separation agreement, knew Pauline had a valid claim against his estate as a creditor. Yet she kept the information from Pauline and caused her to delay taking timely steps in pursuit of it.

From a legal standpoint the Appeal Court found that – wholly unrelated to their family connection – Rita and Pauline had a “special relationship”, and that Rita’s withholding of information made her guilty of fraudulent concealment, and made her conduct “unconscionable”.

The Appeal Court referred to and endorsed the findings of the application judge, who had written:

By withholding material facts, the estate trustee [the sister, Rita] concealed from [Pauline, the wife] that she had a legitimate debt against the estate as a creditor. In my view, given the special relationship between the estate trustee [Rita] and [Pauline], it was unconscionable for the estate trustee [Rita] to initially suggest that insurance was in place, then delay matters by promising to bring an application for directions, and then later take the position (a position which provided a direct material benefit to her as a beneficiary of the estate), that the time for claiming against the estate had expired.

The court accordingly found that the usual deadline for Pauline to claim for $150,000 against Paul’s estate did not expire in this case, and could proceed.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Roulston v. McKenny, 2017 ONCA 9 (CanLII)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

Do Judges Need to Actually Give Reasons?

Do Judges Need to Actually Give Reasons?

For those of you “armchair lawyers” who like to follow real-life trials, watch TV crime shows, or even just read books by John Grisham, here’s an interesting question for you:

In law, can a litigant appeal a judicial ruling simply because the judge’s reasons were brief?

The answer is: Maybe.

The sparseness of the reasons given by the trial judge was among the grounds for appeal in the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Filanovsky v. Filanovsky. A 45-year old woman had sued her parents for alleged physical and emotional abuse when she was a child, including violent blows to the face that left her with traumatic brain injuries.

After a 10-day trial in which the court considered evidence from the woman, her brother, various experts, and the parents themselves, the woman’s claims were dismissed.

She appealed and requested a new trial, with one of the grounds being that the judge failed to give adequate reasons to explain the reason her claim was dismissed.

The appeal court rejected this particular argument.

To begin with, the court conceded that prior decisions have established that a judge must give reasons:

1) to justify and explain the result;

2) to explain to the losing party why she lost;

3) to provide public accountability and to satisfy the public that justice has been done; and

4) to permit review by an appeal court.

However, the Appeal Court relied on another recent decision of its own called Dovbush v. Mouzitchka, where it had a chance to examine those requirements in detail, saying:

Trial judges are called upon to make difficult decisions, often in difficult circumstances. They preside as the particular dynamics of the trial unfold. Inadequate reasons therefore pose a particular challenge for appellate review.

On the one hand, as [Supreme Court of Canada justice] Rothstein J. noted in F.H. v. McDougall, … “an appeal court cannot intervene merely because it believes the trial judge did a poor job of expressing herself. Nor, is the failure to give adequate reasons a free-standing basis for appeal.”

However, the Appeal Court in Dovbush had pointed that in determining the issue of the reasons’ sufficiency,

…[I]t turns on the overarching principle of whether the reasons permit meaningful and effective appellate review. Appellate courts will take a contextual and functional approach to addressing whether reasons meet this standard. The exercise has been variously described as one of determining whether the reasons demonstrate: “the path taken by the trial judge through confused or conflicting evidence” … or that “the trial judge came to grips with the issues and explained sufficiently his … conclusions and the reasons and basis for them” … or, the “what” and the “why” of the result.

Returning to the Filanovsky case, the judge who dismissed the woman’s abuse claim against her parents had actually given lengthy reasons, in which she assessed credibility, analyzed all the witness’ evidence, and pointed out inconsistencies. The reasons as rendered by the judge did allow for a meaningful appellate review.

The woman had raised other grounds of appeal, and these were dismissed as well.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Filanovsky v. Filanovsky, 2017 ONCA 28 (CanLII)

Dovbush v. Mouzitchka, 2016 ONCA 381 (CanLII)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

Both Executor-Siblings Liable When One of Them Squanders Money Under Dad’s Will

Both Executor-Siblings Liable When One of Them Squanders Money Under Dad’s Will

A recent Ontario Court of Appeal case addresses a very straightforward issue: If there are two trustees appointed under a Will, can one co-trustee stand by and do nothing, while the other co-trustee squanders Estate money?

In Cahill v. Cahill the facts were also straightforward, and involved a deceased father and his adult children. When Thomas died in 2010, his Will appointed his daughter Sheila, and his son Kevin as executors and trustees of his Estate. They were directed to set aside $100,000 in a trust fund for the benefit of another brother, Patrick, and to pay him $500 per month from that trust money.

Instead, Kevin spent the $100,000 for his own benefit. Kevin was at liberty to do so because Sheila had informally abdicated her responsibilities as co-trustee, giving him sole discretion over the funds and their management. By her own admission, she had virtually no involvement in the administration of her father’s estate. Kevin assured her that he was handling everything properly, and she made no inquiries of him.

The court found that the obligations of a co-trustee such as Sheila were clear: he or she is not entitled to shrug off the wrongful actions of another co-trustee and claim ignorance.   Passive acquiescence was not a defence. Rather, each co-trustee is responsible for the trusteeship, and can be held both jointly and individually liable for everything that is done through the exercise of the trustee’s powers. Their duties arose from the express wishes of the testator under his or her Will, and bBy legislation, they were each entitled to payment out of the Estate for their efforts.

In short – and even though there was no evidence that she acted dishonesty — Sheila was not entitled to unilaterally devolve her responsibilities as co-trustee to Kevin, and therefore remained liable to the Estate unless she could bring herself within the narrow exceptions under the Trustee Act. That legislation allowed for the court-ordered relief from responsibility, provided that Sheila could show that she: 1) acted honestly, 2) acted reasonably, and 3) ought fairly to be excused, in the circumstances.

Typically, “honest” behavior involves active involvement in the affairs and decisions related to administering the trust. “Reasonable” is usually judged according to what an ordinary prudent business person would have done in the circumstances.

Here, Sheila’s conduct was not a mere technical breach but rather a wholesale delegation of her responsibilities to Kevin, without making any inquiries at all.   This was not reasonable in the case.

The lower court’s ruling, which held that Shelia had been negligent and that both she and Kevin and breached their fiduciary duties to Patrick and other beneficiaries of their father’s Estate, was confirmed by the Appeal Court. Sheila and Kevin were jointly and severally responsible for almost $81,000, which was the outstanding principal needed to fulfil their father’s testamentary wish to pay $500 per month to Patrick.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Cahill v. Cahill, 2016 ONCA 962

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

To Get Retroactive Support, Does a Kid Have to be Eligible at Now … or Only Back Then?

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To Get Retroactive Support, Does a Kid Have to be Eligible at Now … or Only Back Then?

A recent Ontario case highlights an interesting “timing” conundrum in Family Law: when a parent applies for retroactive child support, does it matter that the child over 18 when the application is made? Or does that make the child ineligible for support?

And what if it’s a motion to retroactively change existing support levels?

The law on this point was canvassed in the recent case of P.M.B. v. A.R.C.-A. The mother wanted support to cover a period when the child was 18 and attending school full-time. However, on the date of her application, the child was 19 and no longer attending school. She asked the court to order child support that was retroactive (i.e. effectively “back-dated”) to cover the child’s eligible period.

In considering that claim, the court resorted to the principles set out in a well-known Supreme Court of Canada decision in D.B.S. v. S.R.G., where the court set out the factors that family courts should take into account in detailing with such retroactive applications.

That higher Court had confirmed the general principle (known as the “D.B.S. rule”), that a claim for retroactive support cannot be made unless the child is eligible for support at the time the application is made. As the court in P.M.B. v. A.R.C.-A. put it: “Child support is for children of the marriage, not adults who used to have that status.”

(But this principle comes with a caveat, because the standards and thresholds for what makes a child eligible for support are slightly different under the provincial Family Law Act versus the federal Divorce Act. Also, other established factors that need to be examined, such as the reason for the parent’s delay in applying, the conduct of the paying parent, the circumstances of the child, and the hardship that such an award may entail. In short: Child support eligibility is a complicated legal issue).

However – as with all rules – there are some exceptions. The D.B.S. rule will usually be found not to apply in cases where:

• There is an existing order in place (and an established support obligation under either the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act) and a motion is being brought to change it retroactively;

• A party has engaged in blameworthy conduct (for example where the support recipients have been thwarted or blocked from pursuing a motion to vary support because of some misconduct by the paying parent); or

• The paying parent has failed to disclose income increases to the recipient parent, in a manner that the court considers blameworthy.

Ultimately, and after considering all of these principles, the court in P.M.B. v. A.R.C.-A. decided to stray from the usual D.B.S. rule, for various circumstantial reasons. These included: a) the existence of an oral agreement for child support; b) the fact that two of the three children were still under age and eligible for support when the retroactive support order was being made; and c) because the father had been fully aware of his support obligation – and the fact that he was not meeting it – all along.

For the full text of the decision, see:

P.M.B. v. A.R.C.-A., 2015 ONCJ 720 (CanLII)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at www.RussellAlexander.com

Are Parents Obliged to Support an Adult Child with Addictions?

addicted child

Are Parents Obliged to Support an Adult Child with Addictions?

In an older case called G. (R.W.) v. G. (S.I.), the court considered an interesting question: does an adult child’s drug and alcohol addiction render his or her parents legally obliged to provide financial support even after the age of majority?

In this case the son was 26 years old, and although he was attending university, he had drug and alcohol addictions which he denied and for which he refused to take any responsibility.

The father – a successful businessman who had earned more than $800,000 in the year prior – had voluntarily supported his son well past the age of majority. However, the question for the court was whether he had a legal obligation to continue to do so in light of his adult son’s addictions, which arguably made him still a “child of the marriage” under the provisions of the Divorce Act.

The court wrote:

The father places emphasis on freedom of choice and the notion that an adult child who chooses an independent lifestyle free of parental control must be taken to have voluntarily withdrawn from parental charge. … The other side of the coin, for purposes of s. 2(1)(b) of the Divorce Act, is whether a child is unable to withdraw or to obtain the necessaries of life by reason of illness, disability or other cause.

It is commonly accepted that addiction is a disease. To speak of the condition as voluntary ignores the biological or physiological roots of addiction, the influences of heredity, predisposition, societal and peer pressures, and the disparities in the availability and quality of treatment. Nonetheless, it is a treatable illness. Freedom of choice has more significance on the aspect of willingness to accept treatment. Where responsibilities exist to make reasonable efforts to achieve self-sufficiency — and such responsibilities apply to an adult child… — the courts have not condoned chronic financial dependence in cases where individuals refuse to help themselves.

The court added that the adult son had not been financially dependent on the father for a legally-acceptable reason, and he was not a “child of the marriage” since he refused to accept treatment for his addictions or even acknowledge them:

The evidence indicates the son has been in prolonged denial. He has not always taken treatment willingly and absent a threat of compulsion. He has had the best treatment available, as early as 1994, and he has been given the tools, and the knowledge not available to those less fortunate, to assist him in the management of his condition. This was provided at significant cost to the father. The son squandered many of the opportunities available to him in the form of sports scholarships, employment in the father’s business and higher education in his unwillingness to face his addictions and embrace recovery. As late as 2001 he underwent institutional treatment only when faced with ultimatums.

The solution in this particular case, the court found, was to withdraw the father’s financial support to “coerce” the son to stand on his own and to take responsibility for his addictions and circumstances:

In the case of addictions, chronic dependency must often be addressed by coercive measures. … There is … a concern that the son, in his efforts to achieve functional independence, avoid the security of a fall back position, or the comfort of a safety net in the form of guaranteed support.

Although this case does not establish a hard-and-fast rule for all scenarios, it emphasizes that even when adult children are still in school well past the age of majority, there is a point at which most courts will lay responsibility at the child’s own feet, rather than force the parent to shoulder the child’s financial obligations indefinitely.

For the full text of the decision see:

G. (R.W.) v. G. (S.I.), 2002 SKQB 167 (CanLII)

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