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Posts from the ‘Child Support’ Category

Moving with a Child: Mother’s Views Take a Back Seat to “Super ordinate Considerations” Affecting Child

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Moving with a Child: Mother’s Views Take a Back Seat to “Super ordinate Considerations” Affecting Child

In cases where spouses are separated or divorced, the decision of where a parent can live and work is no longer his or her alone.   Rather, the Family Court may become involved, and may be asked to give the parent permission to relocate, particularly if that involves moving with the child to a faraway community or jurisdiction, such that convenient access by the other parent is foreclosed.

Recently I talked about a noteworthy decision in a case called Porter v. Bryan where the Ontario Court of Appeal considered the various interests that must be considered when granting (or denying) permission in such cases.

In identifying those factors, the Court drew from a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in a landmark case called Gordon v. Goertz, where the country’s top Court said:

…the views of the custodial parent, who lives with the child and is charged with making decisions in its interest on a day-to-day basis, are entitled to great respect and the most serious consideration. The decision of the custodial parent to live and work where he or she chooses is likewise entitled to respect, barring an improper motive reflecting adversely on the custodial parent’s parenting ability.

However, while the custodial parent’s views are entitled to “serious consideration,” and were part of a balancing of the two parents’ competing interests as well, it was actually the child’s best interests that were to be given what the court called “superordinate consideration”, with the entire analysis to be determined using a child-centred perspective.   This was in line with the Court’s own prior ruling in a case called Berry v. Berry as well.

Applying these principles to the fact situation in Porter v. Bryan:   While the mother’s reasons for moving – while entitled to “great respect” – were relevant only to the extent that they related to her ability to meet the needs of her son.   The overall focus was to remain – at all times – on what was in the best interests of the child.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Berry v. Berry

Porter v. Bryan

Gordon v. Goertz

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

Court Strikes Family Law Firm’s $72,500 “Premium” as Being a Contingency Fee

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Court Strikes Family Law Firm’s $72,500 “Premium” as Being a Contingency Fee

Most of you will be familiar with “contingency fees”, meaning the fees a client agrees to pay a lawyer only if the lawyer is successful in the litigation for which he or she is hired.   They are most often used in personal injury matters, with the lawyer’s fee being calculated as a percentage of the amount recovered for the client.

But what you may not know is that in Ontario Family Law matters, contingency fee arrangements are prohibited outright. And in a recent decision, the court “undid” an arguably creative approach by a Toronto-area Family Law firm, finding it was a prohibited contingency fee by another name.

In Jackson v. Stephen Durbin and Associates, the husband was involved in a contentious custody battle with his wife over their 6-year-old daughter.   Under the retainer he signed with the law firm chosen to represent him, the husband agreed to pay the lawyers an hourly rate for working on his case, but “with a daily counsel fee for court or tribunal appearances at ten-fold (solicitor’s) hourly rate and an increase in fees in the event of a positive result achieved (“results achieved fee”)”.

About two years into the litigation process, the husband had depleted the retainer funds and began to accrue arrears with the law firm.  After several accommodations and re-negotiations, the husband still owed the firm its fees totaling $132,500.

He challenged the law firm’s overall bill, especially the “results achieved fee” of almost $72,500, which had been rendered on a separate invoice.   He claimed this was tantamount to a contingency fee agreement in a Family Law matter, which is clearly prohibited by section 28.1(3) of the Solicitors Act.

After reviewing several prior cases on this point, the court agreed. The Act’s wording describes a contingency fee agreement as being one that provides that the remuneration paid to the lawyer for legal fees is contingent “in whole or in part” on the successful disposition or completion of the matter.  The retainer in question stipulated an increase in the event of a “positive result achieved”.  As the court put it:

The logical interpretation of that agreement is that the “results achieved fee” is only chargeable if a successful result is achieved.  I find that the language of the retainer agreement combined with the way the results achieved fee was charged (by way of a separate account), confirms the firm’s intention that the fee was contingent on the successful disposition or completion of the matter in respect of which services were provided.  As such, the results achieved fee charged by the respondent to the applicant is a contingency fee defined by the Solicitor Act and is a prohibited charge.

In short, the “results achieved fee” was merely a contingency fee arrangement in a creative wrapper.  The court accordingly ordered the law firm to refund the almost $72,5000 “premium” that the husband had been charged.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Jackson v. Stephen Durbin and Associates

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’s Bid to Relocate Child – Was it Just a Pretext to Join New Romantic Partner?

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Mother’s Bid to Relocate Child – Was it Just a Pretext to Join New Romantic Partner?

The parents of a 5-year old boy had separated in 2015, and had a court-approved agreement as to joint custody and shared parenting.  The mother now wanted to relocate with her son from Cochrane, Ontario to Thunder Bay where she had multiple job offers waiting.  She had recently quit her job as a prison transport officer in Cochrane, which did not allow her to properly fulfill her childcare responsibilities. As the court explained:

…. [H]er schedule was unpredictable; sometimes working out of town, sometimes working overtime, sometimes both, and never knowing until the last minute. This would have impaired her ability to care for her son – not knowing in advance whether she would be called in to work in the morning before he went to school, or whether she would be home in time to pick him up again – but her employer temporarily accommodated her with a schedule that avoided unpredictable deployment. Eventually, however, her employer withdrew this accommodation. After exhausting her vacation time and sick leave, the mother resigned her position. Prior to her resignation, her employer invited her to apply for another position in Cochrane with a more parenting-friendly schedule. She was successful, but the employer subsequently had to revoke the offer.

The mother said the move to Thunder Bay was necessary to remain financially viable and provide for her son, and that as the son’s primary caregiver, her decisions about where to live and work out to be given considerable weight.

The father objected to the mother’s plan.  For one thing, it would strip him of the chance to influence his son.   For another, he claimed the mother’s alleged need to move was merely a pretext to be with her new romantic partner, who also lived in Thunder Bay.   He also questioned her lack of ability to find new work in Cochrane, and felt that – since she had quit her job – her current state of financial hardship was self-imposed.

The mother’s bid to move had been rejected earlier by a motion judge, who discounted the allegation that the ostensible need for the move was a pretext.  However, the judge did conclude that both parents’ views had equal weight, and that the resolution called for a simple balancing of pros and cons between Cochrane and Thunder Bay, from the perspective of how the boy might benefit. In the end, the motion judge concluded that the mother should be able to find suitable work in Cochrane if she tried.

The Appeal Court saw things differently, and granted the mother’s appeal.

First of all, the motion judge had erred in not characterizing the mother as the primary caregiver, and in not giving her particular reasons for moving “serious consideration.”  Also, the judge was wrong in deciding that the mother’s financial circumstances were not self-imposed; they were brought on by the employer’s withdrawal of prior accommodation of her childcare responsibilities.  Nor was there any basis for the judge to conclude that the mother could likely find work in Cochrane – in fact the evidence showed otherwise.

The Appeal Court explained:

There is, in our view, a valid and compelling parenting-based reason for the move: it is necessary to enable the primary caregiver to remain financially viable while providing care for the child. The mother has done all she can be expected to do to secure employment in Cochrane. It has not worked out, and there is no good reason for her and her son to live in poverty when she has secured employment in Thunder Bay that will allow her both to parent her son and to provide economically for him.

The court also said it was “encouraged” in this regard by the fact that the mother had offered to provide air travel to Cochrane for the child, which was one of her employment benefits at one of the Thunder Bay jobs.  She also offered to accommodate the father’s work schedule as a forest firefighter when he was deployed across Canada.

The court granted the mother’s appeal, allowing her to move with the child to Thunder Bay, and ordered a new access regime, with the parents working out an acceptable access schedule between them.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Porter v. Bryan

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

Couple’s Use of Support Set-Off Calculations Costs Husband His $15,000 Tax Credit

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Use of Support Set-Off Calculations Costs Husband His $15,000 Tax Credit

The husband and wife separated in 2011.  Based on their respective yearly incomes, they amicably resolved their issues as to child support by way of an agreement and consent order that was filed with the court.   They reached an agreement on child support by using a software program which, as the court put it, “introduce[d] various offsetting inputs and devise[d] a final unilateral payment from one spouse to the other.”

The outcome of the calculations was that the husband owed a single payment to the wife, who acknowledged that he was not required to pay further support for a specified time-period.   On this income tax return for the year, the husband then went ahead and claimed non-refundable child tax credits of almost $15,000 in respect of their two children.

As the court explained:

All of the usual stressful, difficult and emotional issues for this couple relating to child custody, financial support and raising a family within the constraints of marriage breakdown were resolved in a laudatory, sensible and agreeable fashion. [The husband] testified all issues settled amicably. Lawyers were involved to prepare all documents, undertake court proceedings and ensure all details complied with the parties’ wishes and the law. All seemed to unfold accordingly until the Minister’s reassessment disallowing the 2012 dependent deductions. Understandably, [the husband’s] child support commitment was predicated upon his use of the dependent deductions to reduce his taxable income.

The problem was that the Income Tax Act provision under which the husband had purported to claim that tax credit, namely s. 118(5.1), was an exception to the general rule in another section of the Act that disallows a support-paying person from claiming a tax deduction for dependents in certain stipulated instances.  Under the wording of that latter provision, the loss or non-use of the dependent deduction could be prevented only where both parents factually pay to the other an amount for child support.

In this case, since the spouses had essentially used a set-off procedure to come up with a single payment by the husband to the wife, there was no such payment by each of them separately, as the provision required.

Unfortunately, this meant that the Minister of National Revenue disallowed the $15,000 the husband purported to claim under s. 118(5.1) of the Act.  Because the husband was the only spouse to pay “a support amount”, the Minister concluded, he did not fall within the exception in s. 118(5.1) and was not eligible.

The husband appealed the Minister’s decision, but was unsuccessful.   The court pointed out that the case law precedent was uniform in its interpretation of the Act, and that the fact that the couple had used a set-off mechanism in the course of calculating their child support obligations to each other did not transform the respective and distinct values they used into “a support amount” as that term is used in the Act’s provision.  The Act, as worded, did not accommodate for the “expeditious use of a computer software program, the culmination of which is a unilateral payment of a support amount by only one parent to the other.”

Despite this outcome arguably based on technicalities, the court said it had “no alternative but to dismiss” the husband’s appeal, “however sympathetic it may be.”

For the full text of the decision, see:

Harder v. The Queen

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

 

 

Should Aboriginal Heritage Trump Child Protection Needs?

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Should Aboriginal Heritage Trump Child Protection Needs?

In a recent child protection case, the court summed up nature of the proceedings with a definite air of gravitas:

This case is also about the equality rights of Métis children and their families in the child protection context in Ontario, and whether the provincial government is respecting those rights. It is an important opportunity for this province to demonstrate its commitment to act upon the Calls to Action that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued in 2015.

The facts involved a child who had been apprehended at birth by the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), and was in foster care ever since.  He was now almost two years old.

The father claimed the child was of Métis heritage.  This claim was an important fact, because the definition of “Native child” contained in the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) did not include Métis.   This meant that a Métis child would not gain the same advantages as one who had been designed a “Native child” under the CFSA; including the benefit of a legislative mandate to the court to the effect that any order made in relation to the child was to bear his or her cultural, religious, and regional differences in mind.

Against that background, the CAS had applied to have the child made a Crown ward, with no access to the parents at all.  This sparked a successful Charter of Rights challenge by the child’s father, who claimed that the differing treatment of Métis children was in violation of the guarantee of “equality before and under law, and equal protection and benefit of law”.  A prior court had temporarily addressed the father’s concern by ordering the child to be treated as if he were in the more beneficial “Native child” category for the purposes of the court application by the CAS to make him a Crown ward.

The court then turned to assessing the parties’ positions on that application.  It acknowledged that there were numerous factors involved in deciding a child protection application, and the child’s Aboriginal heritage was just one of them.  Here, the father had raised the issue at the eleventh hour, and had supplied only scarce evidence to show that maintaining the native heritage and culture was important to the family.  The court said:

What I have outlined above is the totality of the evidence this court was given relative to [the father’s] background. He did not give any testimony about his Aboriginal background or any connections that he had or has in that community other than his relatively brief contact with the Métis Ontario Healthy Babies Healthy Children Program.

The court quoted from a prior ruling in which the court had to deal with similar issues, then added its own comments:

Our compassion toward and recognition of the importance of native heritage and families remains unwavering.  But special status does not equate to a blanket exemption from legislation carefully crafted to protect vulnerable and often damaged children.

 I agree with all of the considerations that are set out by [the prior judge] in the above-quoted paragraph. In addition, I do not feel that the legislative scheme put in place to recognize the importance of Native heritage and culture for children who have been designated as Native can be meaningfully applied in the abstract. There must be evidence of the nature of the involvement of the child’s family in the Native community. The mere claim that someone is Native does not allow the court to consider the relevant factors within the legislative scheme, without some evidence of what is important to this family, this child, and the Aboriginal community the child is said to be a member of.

In this case, the required proof was absent. The father had also not shown that his prior inappropriate parenting skills had improved even though he had parenting services available to him for several years.  An attempt to find the child suitable placement with extended family-members had failed.  Meanwhile, the child had begun to thrive in his current care arrangement that did not feature any involvement by the parents.

Finally, the court observed that prior to bringing its application, the CAS had invited members of various Ontario-based Métis communities to participate in the litigation or provide the placement options for the child, without success.

Ultimately, the child was made a Crown ward, with no access to the parents.  However, the court also directed that the CAS should make every effort that any foster parent or adoptive placement would be willing to educate the child on his Aboriginal heritage and culture, and to expose the child to his culture on an age-appropriate basis.

For the full text of the decision, see:

CCAS v G.H. and T.V.

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: When Can A Parent Apply For Child Support

Wednesday’s Video Clip: When Can A Parent Apply For Child Support

In this video we discuss how parents who have their children living with them after separation can apply for child support at any time. Usually they apply right after they separate or as part of their divorce application. They often apply for custody and child support at the same time. It is usually best to deal with these matters as early as possible. Sometimes parents with custody do not want or need child support at first, but later their situation changes.

They can apply for child support when the need occurs, even after a divorce and all other matters arising from the separation have been settled. But if a step-parent is asked to pay support, the more time that has passed since the step-parent had an ongoing relationship with the child, the less likely it is that the court will order support payments. This is especially true if the step-parent’s social and emotional relationship with the child has ended. A parent can apply for custody and support even while living separately under the same roof after their relationship with the other parent is over. But usually the court will not make any order for custody and support until one parent has actually moved out.

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Child Support & Parents on Social Assistance


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Child Support & Parents on Social Assistance

Parents on social assistance who have custody of their children must make reasonable efforts to get support from the other parent. If they do not, they may receive less assistance, or none at all. If they do not already have a support agreement or order, they are expected to get one. They must give information about the other parent to a family support worker who can help them get a support agreement or order.

They should get legal advice before signing any agreement worked out on their behalf.

They may not have to try to get support if the other parent:

• has a history of violence towards them or their child

• cannot be found (but they must give their worker any information they have that might help find the other parent),

• or is not working and cannot afford to pay support (if he or she starts working again, then support can be re-ordered).

The amount of any child support they receive is deducted from their social assistance. So, their total income does not change because of the child support.

Usually, the payments go directly to them, and that same amount is deducted from their monthly social assistance cheque. But if there is a history of non-payment, the child support payments can be assigned to Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Then they will get their whole social assistance cheque, even when the support payments are not paid.

Parents on social assistance who do not have custody are expected to pay child support to the extent that they can, as set out in the Child Support Guidelines. Currently, the Guidelines do not require support payments from parents whose income is less than about $6,700 a year.

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: What Are The Child Support Guidelines?


Wednesday’s Video Clip: What Are The Child Support Guidelines?

In this law video we discuss the child support guidelines.

In 1997, the federal government brought in a set of new rules and tables for calculating the amount of support a parent who does not have custody of his or her child must pay to the parent who has custody.

These rules and tables were later adopted by the Ontario government and are set out in the Child Support Guidelines.

A link to the Federal Child Support Guidelines is provided in the More Information, Courts and Statutes section of our web site Russellalexander.com.

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

In this legal video, we discuss how enforcement in Ontario is done through a provincial government office called the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). The court automatically files all support orders made after July 1, 1987 with the FRO. Separation agreements can also be filed there if they have been filed with the court and then mailed to the FRO.

The parent who is to pay support is told to make all support payments to the FRO. When the FRO receives a payment, it sends a cheque to the parent with custody, or deposits the money directly into that parent’s bank account. It only does this after it has received the money from the paying parent.

If a payment is missed, the FRO takes action to enforce the order or agreement. To do this, the FRO needs as much up-to-date information about the paying parent as possible. This includes his or her full name, address, social insurance number, place of employment or business, income, and any property he or she owns. The information about the paying parent goes on a Support Deduction Information Form which is available at the court. This form is given to the FRO along with the support order or agreement. It is important to update this form whenever the information changes.

The FRO uses different ways to get the payments that are owed. It can:

• get the payments directly from the parent who is supposed to pay support

• have the payments automatically deducted from the parent’s wages or other income (other income includes things like sales commissions, Employment Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, income tax refunds, severance pay, and pensions)

• register a charge (a lien) against the personal property or real estate of a parent who fails to pay the support that he or she owes

• garnish (take money from) the bank account of a parent who fails to pay support

• garnish up to 50% of a joint bank account that he or she has with someone else, or

• make an order against another person who is helping a parent hide or shelter income or assets that should go toward support

The FRO can put more pressure on parents who do not make their support payments by:

• suspending their driver’s licences

• reporting them to the credit bureau so that it will be difficult for them to get loans, or

• canceling their passports.

Once the order or agreement is filed with the FRO, then it is the FRO, not the other parent, that is responsible for any actions taken to enforce it.
Sometimes parents receiving support withdraw from the FRO because it is easier to receive payments directly from the other parent. But if problems arise later, and they want to re-file with the FRO, they might have to pay a fee to do this.

Parents who have an obligation to pay support should also know that the FRO cannot change the amount that the order or agreement says they have to pay. If they think that a change in their financial situation justifies a reduction in the amount of support they should pay, they must get a new agreement or go to court to get the support order changed.

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

Untangling Financial Information – By Guesswork and Extrapolation

Untangling Financial Information – By Guesswork and Extrapolation

Although it’s a relatively short little ruling, the decision in Yahya v. Omar gives a glimpse of the type of judicial guesswork that goes into determining a separated couple’s income and earning capacity for the purposes of determining their respective spousal and child support obligations to each other.

The parents lived together common-law for over 15 years, and had three children together.  The judge who ruled on an earlier motion for interim financial relief had held that the father’s income was about $56,000, even though this was a higher figure than he reported on Line 150 of his income tax return.  The judge made a temporary order for the father to pay child and spousal support accordingly.

The parents appeared in succession before four more judges who made orders dealing with various issues, including how the proceeds of the sale of their condominium were to be dealt with, how payment of child support was to be made out of those proceeds, and various other orders. In each case the financial disclosure provided by the parties was less than fulsome.

The father then brought a new motion for an order that the initial child support order was improperly made, because it should be based on his actual income, rather than what the original judge had declared. He claimed that at the time of separation he operated a taxi cab business, and for the past few years his income had been in the range of about $40,000 gross, and under $15,000 net per year.  The father said that although that information had been available to the initial motion judge – and the judge acknowledged that the support might change depending on further disclosure – the judge had improperly relied on the income on his financial statement, which showed about $51,500.

Moreover, the father stated that he had actually been unwell and unable to work for a few months, and that he had surrendered his taxi and was now driving for UBER.   Based on pro rata extrapolation, the father said his income would about $30,000 per year.  He asked that his child support be reduced accordingly.

In contrast, the mother claimed that the father’s income should be set at least $43,000, but ideally it should be set at $90,000 based on both the lifestyle he was apparently living.

In addition to refuting the mother’s figures, the father claimed that she should be looking for work in order to contribute to her own support. But the mother refuted this, claiming that she had a health condition that prevented her from working.  Her only backing for this diagnosis was a one-line letter from a doctor.

The court considered these submissions by both parties.  Starting with the father’s income, it found that the family’s lifestyle certainly showed they were living well beyond the amounts shown in his recent income tax returns, but this did not mean his income should be set at $90,000.  In fact, the court noted the father was “living with various family members and friends”, although he gave no additional financial details around those arrangements.

With no further clarity as to his income, the court concluded that the initial temporary order would have to stand until trial, unless the father could provide further disclosure that warranted a change to it.

As for the mother’s claim to be unable to work:  The court firstly returned the doctor’s letter to the mother, because it had not been properly tendered in evidence, then added that she needed to provide proper disclosure if she wanted to support her claim and settle the outstanding financial issues.  Respecting the level of proof needed for her ostensible medical diagnosis, the court diplomatically added:

If it consists of a single sentence from a family doctor, it will not suffice in which case she should consider investigating employment.

To the extent that it could with the information available, the court made several orders to resolve some of the issues relating to the treatment of the proceeds of sale, and certain arrangements respecting the payment of support.  It added that the next step “must be an informed and productive settlement conference,” which the court emphasized would require each party to file financial statements, as well as net family property statements.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Yahya v. Omar

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