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Posts from the ‘Collaborative Family Law’ Category

Long-Awaited Update to Federal Child Support Guidelines

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Long-Awaited Update to Federal Child Support Guidelines

Important news for those who pay – or are eligible to receive – child support anywhere in Canada.

What are the “Guidelines”?

As most of my readers will know, the Federal Child Support Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) are the government-sponsored tool that help separated and divorcing parents set the appropriate amounts of child support that must be paid in respect of the children they have together.

The Federal Child Support Tables, which reflect the principles and calculations mandated by the Guidelines, set out the basic monthly amounts of child support that are result from various permutations.

The Guidelines and the corresponding Tables have been in force since late 2011, and until recently have reflected the calculations that accord with 2011 tax rules.

What’s New?

The Guidelines and corresponding Tables have been amended to reflect more recent tax rules, and have been incorporated into an updated version that takes effect on November 22, 2017. The official (and updated) Federal Child Support Tables, plus additional information and some “legalese” about these new amendments, are located here.

Where, and When?

As with the last version of the simplified Tables in PDF, there is a streamlined, simplified version of the 2017 Tables (also in PDF).  There is also a Child Support Table Look-up for both the 2011 and 2017 versions.  There is also an updated, Step-by-Step Guide.   (Note however that these streamlined and simplified versions are not “official”; only the original Federal Child Support Guidelines and Tables are considered legally-authoritative as to child support amounts.  This also means that the amounts of calculated support may be different when using the official Guildelines or Tables versus the more simplified tools).

One final point:  the new 2017 Guidelines and Tables come into force on November 21, 2017.   For people who need to determine how much child support is owed for a period before that date, the prior version of the Guidelines should still be used.  (And for those who need to calculate child support for a period earlier than December 31, 2011, an even earlier version of the Tables should be consulted.)

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 (Another) 20-Year-Old Cohabitation Agreement Be Upheld?

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Should (Another) 20-Year-Old Cohabitation Agreement Be Upheld?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a case in which the court was asked whether a separation agreement signed by a couple 20 years earlier should be upheld.

Coincidentally, another recent Ontario Court of Appeal case involved a similar circumstance.

When the couple started living together 20 years ago – and at the husband’s insistence, since he’d had a prior relationship end acrimoniously – they signed a cohabitation agreement.  The husband took care of having it drafted, and he presented it to the wife for her signature.  He wanted the security of having the agreement in place before moving forward in the relationship and buying a home with her.

The wife did not have independent legal advice at the time, although she was given the opportunity to obtain it.  Under the terms of the agreement she signed, the wife agreed to give up all her claims to spousal support.

Still, when they separated 20 years later, she claimed for spousal support nonetheless.  The trial judge upheld the separation agreement, and dismissed her claim for support.  The wife brought an appeal.

In evaluating whether to allow that appeal, the court had to embark on a two-stage analysis, the first stage of which required it to:

1) look at the circumstances surrounding the negotiation and execution of the agreement, to determine whether there was any reason to discount it; and then

2) consider the substance of the agreement, to determine whether it was in substantial compliance with the general objectives of the Divorce Act at the time it was formed.

Then, in the second stage, the court had to consider – now 20 years later – whether the wife had established that the agreement no longer reflects the original intention of the parties, and whether the cohabitation agreement is still in substantial compliance with the legislated objectives of the modern-day Divorce Act.

Applying those standards here, the wife argued that the agreement was invalid, and that the trial judge failed to consider certain important facts when applying this two-stage test, namely:

  • That there was a power imbalance between her and the husband;
  • That she had not discussed spousal support with the husband;
  • That the husband’s financial disclosure was incomplete; and
  • That she did not have independent legal advice.

While conceding that she was not coerced, the wife argued that the agreement simply did not align with the overall objectives of the Divorce Act, whether now or back when it was signed.  This was particularly true since the couple went on to have an 18-year relationship, they had two children together for whom the wife bore the primary responsibility, and his income exceeded hers.

The Appeal Court considered the wife’s arguments.  After examining the objectives of the legislation, it rejected her spousal support request. There had been no error of law or misapprehension of fact by the trial judge, who carefully reviewed the relevant test and found:

  • The wife was aware of the husband’s desire to have a cohabitation agreement.
  • They had discussed the cohabitation agreement before the wife received it.
  • She was aware of all of the husband’s sources of income and assets, but did not pursue further disclosure.
  • She skimmed over the cohabitation agreement, reading some parts but not others.
  • There was no fraud, coercion, or duress.
  • Although given the opportunity, the wife did not seek independent legal advice even though – on her evidence – she had six weeks to do so.
  • At the time of signing the agreement, the wife thought it was fair and that it fairly outlined the parties’ discussions regarding the purchase of a house.
  • The agreement is in substantial compliance with the Divorce Act.

The court noted that the trial judge was entitled to make the findings that he did on the evidence, and are entitled to deference from appeal court.  It added that even if the cohabitation agreement did not exist, on all the facts the wife would not be entitled to spousal support anyway.  The court dismissed her appeal.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Smith v. Smith

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

 

Can Court Order be Set Aside Due to Wife’s ADHD?

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Can Court Order be Set Aside Due to Wife’s ADHD?

In a case called Hatuka v. Segal, the couple separated in 2016 and started the process of untangling their financial affairs.  The wife continued to live in the $1.7 million matrimonial home with their two school-aged children.

By early 2017, the husband was having financial challenge:  He could not afford to service the home’s $610,000 mortgage and also carry the costs of a separate residence.   He asked the court to compel a sale of the former matrimonial home.   After two court hearing dates in which wife appeared without counsel and requested an adjournment, the court finally granted the husband’s request and ordered the home sold immediately.

The wife then brought a motion to have the order set aside.  She relied on Rule 25(19) of the Family Law Rules, which allows a court order to be changed in certain circumstances, namely those involving fraud, mistake, or lack of notice.  (And – as was clarified in a recent Blog, a court has recently concluded that – despite its wording – the Rule allows for orders not merely to be “changed”, but to be set aside entirely as well).

The wife – who happened to be a foreign-trained but non-practicing lawyer – claimed that to sell the home now would bring her hardship and distress, since there were no child or spousal support orders yet in place.  Although both spouses filed extensive materials in support of their respective positions, the court noted that the wife’s included a 93-page personal affidavit with 32 exhibits.

In examining the merits of wife’s argument on the motion, the court began by stating:

 The basis upon which [the wife] seeks to apply Rule 25(19) to set aside the Order of March 22, 2017 is unclear. …

[The wife] does not raise any issue of mistake.

[The wife] does not raise any issue of lack of notice or non-attendance.

[The wife’s] affidavit of August 18, 2017 claims that she has suffered litigation disadvantage as a result of the following assertions.  These were the initial focus of her counsel’s submissions on this motion to set aside:

(a)               she has ADHD and learning disabilities;

(b)               she is a recent immigrant with limited English skills;

(c)               she has been largely self-represented, with gaps in representation; and

(d)               she strongly believes that [the husband] has taken advantage of her, while abusing the court process.

The court concluded simply:  “These are not grounds for a Rule 25(19) analysis.”  The court also rejected the wife’s contention that the husband had failed to disclose his full income, and there had accordingly been fraud, adding:

Setting aside an order under Rule 25(19) (a) carries a high threshold.  Fraud within Rule 25(19)(a) does not have a special meaning outside the common law.  A moving party must clearly prove that the other party knowingly or recklessly made a false statement with knowledge of the falsehood, and did so with wrongful intent.

The court dismissed the wife’s motion.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Hatuka v. Segal 

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

 

 

 

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

If the Wife Goes to Stay with Her Mother – Does the “Clock” on their Relationship Start Over?

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If the Wife Goes to Stay with Her Mother – Does the “Clock” on their Relationship Start Over?

In Whalen-Byrne v. Byrne, the issue for the family court seemed simple enough: It was to determine the precise duration of the former couple’s relationship, which in turn would drive the duration of spousal support the husband had been adjudged to owe the wife.

And the beginning and end dates were uncontentious:  both husband and wife agreed that they began living together in 1993, and separated in 2010, which on a straightforward calculation was a span of 17 years.

But the problem was that at one point – from October 1996 to March 1997 – the wife moved out of the matrimonial home and went to stay with her mother.    After this brief separation they reconciled, and went on to get married a few years later.

The court was therefore left to determine what effect this separation had on the duration of their union.  A trial court had pegged it to be 13 years, on the basis that the separation essentially “restarted the clock” on their relationship, and that it really only commenced to run after they reconciled.  The trial judge explained it this way:

It appears that following the [wife] moving in with her mother the parties continued to be open to the possibility of continuing a relationship; however, both parties were taking steps to put distance between themselves (i.e. cessation of cohabitation and pursuit of relationships with other persons other than the other party). The most reasonable interpretation is that the parties intended to be separate from one another subject, at best, to the possibility of resumption of cohabitation. I find therefore that the period of cohabitation for consideration in respect of the [wife’s] claim for spousal support commences March 1997 and concludes with separation on April 10, 2010 for a period of thirteen years.

The wife appealed this ruling, and the Court of Appeal agreed with her reasoning.

In determining the length of cohabitation, the trial judge had been incorrect to “reset” it at the reconciliation point.  Instead, the facts showed that even when the wife went to live with her mother, the couple never formally separated; they merely had what the court called an “interim separation” that included “the possibility of resumption of cohabitation.”  In drawing this conclusion, the court considered the following evidence:

  • They lived apart for only a brief 5-month period;
  • They did not separate their finances;
  • The husband continued to support he wife financially, including allowing her to use a credit card in his name;
  • The wife took only a small suitcase of clothes with her, and no furniture;
  • Although the wife went on a few dates with another man, she was not involved in another relationship;
  • In December 1996, the husband proposed marriage to the wife with a ring and in front of their children, to which she replied “not yet”; and,
  • By February 1997 the parties were discussing marriage.

The Appeal Court concluded that for determining the duration of the husband’s spousal support obligation, the correct period of cohabitation was 16 years and 10 months, less 5 months for the brief separation, for a total of about 16.5 years.

The Court recalculated the wife’s support entitlement accordingly, and determined that she was entitled to spousal support from the husband that would last 14 years from the agreed date of their separation in 2010.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Whalen-Byrne v. Byrne

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Confidentiality

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Confidentiality

In this video Russell discuss how all information you provide to your lawyer is completely private and confidential. All the details of your case will be handled with the utmost confidentiality and respect for your privacy.

The privilege of confidentiality between solicitor and client is, in law, a protection which belongs to the client. Therefore, it is up to the client, only, whether or not that confidentiality is to be waived.

Please remember this when your family members or friends request information directly from your lawyer. Lawyers are frequently contacted by new partners, or other family members who want to discuss your case.

You have to give your lawyer specific instructions to permit that discussion to take place. Also, as the time spent by your lawyer will be time spent on your file, you will be billed for any time spent discussing your case with anyone at your request, or in the context of your file

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

Are “Pet Trusts” the Future of Canadian Law?

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Are “Pet Trusts” the Future of Canadian Law?

A little while ago I wrote about a recent B.C. pet-custody case called Brown v. Larochelle.  This case falls in neatly with other Canadian family law decisions that hold, almost universally, that in a separation or divorce pets are considered “property”, and are not subject to any sort of order that grants either party “custody”.

The Brown decision refers to an Ontario case, Coulthard v. Lawrence, in which the court was asked to settle a similar dispute between a separated couple over their two shared dogs, except in that scenario the Small Claims action was framed not as a “custody” battle, but rather a request to have the court decide which of the former partners gets the benefit of an order for possession of the beloved pets.

In making its decision, the court referred to a few scholarly articles and reputable studies, that set out some of the statistics relating to pet ownership in Canada, as it informs the resolution of such legal disputes:

It is clear from everything both parties have said, and what is in Ms. Coulthard’s affidavit, that the dogs were very much part of the household before the July 2011 termination of cohabitation, and then even after the Labour Day 2011 moving out of the Plaintiff’s house by Mr. Lawrence.

I explained to the parties that I was going to make reference to a publication, the publication really supports what both of them feel is the status of these dogs in their household. It’s a 2010 publication with the humourous title, “Fat Cats and Lucky Dogs”. It’s by two lawyers, one a Toronto lawyer, Barry Seltzer, and the second by a professor of Law at Texas Tech University School of Law, Professor Gerry Beyer. The book has received recognition internationally.

The authors at page 2 of the actual portion of the book, as opposed to the introduction, refer to a 2001 IPSOS-Reid study, Canadian study, it was called a pet ownership study, the formal name is “Paws and Claws”. And I quote from the text, but the text in turn is quoting from the IPSOS-Reid research: “Eight in ten of the pet owners … (83%) consider their pet to be a family member; only 15 percent said they love their pet as a pet rather than as a family member. This perception of the pet as family translates into ‘parental’ behavior for many pet owners: seven in ten (69%) pet owners allow their pets to sleep on their beds and six in ten have their pet’s pictures in their wallets or on display with other family photos. Almost all pet owners (98%) admit to talking to their pets.”

The court went on to quote text passages referring to the legal concept of “pet trusts”, under which money his held in trust to be used to provide for the care of any pets alive during the lifetime of the person setting up the trust.  Although the concept is not widely-recognized in Canada, it does have some acceptance in U.S. law.  As the court explained:

I am referring to a statement made in the text, in the introduction. As I say, the book was published in 2010. And at XIII of the introduction, the coauthors write: “At the time of writing…” and this is 2010, “…about 40 states plus the District of Columbia recognize pet trusts in some form. As the demand for pet protection increases, however, other states will come on board.”

The status or recognition in a legal form of pets is indicated in appendix G of this book. It refers to what is known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. Lawyers who study law learn of the continuing ongoing basis in the American law of what’s called uniform legislation and uniform pronouncements of law. So at page 142 of the book it starts out, the heading is “Uniform Statutes on Pet Trusts”. “In the United States the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws revised the country’s Uniform Probate Code in 1990. More than 300 lawyers, judges and law professors, selected by state government, make up the conference. Its main task is to propose legal statutes for uniform and model laws in specific subjects and help state legislatures put the statutes into law.”

The text then goes on to quote from sample codes drafted by the conference in 1990 and amended in 1993 and it says that: “Approximately 10 states have enacted…” the particular provisions, which they then quote.

And then page 143, under a section headed “Trusts for Care of Animals”, the authors point out: “Likewise, the section 408 of the Uniform Trust Code completed in 2000 provides that a ‘trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime.’ Approximately twenty states (See Appendix H) have enacted this Code which contains the following pet trust provision…”

I’m not quoting what the actual uniform code trust provisions are, but simply to indicate how advanced American law has gone, to allow for the protection of animals, to elevate them in a way that inanimate personal property has no protection.

Although the court in Coulthard v. Lawrence does not specifically adopt the U.S. concept of pet trusts into the Ontario-based scenario on which it was asked to rule, it does consider the duality of the property-vs.-custody dichotomy:

Part of what I said to Mr. Lawrence during his very able submissions was that when he upset the, what I called, scales of balance by after several months revoking what had been the arrangement where there was the equal sharing of the dogs, he had actually tipped the scales against him by resorting to self-help, and that he did so because, in his understanding, he owned the dogs and he was better suited. I put it out to him that he was walking both sides of the street, that he wanted to consider the dogs as members of the household, as fully as the pet owners referred to in Mr. Seltzer and Professor Beyers text or book have stated is the practice of most pet owners, they’re not considered property, they’re considered family members, but what he was doing was depriving the dogs of Ms. Coulthard’s role in their lives.

To recognize pet trusts is an interesting approach to take, and one that arguably adds a practical approach to a difficult legal conundrum, given the unique nature and role of pets in most relationships and families.

For my pet-loving and non-pet-owning readers alike:  What are your thoughts?

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Coulthard v. Lawrence, 2011 CarswellOnt 15952, [2011] O.J. No. 6207

Brown v. Larochelle

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

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