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Posts from the ‘Collaborative Family Law’ Category

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?

Image result for pets money

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

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: The Difference Between Separation and Divorce in Ontario

Wednesday’s Video Clip: The Difference Between Separation and Divorce in Ontario

A separation occurs when one or both spouses decide to live apart with the intention of not living together again. Once you are separated, you may need to discuss custody, access and child support with your spouse. You may also need to work out issues dealing with spousal support and property. You can resolve these issues in different ways:

• You can negotiate a separation agreement. A separation agreement is a legal document signed by both spouses which details the arrangements on which you have agreed. In some jurisdictions, independent legal advice is required to make the document legally binding.

• You can make an application to the court to set up custody, access, support and property arrangements under the provincial or territorial laws that apply to you.

• You can come to an informal agreement with your spouse. However, if one party decides not to honour the agreement, you will have no legal protection.

To legally end your marriage, you need a divorce, which is an order signed by a judge under the federal law called the Divorce Act.

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

 

Not All Internet Evidence is Created Equally

Not All Internet Evidence is Created Equally

Recently, I have touched on the issue of whether evidence taken from the Internet is reliable enough for the purpose of Family Law trials.

But as anyone knows who has ever spent time surfing the Internet – which is all of us — there are websites, and then there are websites.  Just because something is on the internet, certainly doesn’t mean that it’s reliable, fully accurate, or even remotely true.

How do courts grapple with determining the reliability of website information, and giving it the proper weight for evidentiary purposes?

In a recent immigration case called El Sayed v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), the applicant had objected to the fact that the Immigration Officer had apparently searched the applicant’s LinkedIn profile, and had made certain judgments about him that reflected negatively on his immigration application.

The court turned its focused attention on the issue of internet evidence reliability, citing approvingly from an earlier case:

With regard to the reliability of the Internet, I accept that in general, official web sites, which are developed and maintained by the organization itself, will provide more reliable information than unofficial web sites, which contain information about the organization but which are maintained by private persons or businesses.

In my opinion, official web sites of well-known organisations can provide reliable information that would be admissible as evidence … For example, it is evident that the official web site of the Supreme Court of Canada will provide an accurate version of the decisions of the Court.

As for unofficial web sites, I accept … that the reliability of the information obtained from an unofficial web site will depend on various factors which include careful assessment of its sources, independent corroboration, consideration as to whether it might have been modified from what was originally available and assessment of the objectivity of the person placing the information on-line. When these factors cannot be ascertained, little or no weight should be given to the information obtained from an unofficial web site.

The court added that this approach was approved in some subsequent Canadian decision, but in others the court still demanded expert testimony as to the reliability of the website information, before it would accept it as evidence for the trial or hearing.

The bottom line, is that courts know that everything you see on the internet is not true.  (Although I’m confident that they would approve of the Blogs on my website).

For the full text of the decisions, see:

El Sayed v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) 

ITV Technologies Inc. v. WIC Television Ltd.

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

 

Grandparents Battle It Out for Custody – Should Kids Stay Put Until After Appeal?

 

Grandparents Battle It Out for Custody – Should Kids Stay Put Until After Appeal?

The mother of two children had died in 2013.  About a year later when the father was no longer able to care for them, he handed the children over to his step-parents (who are nonetheless the children’s paternal grandparents by law).

However the maternal grandparents, who lived in British Columbia, also expressed an interest in caring for the children.   In fact, the maternal grandmother moved temporarily to Ontario in order to maintain as close a relationship with the children as possible, and cared for them on a regular basis, in keeping with several temporary court orders that had been made.

Eventually, the two sets of grandparents ended up in a custody battle for the children.  After a three-day hearing, the court granted custody to the maternal grandparents, and gave the paternal grandparents holiday and extended summer access.

The paternal grandparents decided to appeal that Order.   But since there was only a short period of time between when the Order was released and when the children were to be flown to B.C. to join the maternal grandparents, they asked the court for a stay of proceedings (meaning a suspension of the court Order), until they could launch an appeal and have it heard.

The court considered that application, and pointed out that there was a well-established legal test for granting a stay.  Among other things it involved considering whether the children would suffer irreparable harm if the stay was not granted;  on the flip-side involved considering whether granting or denying the stay would foster the children’s best interests.

Looking at those specific aspects of the test, the court observed that to leave the children in the care of the paternal grandparents would be less disruptive than moving them to B.C. pending the appeal hearing.  The court put it this way:

If a stay is not ordered the children will relocate to British Columbia within days. In the event the [paternal grandparents] are then successful in their appeal, the children would be relocated once again to Ontario. No one has suggested that this would be in their best interests. Indeed I would think this might be potentially quite harmful to them.

In reaching this conclusion, the court considered several other factors, including the stable home life the children were currently enjoying with the paternal grandparents, the close and loving relationship they had with them, and the significant turmoil that the children had already had in their young lives.  The court also noted that this was not a situation where they had been removed from the parental grandparents’ care because they were unable to take care of them.

Ultimately the court said:

There is little harm that could come to the children from remaining in the care of the [paternal grandparents] pending completion of the appeal.

However, the court cautioned that the appeal was to be heard expeditiously, and both sets of grandparents were to share the chare of the children until the appeal was fully resolved.

For the full text of the decision, see:

MacLeod v Rae

 

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: Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers

Our fees are based on the following elements:

(a) The time spent on your behalf, and the service which is performed;

(b) The complexities of the issues, and your potential emotional and monetary exposure;

(c) The results accomplished, and the extent to which the expertise of this firm contributed to a successful outcome;

(d) The degree and type of resistance encountered; and,

(e) The extent to which any work needs to be performed on an emergency basis.

None of these elements are capable of a precise arithmetic assessment, and no such assessment is attempted, except in a general way with respect to the time spent. A standard hourly rate, is applied to convert the time into a monetary figure. Any amount that exceeds the number of hours multiplied by the standard rates is the result of the weighing of the other elements mentioned.

We charge standard hourly rates for the work done by our law clerks and lawyers for the time spent on your case. Records are kept (in our computer time-keeping system) by us to the nearest one tenth of an hour, for all activity on your case, including conferences, telephone calls, e-mail, preparing correspondence and memoranda, drafting documents, research and travel time. Each hour billed to you is based on actual work done on your particular case.

Our absence from the office on your behalf is charged at the usual hourly rate. Travel time includes attending at court, settlement conferences, meetings, or consultations on your behalf. We will minimize travel expenses and courthouse time, if any, whenever possible. However, as you will be charged for our traveling time (in addition to the counsel fee), it may be worthwhile to consider whether a local lawyer is desirable for you if your litigation is taking place in another community.

If your appointment is for a consultation only, in order for you to receive advice on a limited number of issues, or, for example, for a second opinion, you will be billed a flat rate consultation fee, payable prior to the consultation. The consultation is not meant to deal with your whole legal problem. These rates are reduced rates, and apply only if the fee is paid at the time of the consultation. The rates are calculated on the basis of the average amount of time spent by our lawyers on consultations in the most recent 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

Financial Disclosure: If One Spouse is Dishonest, Must the Other Actively Investigate?

 Financial Disclosure: If One Spouse is Dishonest, Must the Other Actively Investigate?

In a case I reported on last week, called Virc v. Blair, the husband had deliberately and materially misrepresented the value of the corporations that he brought into the marriage, which eventually came to light upon the couples’ separation.

Although the matter resulted in the court re-calculating the parties’ equalization entitlements in accord with the more accurate corporate valuation, the case raised an interesting corollary legal question:

If one party deliberately misleads the other, does it become the other’s obligation to actively investigate into that dishonesty?

In Virc v. Blair, the parties had gone before a motion judge on a procedural matter relating to what turned out to be the husband’s incomplete and misleading financial disclosure.   Once the motion judge had assumed that the husband had made certain material misrepresentations, the judge shifted the burden and placed it on the wife to inquire as to the truthfulness of the husband’s financial disclosure.

The Court of Appeal later held this was an error.  It said:

In the face of a deliberate material misrepresentation, the onus is not appropriately placed on the recipient spouse.  Rather, the burden is on the party disclosing to establish actual knowledge of the falsehood by the recipient. 

In other words, and contrary to what the husband claimed, there was no law to the effect that a spouse who receives financial disclosure in a matrimonial case is under an obligation investigate or test the veracity of the information provided by the other spouse.   Rather, the effect of the deliberate material non-disclosure remains the focal point (unless the dishonest spouse can prove that the other spouse conclusively knew of the dishonesty).

As the court said a little later in the judgment:

The law does not entitle a liar to succeed just because the recipient of the falsehoods has not ferreted them out.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Virc v. Blair

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

Busted! Court Relies on Sworn Financial Statements from First Divorce to Value Assets During Second One

Busted! Court Relies on Sworn Financial Statements from First Divorce to Value Assets During Second One

The husband was a 46-year-old, recently-separated businessman who met the 26-year-old wife when she was a junior at the law firm he used for his business matters and litigation. After they moved in together and he got a divorce from his first marriage, the wife left her job at the law firm to take care of the husband’s litigation and related corporate affairs.

They were married for 14 years before they separated, and had three children.

When they split up, the husband forwarded a newly-prepared separation agreement for the wife’s signature. She signed without obtaining independent legal representation.  She was comfortable doing so because she believed that the husband had provided full disclosure, and she trusted his assessment since he had considerable experience valuing businesses.

Using the business valuation information provided by the husband, the separation agreement would have called for the wife to pay the husband just under $1 million as an equalization payment; however, it also provided that the husband would agree to forgo her having to pay that amount.

Sounds like a good deal, right?

However, the wife slowly realized afterwards that the husband had misled her. Rather than her owe him money in equalization (which he waived), the proper calculation was entirely different because he had greatly overstated the value of the corporate assets that he brought into the relationship, most notably the value of his company at the date of marriage. This would inflate the amount she was adjudged to owe him way of an equalization.

She successfully applied to the court to set aside the separation agreement, on the basis that the husband had not given full financial disclosure.  The trial judge adjusted the calculation accordingly.

The husband appealed.  In support of his business valuation figures, he put forth the evidence of an expert, who attested to the fact that the value of the business on the marriage date was over $7 million.  However, the Appeal Court concluded that the expert was partial to the husband and lacked independence, and had given an inflated figure that could not be trusted.

Instead, the court relied on some “smoking gun” evidence:  the sworn financial statements the husband had filed in his first divorce, which showed that he had essentially brought no assets of value into this second marriage to the wife.  The trial judge had relied on this evidence as well in setting the separation agreement aside, and the Appeal Court confirmed that there was nothing improper about the trial judge having done so, even if it was to the husband’s detriment.

In the end, the husband was found to have intentionally misrepresented the value of his corporate assets, by claiming that they were worth $6 million more than their actual (court-determined) value.

The Appeal Court upheld the trial judge’s decision to set aside the separation agreement, and went on to calculate the proper equalization amounts using the true valuation of the husband’s assets.

For the full text of the decision, see:

       Virc v. Blair

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 & Access Rights in Ontario

 

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Child Support & Access Rights in Ontario

In this video we discuss child support in relationship to access rights. A parent cannot cut off contact to a child simply because child support is not being paid