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Posts from the ‘Court Cases’ Category

To All the Amateur Lawyers: How Do You Equalize When the House Cost More to Build, Than it’s Currently Worth?

To All the Amateur Lawyers:  How Do You Equalize When the House Cost More to Build, Than it’s Currently Worth?

Anyone who has built their own “dream home” knows that building costs can spiral out of control, and the project can turn into a financial nightmare. This is even more so, when it comes time to divide the value of the home during a divorce. Some very interesting – and legally perplexing — questions can arise, such as this one:

What happens if the value of the home turns out to be less than the money invested in building or renovating it?

That was the question in a case called Strobele v. Strobele. The court summarized the backstory this way:

Really Dr. and Mrs. Strobele have one issue that bedevils a fair resolution of the proceeding. In the final two years of their relationship, they embarked on a project to construct the house of their dreams. They have, between the two of them, spent all of their life savings and more in the construction of this house and, in the process, considerably exceeding the budget for the project. That budget started in the range of six hundred to $700,000 and, by the end of the project, they had put at least twice and perhaps as much as three times that much money into the project which was more money than the two of them had the time. In the process, of course, they have accumulated debt and a great deal of it.

The legal problem that arises from this uncommon dilemma, is that the rules for equalizing net family property on separation do not apply easily to these kinds of scenarios.  The court explained:

[A]lthough the as-built cost of the house is roughly in the neighbourhood of $1.8 million, its market value is roughly $1.2 million. If this situation was brought about by adverse market forces or poor business choices, the consequences would likely be visited upon the parties equally unless one of them engaged in deliberate or wrongful disposition of assets or there were other unusual circumstances, none of which are present here. As a general practice the phrase “for better or worse, for richer or poorer” comes to mind and is applied. But that is not what happened here.

To complicate matters further, the husband wanted to stay in the home, and apparently had access to the financial resources to do so.

For all the “armchair lawyers” among my readership, how would you divide the home’s value?  And if one of the parties wanted to “buy out” out the other, how would that calculation go?

We’ll leave the question as a cliff-hanger, and I’ll share the legal answer and outcome (at least as the judge determined it in this particular case), in my Blog next week.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Strobele v. Strobele, [2005] O.J. No. 6312, 34 R.F.L. (6th) 111

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

Even Judges Get it Wrong Sometimes

Even Judges Get it Wrong Sometimes

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a case called Butty v. Butty. This was a decision by Justice Pazaratz in which he considered how the parties’ separation agreement, which was intended to exempt the husband’s farm property from the normal property-equalization regime, should be interpreted after it came to light that the husband owned two separate parcels of land, rather than one as originally thought.

At trial, Justice Pazaratz had declared the separation agreement invalid, and set it aside for what he concluded was the husband’s failure – and the failure of his lawyer – to disclose the existence of the two properties. The husband’s property was then divided in keeping with the usual Family Law Act rules, notwithstanding what the parties’ separation agreement may have intended.

The husband appealed, successfully. The Court of Appeal disagreed with Justice Pazaratz’s assessment of the facts as to the alleged lack of disclosure, and reversed his ruling. For one thing, it found that the judge had been highly critical of the husband’s trial lawyer, Mr. Jaskot, accusing him of suppressing facts and deliberately misleading the court and opposing counsel. The Appeal Court found these accusations unwarranted, writing:

As we have mentioned, the trial judge believed that Mr. Jaskot tried to hide the fact that there were two separate properties. In his reasons for decision, he describes Mr. Jaskot as having purposely suppressed information in an attempt to mislead opposing counsel and the court into believing that the farm property was a single parcel of land.

In light of the foregoing evidence, this characterization of Mr. Jaskot is completely unfounded. Opposing counsel and the court had documents clearly showing that the farm property consisted of two separate properties.

As a result of the reasons for judgment, Mr. Jaskot has suffered unwarranted personal and professional embarrassment.

And rather than lay blame on the husband’s lawyer for hiding the information, the Appeal Court found that the parties actually shared in the mistaken initial belief that the there was only one piece of property at stake.   After noting that Justice Pazaratz could have easily remedied the procedural fallout from the parties’ mutual misapprehension at the trial itself, the Appeal Court said:

This court cannot truly repair the damage that Mr. Jaskot has suffered. Having said that, its comments are intended to serve as an unequivocal statement that there was nothing improper in his conduct in this matter. We regret what appears, on this record, to be unwarranted judicial criticism levied against him.

Next, the Appeal Court found that the parties’ mutual misapprehension did not detract from a key fact: The wife was aware that the separation agreement was designed to circumvent the normal property-division scheme under the Family Law Act, and that she was giving up all her claims to the entire tract of property, whether consisting of one lot or two. The Appeal Court also observed that the wife had not been under duress when she signed the agreement, and had received independent legal advice (which she did not heed) before doing so.

Based on this and other errors by Justice Pazaratz, the Appeal Court restored the parties’ separation agreement, and proceeded to divide their property in accord with its express terms.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Butty v. Butty, 2009 ONCA 852 (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

 

For Amateur Lawyers, Part 2: Equalizing a House that Cost More to Build than it’s Worth

For Amateur Lawyers, Part 2: Equalizing a House that Cost More to Build than it’s Worth

As I reported last week, the case of Strobele v. Strobele involved a couple who in the two years leading up to their final split had invested all their life savings (and more) to build their “dream home”. Unfortunately, it turned out that not only was the construction project the “death-knell” to their relationship, but the home also ended up being worth far less than it cost them to build/renovate.

At the end of the day, the home cost about $1.8 million to build, but ended up being worth $1.2 million, with title solely in the husband’s name. The wife had contributed $240,000 of her own money to the construction project over the years they were together.

So how does a Family Court split a home that’s worth less than what the spouses invested in it? The answer: With some complex calculations, and after looking at all the circumstances.

An already-tricky scenario was made somewhat more complicated by the fact that the husband wanted to buy the wife out, so that he could stay in the home. This meant that one of the many issues for the court was how much the husband should have to pay her.

The court first ruled out doing a straightforward Net Family Property calculation using the home’s current low market value. That would result in allowing the husband to stay in the home, obtain the benefit of the surroundings, and have the wife make further payments towards the home’s cost. This, the court stated, would be unfair.

Instead, the court had to look at the economic consequences of the relationship and its breakdown. The couple had moved into the home before they got married, and the wife spent $240,000 of her own money on construction projects both prior to and after marriage. They had enjoyed a relatively equal economic partnership throughout their relationship.

The fair approach was thus to calculate – and to divide equally – the overall losses that the couple sustained in building their dream home, and to give the wife a 50 percent equitable interest in the home – whatever that might turn out to be – by way of resulting trust.

Using an as-built value of $1.8 million, and a market value of $1.2 million, the court focused on “consumption value”, which would lead to a determination of what the parties’ loss on investment was. In these circumstances, the parties had each lost one-third of their overall investment in the home.

When that discount ratio was applied to the $240,000 that the woman put in over the course of their relationship, this meant she had lost one-third of that, too. In other words, rather than have the wife emerge with nothing from her $240,000 investment, the fair solution was to gross-down that figure by one-third, to represent her losses.

So after the normal equalization calculation the husband was at liberty to purchase the wife’s interest in the home for $160,000 and also personally assume all the debt associated with the house. Or, if that transaction did not take place and he chose not to buy her out, then the house could be sold and the loss that results could be divided equally between the parties through the usual equalization process.

Was this the outcome you would have predicted? What are your thoughts?
For the full text of the decision, see:

Strobele v. Strobele, [2005]

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

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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), 2017 FC 39 (CanLII)

ITV Technologies Inc. v. WIC Television Ltd., 2003 FC 1056 (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

Wife Didn’t Get “Wish List”, But Pre-Nup Still Upheld

Wife Didn’t Get “Wish List”, But Pre-Nup Still Upheld

The husband, who was a wealthy 50-year-old man, met the 42-year-old wife online at MillionaireMatch.com. Their first face-to-face meeting was in Las Vegas, and after a short long-distance courtship decided to marry. It was his third marriage; it was her first.

The husband asked the wife to sign a pre-nuptial agreement, which she did 10 days before the wedding date. It had been drafted by the husband’s lawyer but because the wife had been unhappy with its terms, she had it reviewed by her lawyer, who managed to negotiate some changes in her favour. As the court described the outcome of those negotiations:

I accept that the Wife hoped the draft contract would be more generous to her; however, given the Husband’s stated position that he wanted to protect his assets, I do not accept that she genuinely expected the contract to fulfill this wish list.

The final version entitled the wife to $6,000 in monthly spousal support, a 10% interest in the husband’s home after a period of time, and the immediate designation of the wife as beneficiary of the husband’s $1 million RSRP’s in the event that he died prior to any separation.

The relationship was tumultuous, and within a month of the wedding had already begun to unravel. After a series of separations and reconciliations, together with several incidents in which the police were called, the couple finally separated for good after about three years.

In the aftermath of the ill-fated union, the husband claimed that the pre-nuptial agreement should be set aside. He claimed that because the marriage was very short, the various terms including the provision giving the wife graduated spousal support was far too generous to the wife in the circumstances.

The wife, on the other hand, wanted the support and other terms increased in her favour, because she learned that the husband had not been fully forthcoming about his finances, and that she had entered into the agreement under duress and without being aware of the full facts, just days before having 200 wedding guests who were flying in “from all over the world.”

After reviewing the facts and circumstances in detail, the court upheld the pre-nuptial agreement. There was neither non-disclosure, misrepresentation nor duress operating to call its validity into question.

Admittedly, the agreement had been reached without the wife having knowledge of the full extent of the man’s wealth, since he had never provided complete documentation in that respect. However, the wife had never actually asked for it. Moreover, formal disclosure by way of sworn financial statements is not the only way for the husband to fulfill his disclosure obligations; by law it was enough that the wife was generally aware of his assets.

Despite her attempts at trial to portray herself otherwise, the wife was an intelligent woman who had experience with contracts and had operated two businesses of her own, one of which conducted business internationally. She understood the nature and consequences of the pre-nuptial agreement, which had been the result of lawyer-assisted negotiations. There was nothing unfair in enforcing the agreement as it was written.

The court confirmed that the agreement was valid and binding, and ordered that in keeping with its terms, the husband’s support obligations to the wife had ended, with no further spousal support to be paid.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Balsmeier v. Balsmeier, [2016] O.J. No. 667, 2016 ONSC 950

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

Wife Gets Husband’s Cats and Dogs in the Divorce

Wife Gets Husband’s Cats and Dogs in the Divorce

Recently, an older case with an interesting issue came to my attention: Based on the underlying premise that family pets are property, can a court order pet custody to be transferred as part of a divorce?

In Grimalyuk v. Concelos, the couple lived together for three years, and then got married. About three months into the marriage, the husband started to get physically and emotionally abusive with the wife, and with her 18-year old son from another relationship. The husband assaulted the wife on several occasions, and at one point attempted to evict them both from the matrimonial home.

Eventually, the wife had the husband arrested and charged with death threats, and the police removed him bodily from the matrimonial home.   He entered into a Peace Bond agreeing to have no contact with the wife for a 12-month period, and agreeing to attend alcohol counselling.

Not surprisingly, at this point the wife decided the two-year marriage was over, and she successfully went to court to obtain a divorce.   (The court also agreed to extend the restraining order for another year, since the husband had been seen skulking around the wife’s property despite having been ordered not to).

Beyond that, there was only one property-related issue still to be dealt with in the divorce: It related to what should be done with the family pets.

As the court explained, wife’s request in this regard was straightforward:

Equalization of Property

The only property sought by [the wife] is legal ownership of two dogs and one cat that are legally owned by [the husband] but have been living with and cared for by [the wife] since the date of separation.

Without hesitation, the court ordered that the husband transfer legal ownership of the three pets to the wife immediately.

It goes to show you: While many people complaint that their divorces go very badly, this one “went to the dogs.”

For the full text of the decision, see:

Grimalyuk v. Concelos, 2007 CanLII 1325 (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

Two Properties, or One? Justice Pazaratz Sorts It Out – For Now

Two Properties, or One? Justice Pazaratz Sorts It Out – For Now

Here’s another noteworthy ruling by Justice Pazaratz – and one that was ultimately reversed on later appeal. Written in his inimitable style, the judgment begins this way:

You wouldn’t think the singular or plural should be so complicated.

Property.

Properties.

The same word. Add an “s”.

You really wouldn’t think that in a nine day trial, involving four presenting counsel — and three more lawyers as witnesses — they couldn’t keep it straight.

Or, that the court wouldn’t find out until the end of the seventh day of evidence – from the very last witness — that all the time we were talking about “property”, we really should have been talking about “properties”.

The Applicant’s lawyer — apparently the only one who knew all along about the mistake — says whether it’s “one property or two” really doesn’t matter.

I’m not so sure he’s right. Or that what he did was right.

This is a story about two houses; 151 acres; a benevolent matriarch; a pregnant bride; and a marriage contract apparently suffering from too many “cut and pastes”. More importantly, it’s a story about two children, still trapped under the same roof with a mother and father who can’t agree on either the past or the future.

With that prologue delivered, Justice Pazaratz went on to examine the merits of the former couple’s dispute, which (at least on the property side of things) related to a 151-acre piece of land that the husband owned at the date of the marriage. The matrimonial home was one of two houses on the property, the other being the husband’s mother’s home.

In 1996, the spouses had signed a marriage contract providing that in the event that they separated, the husband was entitled to exclude the assets that he owned at the time of the marriage. Neither spouse (nor their lawyers) knew at the time that the 151 acres were actually two separate properties, rather than one, and that the husband owned them both.

When the true state of affairs came to after the parties’ separation light years later, the wife claimed that the husband’s non-disclosure about owning both properties invalidated the marriage contract that they had purportedly reached.

Justice Pazaratz agreed with the wife, and held that the marriage contract should be set aside due to the material misrepresentation. At the time the contract was drafted and signed, the wife and her lawyer were misled that there was only one property. This omission rendered the contract inadequate to satisfy the disclosure requirements of the Family Law Act since it undermined the factual basis of the parties’ ostensible deal, and left the wife unable to accurately assess her rights and options.

After setting the marriage contract aside, Justice Pazaratz proceeded to divide the parties’ assets through the normal equalization process. (That ruling was later reversed by the Court of Appeal, which included comment on a “serious matter arising from the reasons for judgment given by the trial judge.” The later appeal ruling will be the subject of an upcoming Blog].

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Butty v. Butty, 2008 CanLII 23946 (ON SC)

Appeal level:

Butty v. Butty, 2009 ONCA 852 (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

Representing Yourself and Asking for Legal Costs? Read this First

Representing Yourself and Asking for Legal Costs? Read this First

Recently I wrote about a ruling on costs where a self-represented litigant was awarded significantly more in legal costs, than she had requested after trial.

That case, called McMurter v. McMurter, gave the court an opportunity to revisit some of the prior authorities on the issue, and to set out the principles that apply to awarding legal costs to self-represented family litigants.

Based on that review, if you succeed in represented yourself in your family law trial or motion and are looking to be awarded your legal costs from your unsuccessful opponent, here is what you need to know:

  • Whether you are legally trained or not, you cannot claim the same costs as a lawyer would charge. Instead, you can receive a “moderate” or “reasonable” allowance for your lost time.
  • Courts recognize that every litigant must prepare for court to some extent, whether represented by lawyer or not. So if you decide to represent yourself, you can only recover for the time and effort above and beyond what an average person would devote to getting ready for the proceeding.
  • You must also demonstrate that you spent time and effort doing work ordinarily done by a lawyer retained to conduct the litigation, and that you incurred an opportunity cost because of it.
  • Even if you did not give up remunerative activity to represent yourself in court, the court may award you costs for what would otherwise be lawyer’s work on the case. This means that you can get legal costs even if you are a homemaker, retirees, students, unemployed, unemployable, or disabled, etc.
  • The quality of your work as a self-represented person will also be a factor in the court’s assessment of what costs you might be awarded.

In terms of the actual fees, courts can vary widely on how they approach the mathematical calculation. Some will award an hourly rate varying from $20 to $150 per hour, minus the time you would have spent on the case if you had a lawyer present. Others have a “rule of thumb” that allows for a certain number of hours of preparation time, and a certain number of hours of trial time.

In any event, the amount must be reasonable, proportional and with the losing party’s expectations.

Returning to the McMurter v. McMurter case, the court applied these principles in awarding the wife her legal costs award of $30,000, even though she had asked for $18,000. It found that she had successfully represented herself in a complex case where there was a lot at stake. She had been exceptionally well-organized and presented her arguments well, and dealt with complicated legal issues and various family legislation. As the court put it, “She did the work of a lawyer in addition to the work expected of her as a litigant.”

For the full text of the decision, see:

McMurter v. McMurter, 2017 ONSC 725 (CanLII)

Main judgment:

McMurter v. McMurter 2016 ONSC 1225 (S.C.J.)

Fong v. Chan, 1999 CanLII 2052 (ON CA)

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

 

Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines – Are They a Package Deal?

Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines – Are They a Package Deal?

In a decision called Mason v. Mason, the Ontario Court of Appeal considered a narrow legal question: Is a judge entitled to use the Spousal Support Advisory (SSAGs) for partial purposes, but disregard it for others? And if the judge departs from using the SSAGs, must he or she give specific reasons for doing so?

The Masons were a husband and wife who had decided to divorce after a marriage spanning almost 20 years. During their relationship they had worked together to build a successful business, and after separating were able to settle all issues except the amount of spousal support that the husband should pay the wife in the circumstances. They went to court to have a trial judge determine that amount for them.

In his reasons, he had made a finding that the husband’s annual income was about $400,000, including certain corporate income that came from the husband buying out the wife from the business. He determined the wife’s income to be about $82,500.  After consulting the SSAGs to determine the proper range of support, he ordered the husband to pay about $9,000 per month.

The former spouses appealed, each claiming that the trial judge had incorrectly approached the income determinations, and had mis-used the SSAGs in doing so. They took issue with the income that had been attributed to them and with the resulting amount of the support award.

As many of you will know, for Canadian judges who are asked to determine spousal support upon the dissolution of marital relationship, the SSAGs set out a pre-determined – but non-mandatory – set of calculations.   As the name suggests, they are “advisory” in nature.

But in this case the Appeal Court found that the trial judge had used them incorrectly:   In the process of reviewing and setting the parties’ respective income, he had used the SSAGs to set the range of appropriate support, but then had abandoned using them when it came time to make the actual income determination.   The Appeal Court said:

As the trial judge was using the SSAGs to determine the amount of spousal support, it was incumbent on him to either rely on the Guideline provisions for determining income — or to explain why they should not apply.

It’s a thinly-sliced distinction, but means that despite being an advisory guide, once the trial judge had referred to the SSAGs in determining the spousal support range, he was required to at least explain why he considered them inapplicable in the Masons’ case.

With that said, the Appeal Court reiterated that the SSAGs “cannot be used as a software tool or formula” whereby the judge merely plugs in the income figures, obtains a range, and chooses the midpoint. They must be “considered in context and applied in their entirety”. The Appeal Court also pointed out that the trial judge had given too few reasons on how the specifics of the various dollar-amounts were calculated.

In the end, having identified errors in the trial judge’s income calculations for both parties, the Appeal Court declined to send the matter back to trial, and opted instead to make the income adjustments itself. It adjusted the husband’s income downward by about $200,000, and the wife’s upward by about $20,000. The spousal support component, payable by the husband to the wife, was adjusted to $1,500 per month.

For the full text of the decision, see

Mason v. Mason, 132 O.R. (3d) 641, 2016 ONCA 725 (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

Canadian Justice System Rankles Canadian Justice

Canadian Justice System Rankles Canadian Justice

As I’ve reported in the past there has been no shortage of noteworthy decisions from Justice Pazaratz. The case of Chree v. Chree is one of several in which he critiques the Canadian justice system, this time for the shortcomings of what is essentially a bifurcated system.

The facts involved two separated parents who were now each living in different provinces. In such scenarios, Canadian law allows for one party in any single family law dispute to pursue certain proceedings and remedies in his or her home province, while the other party does the same in another province.   But the court order made by a judge in one jurisdiction must often be confirmed by a second judge in the other jurisdiction.

Essentially, it’s a two-step, separate judge/separate hearing system.

In a ruling which sharply critiqued that system for being procedurally inelegant, duplicative, and challenging for judges to work within, Justice Pazaratz began this way:

There’s an old saying: “Two Heads Are Better Than One”.

But not when it comes to trial judges.

The facts involved the parents of two children who had divorced. The mother was living in Ontario with the children, and the father had moved away to Nova Scotia. A court in that province had ordered him to pay child support, which he completely failed to do. He eventually brought a motion to a Nova Scotia judge, asking to have his support obligations changed.

Although the mother was not required to travel from Ontario to appear on that motion (nor did she do so), under the bifurcated system the Nova Scotia order was rendered merely provisional in nature, and still had to be brought before an Ontario judge for confirmation, variation, or rejection.

Enter Ontario Superior Court Justice Pazaratz. Commenting on the two-step system, he wrote:

Two judges. Each hearing different parts of the case. On different dates, many months apart. Having to make decisions on the same case.

It may sound good on paper.

It may even seem like the only practical way to deal with motions to change support, where parties live in different parts of the country and neither can afford to travel.

But except in the simplest of cases, it creates an almost impossible task for judges …

For one thing, there were significant evidentiary hurdles to be faced by each of the judges who were involved:

But the problem with this procedure is that neither court hears from both parties at the same time. The court hearing from one party may not know whether there might be evidence contradicting that party’s position.

But what if the first judge fully believes the Applicant, and the second judge fully accepts the contradictory evidence of the Respondent?

In Justice Pazaratz’s view, efforts to bridge the evidence gap, for example by using teleconferencing or other measures, did not always solve the problem.

While conceding that the two-step system aimed to relieve unfairness for parents living in different provinces, Justice Pazaratz felt that it gives rise to an extensive list of procedural challenges and shortcomings. And while Canadian legislation does provide for reciprocal enforcement of certain support orders (for which the father’s particular order was ineligible), similar concerns still arise in those kinds of proceedings as well. The Justice capped off his exhaustive list of detailed concerns by asking simply, “When will it end?”

Justice Pazaratz has certainly used his family cases as a soapbox for venting his broader concerns over how the Canadian justice system works – or doesn’t work. But perhaps it begs the question: Is this an appropriate role for a judge to take? And if so, is a family law proceeding the right place for a judge to air his concerns and criticisms?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Chree v. Chree, 2015 ONSC 6480

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