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Posts from the ‘Children’ Category

Regret is No Excuse for Disobeying Consent Order: Mom Blocks Grandmother’s Access to Kid

Regret is No Excuse for Disobeying Consent Order: Mom Blocks Grandmother’s Access to Kid

In some Family Law cases, one can speculate about the good intentions behind a parent’s actions, even when they end up being contrary to an agreement with the other parent, or to a court order. Still, it behooves the court to enforce its prior orders and agreements, to maintain the semblance of fairness and respect for the judicial process.

This was the situation in a case called Perna v Foss. The mother and father had married only a month before their child was born, and separated 18 months later.   The father eventually agreed to give sole custody to the mother.

When the boy was around 7 years old, the mother agreed to allow the boy’s grandmother (on the father’s side) to have access to him one day a week. In view of the mother’s acquiescence, the court granted a consent order accordingly.

However, the mother stopped facilitating the access altogether when she formed the opinion that the grandmother was “having conversations with [the boy] regarding serious issues” during those visits. She explained her move to block access in texts and Skype conversations with the grandmother, one of which read as follows:

I will consider giving you ur (sic) time back if u can promise me only good times and no conversations w Jackson about moving or living in Dominican Republic. I want the pressure off of him completely.  I never said I wanted you out of his life Sandra.  I just don’t want him having to answer questions about how he showers or what mommy does.  It’s not fair.  If you agree to this we can start visits again.  …

Evidently the two women were unable to come to an understanding; the mother continued to deny access, which prompted the grandmother to bring a motion for a court order finding her in contempt. The mother ignored the motion, and did not appear in court. (Nor had she taken any steps to vary the initial consent order granting the grandmother access in the first place, which would have been the ordinary course to take if she now took issue with it).

The court considered the circumstances, and agreed that the mother should indeed be held in contempt.

She was clearly aware of the consent order, and could not claim to be confused about its interpretation. She freely admitted to disobeying it on more than one occasion, as her texts and Skype sessions showed. In fact, she had announced both her deliberate intent to block the grandmother’s access, and her reasons for doing so.

The court speculated that the mother perhaps regretted having agreed to giving the grandmother access in the first place, but this did not give her justification or excuse for failing to honour her obligations under the consent order. She did not have the right to unilaterally refuse to comply.

In light of the contempt finding, the court refused to hear any further motions by the mothers – including one she had brought recently for permission to remain in the Dominican Republic with the child – until the contempt was purged.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Perna v Foss, 2015 ONSC 5636 (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

 

 

 

 

 

Appeal Court Affirms No Claim for Emotional Harm Arising from Birth of Unwanted Child

Appeal Court Affirms No Claim for Emotional Harm Arising from Birth of Unwanted Child

An unusual case arising from a man’s lawsuit over a baby he didn’t want has now been heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

As I reported here, the facts involved a man and woman who had a brief romantic fling in 2014, lasting less than two months. After going on a few dates, they had unprotected sex on several occasions. Although it was not strictly proven before the court, the man recalled his understanding, from various things the woman said, that she was taking birth control pills and did not intend to conceive a child.

But a few weeks after their short relationship ended, the man, in his early 40s, found out that the woman, in her early 30s, was pregnant. She went on to give birth, at which time it was confirmed that the man was the father.

The man, who was a budding doctor, sued the woman in civil court for over $4 million, claiming her fraudulent misrepresentation had deprived him of the choice of when and with whom to share the responsibility of parenthood. The court framed his cause of action in these words:

Although it was not presented in this way, the claim can be viewed as a tort claim for involuntary parenthood made by one parent against the other. It is clear that the alleged damages do not relate to a physical or recognized psychiatric illness. In essence, the damages consist of the [man’s] emotional upset, broken dreams, possible disruption to his lifestyle and career, and a potential reduction in future earnings, all of which are said to flow from the birth of a child he did not want. Although the claim is not for the direct costs associated with raising the child, all of the damages claimed by the [man] are the result of consequences flowing from the unwanted birth of a child, albeit unwanted only by the father.

(And it’s important to note that the man was suing for emotional harm of the non-pathological variety only; he was not suing for physical harm or for monetary damages, such as for any undesired child support obligations he may have. On that latter point, a separate Family Law suit, disputing his obligation to pay child support based on the woman’s alleged fraud and deceit, was also underway and would be heard separately).

The lower court, in striking out the man’s claim, held that his allegations disclosed no reasonable, legally-recognized cause of action, because a claim for fraudulent misrepresentation – which is a tort in Canadian law – was aimed at compensating the man for any financial damages, not emotional ones. In other words, the man was trying to claim for the types of damages that were simply not actionable through a fraud claim.

In its recent decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal agreed, adding that the woman’s alleged lie as to her being on birth control – even if it was proved that she told it – was not enough to form the basis of the man’s claim for emotional injury. Plus, any harm the man suffered was not tantamount to a “personal injury” in the traditional legal sense.

Do you think the original decision – now affirmed on appeal – was correctly decided? What are your thoughts?

For the full text of the decision, see:

PP v DD, 2017 ONCA 180 (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

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Video Clip: How are child payments taxed?


Wednesday’s Video Clip: How are child payments taxed?

In this video we discuss the tax consequences of child support.

Parents who receive child support payments under an agreement or court order made after April 30, 1997, do not have to include those payments in their taxable income. Parents who make these payments cannot deduct the payments from their taxable income.

This tax rule does not apply to continuing support paid under agreements or court orders made before May 1, 1997. The old rule still applies until the agreement or order is changed. Under the old rule, parents receiving support must pay tax on the amount received, and parents paying support can deduct the payments from their taxable income.

The new tax rule means that more of the support money received by the parent with custody is available to spend on the children. It also means that parents paying child support under an agreement or court order made after April 30, 1997, will have less after-tax income than parents paying the same amount according to an agreement or order made under the old tax rule. Courts take this into account when making new support orders.

Parents who have a support arrangement under the old tax rule may agree that they want the new tax rule to apply. They can do this if they both sign a form called “Election for Child Support Payments (T1157)”, that says they want the amount of support to stay the same but the new tax rule to apply.

You can get this form from any tax services office. Or you can call the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) at 1-800-959-2221 and ask to have a copy mailed to you, or download a copy from their website.

If one parent wants to change to the new tax rule, but the other does not, the parent who wants the change must apply to court to change the existing child support order or agreement. Parents thinking of doing this should be aware that when the court makes a new child support order or changes an existing order or agreement, it must apply the Child Support Guidelines.

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

Recent Child Abduction Case – Just One of Many

Recent Child Abduction Case – Just One of Many

You may have read in the newspapers recently about latest development in a custody battle over a 9-year-old girl that has resulted in the mother being arrested and charged with her abduction. It seems that rather than return the girl to her father on December 1 as required, the mother opted to essentially “run and hide”, taking the girl with her in violation of a custody order. After an Amber Alert prompted tips from the public, police found the mother and daughter living in Hamilton.

The child’s father, Mohamed Abdel-Motaleb, is in Canada from Egypt on a visitor’s visa and is seeking custody here after not knowing the daughter’s whereabouts for over a year. He claimed that without his consent, the mother secreted the daughter from Egypt – travelling part of the route by camel – in order to make their way to Canada where her parents live.

The parents have a history of high conflict over the child, and through their lawyers have levelled accusations against each other. The mother’s family and friends have stood by her in support, believing that she was motived by a desire to protect her daughter and avoid a court battle with the father, whom she claimed to fear. The abduction for which she is formally charged took place only one day before a scheduled court date in their ongoing custody dispute.

Canadian courts universally frown on such self-help measures in child custody disputes, even where the abducting parent has the child’s best interests at heart. Sentences can also be stiff: In the most recent decision out of Alberta, a father who had plead guilty to abducting his 7-year-old son and removing him to Lebanon contrary to a custody order was sentenced to 12 months incarceration including 45 days spent in jail after being arrested.

In that case, the abduction had been premeditated, with the father having planned to sell his home and dispose of all his affairs in Canada in anticipation of moving to Lebanon with the boy. He even created a website explaining his reasons for abducting the child.

In response to the father’s unilateral actions, the mother had been forced to fly to Lebanon to try to find her son. This involved her leaving her home and job, spending her savings, max-ing out her credit cards, and withdrawing from her RRSP. While in Lebanon she visited more than 30 different schools to try to find him, and once she did, she was ordered by the court to post a US$50,000 bond in return for getting access.

In imposing sentence, the court considered an earlier B.C. decision in which the accused father spent a total of three years being incarcerated for abducting his own child, in that case through violent means and involving a car chase which endangered not only the child, but the public as well.

As with these Alberta and B.C. cases, the Ontario courts see many similar scenarios. And whle it’s admittedly vital that courts condemn such self-help solutions, and reinforce respect and compliance with legal process and custody orders, it’s not hard to feel compassion for the situation both parents themselves in.

What are your thoughts on child abduction cases like these? Are the penalties too stiff? Too lenient?

For the full text of the decision, see:

R. v. M.E., 2016 ABPC 250 (CanLII)
R. v. C.M.N, 2002 BCCA 76 (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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: How Base Child Support is Calculated


Wednesday’s Video Clip: How Base Child Support is Calculated

In this video we discuss how the Child Support Table in the Guidelines sets out the amounts of support to be paid, depending on the “gross income” of the paying parent and the number of children that the support order covers. Gross income means before taxes and most other deductions. The amounts to be paid are based on the average amounts of money that parents at various income levels spend to raise a child.

In simple cases, the table alone will determine how much money will be paid. In more complicated cases, the table is used as the starting point. There is a different table for each province and territory.

If both parents live in Ontario, the Ontario table applies. Also, if the paying parent lives outside of Canada and the parent with custody lives in Ontario, the Ontario table applies. But if the paying parent lives in another province or territory, the table for that province or territory is the one that applies.

You can get a copy of the Child Support Table for Ontario by phoning 1-888-373-2222.

Or you can visit the Department of Justice Canada’s web site at www.canada.justice.gc.ca/en/ps/sup and click on “Simplified Federal Child Support Tables” to find the table for each province and territory.

The table sets out the amount of support that must be paid at different income levels from $8,000 to $150,000, depending on the number of children. A base amount is given for every $1,000 increase in income, along with a way to calculate amounts in between.

There is also a Simplified Table where you can look up the paying parent’s income to the nearest $100, without having to do any calculations.

Sometimes, a judge does not accept a parent’s statement of income. Instead the judge uses an amount of income that is reasonable based on things such as the parent’s work history, past income, and education. The judge will then apply the table to that income.

A judge might do this if the parent:

• fails to provide the required income information

• is deliberately unemployed or under employed, or

• is self-employed or working “under the table”, and there is reason to believe they do not report all of their income

Before the Guidelines came into effect, judges had more flexibility in deciding the amount of support. Now, in simple cases, judges must order the amount shown in the table. Judges can order different amounts, but only in special cases. And they must use the table amount as a guide.

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

Can a Parent be in Contempt When Kid Disobeys a Court Order?

Can a Parent be in Contempt When Kid Disobeys a Court Order?

In many of the child custody and access cases I write about, the central dispute boils down to the fact that the parents of the child are at odds in terms of what custody arrangements they want and how much access they should each have to the children.

But even once a court order is in place, the disagreements can continue, because the parents may be at odds over precisely what the order means, and how it should be complied with. In a typical scenario, the custodial parent will have failed to abide by the terms of a court order setting out specific custody or access, perhaps by keeping the child longer than ordered, or else by failing to facilitate the access rights of the non-custodial parent.

But what if the lack of compliance is because it’s the child – not the parents – who won’t co-operate? What if the child outright refuses to spend time with the access parent?

In a recent set of Blogs I talked about the concept of “contempt of court”, in family law proceedings especially. This remedy can be imposed on a parent who refuses to comply with a court order, or otherwise hampers the course of justice.

What may be surprising is that under Canadian law, in some circumstances a parent can still be held accountable for contempt of court even if it’s the child who thwarts the fulfilment of the court order. This is because of the legal principle that if there is a court order in place, the parent is under a duty to do all that he or she reasonably can in order to ensure that it is complied with. And a finding of contempt of court may follow if the other parent can establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the other parent failed to take all of those reasonable steps.

In short: the parent cannot simply leave questions of custody and access up to the child; otherwise it amounts to an abdication of parental responsibility. In an older case called Geremia v. Harb, Justice Quinn put it well when he said:

Undoubtedly, there are many tasks that a child, when asked, may find unpleasant to perform. But ask we must and perform they must. A child who refuses to go on an access visit should be treated by the custodial parent the same as a child who refuses to go to school or otherwise misbehaves. The job of a parent is to parent.

With that said, the contempt remedy is not imposed every time a parent is unsuccessful at coercing a child – particularly an older one – to comply with an order. Rather, the outcome on whether to make a contempt finding will be viewed by the court with its broader duty in mind: which is to balance the need to enforce court orders and to encourage a child’s contact with both parents versus respecting a child’s own wishes and safeguarding his or her needs, safety and well-being.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Geremia v. Harb, 2007 CanLII 1893 (ON SC)

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

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

If a Biological Parent is Paying Child Support, Does a Step-Parent Still Have to Pay?

If a Biological Parent is Paying Child Support, Does a Step-Parent Still Have to Pay?

In Stetler v. Stetler, the mother and had a child with a man (the biological father). The mother then married a second man (the step-father), and the relationship lasted eight years before they separated. During that entire time, the step-father treated the girl as his own, and supporter her financially as part of his role in the new family.

Meanwhile, the mother was still receiving child support from the girl’s biological father, even though he had never seen or even met his daughter.

When the mother and the step-father eventually separated, the step-father took the opportunity to deny having any obligation to support the girl, who was now 13 years old. He bolstered this position by pointing out that she no longer wanted to see him after he separated from the mother. (Apparently, however, this estrangement could have been remedied had the step-father apologized to the girl for a particular incident, which he stubbornly refused to do).

Despite the continued payment of child support from the biological father, the mother brought a court application claiming child support from the step-father as well. Among the legal issues was whether in these circumstances the step-father should still be obligated post-separation, particularly in light of his evident intention during the marriage to support her as a parent would.

The court concluded that he was. As the court put it:

The [step-father] seeks relief on support for [the child] because of what he calls “double dipping”, represented by the support currently being paid by the biological father. Gratuitously, he argues that [the child] chose not to see him and he shouldn’t have to pay support because of the biological father’s support. … With respect to [the child], I am guided by s.5 of the Child Support Guidelines.

Where the spouse against whom a child support order is sought stands in the place of a parent for a child, the amount of a child support order is, in respect of that spouse, such amount as the court considers appropriate, having regard to these guidelines and any other parent’s legal duty to support the child.

The unseen biological father of [the child] has been fulfilling his obligation to the letter of the law the whole while. This does not give the [the step-father] a free ride. The [step-father] has an obligation to support this child and in my view, the appropriate order is set out in the Supreme Court of Canada case, Chartier v. Chartier, … which says this:

The contribution to be paid by the biological parent should be assessed independently of the obligations of the step-parent. The obligation to support a child arises as soon as that child is determined to be “a child of the marriage”. The obligation of parents for a child are all joint and several. The issue of contribution is one between all of the parents who have obligations toward the child, whether they are biological parents or step-parents; it should not affect a child.

In the end, the court ordered the step-father to pay one-third of the total child support owing for the girl, with the unseen biological father to continue paying the remaining two-thirds.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Stetler v. Stetler, 2012 ONSC 4466 (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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: How Are Decisions Made About Custody in Ontario

Wednesday’s Video Clip: How Are Decisions Made About Custody in Ontario