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Family Proceedings as Catharsis?

Family Proceedings as Catharsis?

The Family courts across the country must see their fair share of acrimony, shameful conduct, sad stories, and tears.

In a pair of cases from western Canada, the courts made insightful observations about the unspoken role that the Family justice system fulfills: to provide the participants with an opportunity to tell their side of the story, and have their “day in court”.

This perhaps-unintended purpose was acknowledged in an Alberta case, where the court wrote:

Often acrimonious contests over custody are a time of catharsis for the parents as each wishes to tell of the unsatisfactory or even reprehensible conduct of the other. To the extent that this satisfies the need to have one’s day in court it may be fulfilling to the parties. Perhaps it even assists a parent in accepting an adjudication he or she finds unsatisfactory.

In another decision, this time from B.C., the court said:

The parties in a family dispute will on occasion use the trial process to a cathartic effect as a means, perhaps, of purging the unhappiness accumulated as their marriage disintegrated.

In that case, the court went on to describe the context in which the need to purge unhappiness arose – perhaps quite understandably:

In this trial, the parties’ rancour had few if any bounds as the evidence particularly that led on Mr. Ruel’s behalf appeared aimed to disparage and demean his former partner. Described succinctly, the defence evidence sought to portray Ms. Ruel as a liar, a thief, a fraudster and a drunk, allegations denied strongly by Ms. Ruel who throughout the trial, while on the stand and while in the court, in spite of admonishments to desist, responded to the defendant’s [Mr. Ruel’s] allegations describing them as lies and Mr. Ruel to be a liar. Ms. Ruel’s anger followed her discovery that the defendant appeared to have entered a marital-like relationship with another woman in Tunisia where he was then employed, the actions he took against her after their breakup, and his subsequent failure to pay spousal support as ordered by this court.

Sounds like a lot of courtroom drama – and not the good kind.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

D.G.S. v S.L.S., 1990 CanLII 5528 (AB QB)

Ruel v Ruel, 2010 BCSC 1043 (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 a Divorce Trial, is $430,000 in Legal Fees Too Much?

For a Divorce Trial, is $430,000 in Legal Fees Too Much?

Anyone who has gone through a divorce will know that legal costs can get out of control. But consider the recent Ontario case of McCabe v Tissot, where the court was asked to rule on whether the husband should pay the wife’s legal fees of $430,000, part of divorce litigation that “financially devastated” both former spouses, and which saw the wife alone rack up almost $1 million in legal fees overall.

The court’s first step was to determine which member of the sparring couple had been the successful party at trial, because under Ontario civil procedure this is essentially the starting-point for determining how costs should be apportioned, although additional factors come into play as well. Both parties claimed that they had been entirely successful on all significant issues.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in addition to disputing her entitlement the husband also took issue with the wife’s dollar-figure: the $430,000 she was claiming was both excessive and disproportionate, in his view. The wife had chosen to endlessly litigate to the point where both parties’ financial stability, and thus the well-being of their son, was in jeopardy.  He said that for his own part, he had been financially ruined by the whole process.

The court, after considering the various circumstances (including the reasonableness of the parties’ positions at trial, the offers to settle they had exchanged, and prior courts orders), agreed that the wife had been more successful overall. But it rejected the notion that she should receive the full costs she was claiming. The court said:

[t]he amount of legal fees spent by the parties on this litigation is astronomical and completely unreasonable. The [wife] has mortgaged her home and has very little equity left as was her evidence at trial and as set out in her sworn Financial Statements. The [husband] also spent an exorbitant amount on legal fees borrowing funds from his parents to finance the first trial. The [wife] alone has spent close to $1 million on legal fees and disbursements. The [husband] borrowed over $393,000 from his parents. The fees spent by the parties are completely disproportionate to the issues before the court.

The court continued:

The parties lost sight of what is reasonable and what is proportionate. The financial devastation suffered by this family will last a lifetime. Most importantly it will once again negatively impact their son….

And further:

…from the spring of 2013 onward conflict ensued and they attended court numerous times, obtaining approximately 41 court orders. Not only did this financially devastate the parties and affect Liam detrimentally as set out in my Reasons, but it also resulted in the use of an inordinate amount of judicial resources. My only hope is that the parties have now come to the realization that the destruction both financially and emotionally was not worth it and they will not become embroiled in further litigation in the future. Only time will tell.

After reviewing all the relevant factors, the court concluded that legal costs in the amount of $125,000 were payable by the husband to the wife in the matter.

For the full text of the decision, see:

McCabe v Tissot, 2016 ONSC 4443 (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

Father Who Paid $400K in Legal Fees to “Cause Financial Harm to the Mother and His Son” Ordered to Pay Mother’s Costs Too


Father Who Paid $400K in Legal Fees to “Cause Financial Harm to the Mother and His Son” Ordered to Pay Mother’s Costs Too

If a father runs up almost $400,000 in legal costs – including nearly $75,000 in expert fees – in pursuit of a low-dollar-value victory in court, should this be considered in assessing legal costs later on?

In Jordan v Stewart, court was asked to allocate legal costs in connection with the parents’ dispute over whether the father’s obligation to pay child support for their now-20-something son should be terminated. The young man had been attending University in London, Ontario but when the father learned that he was switching to a college in Toronto, he applied to have child support cut off, on the basis that the young man would be independent and no longer be living with his mother in London. In fact, the father asked for the termination of his support obligation to be back-dated three years.

The father brought a motion to have the support obligation end; the mother wanted the father’s motion dismissed. Although the issues were relatively straightforward, the hearing took up several days of court time, and required expert evidence and scrutiny of the father’s income.

The father did not get the order he wanted, but the mother wasn’t fully vindicated either, since there were additional legal issues that were also addressed at the same time. Given those rather mixed results, the judge was challenged to apportion legal costs, which under Ontario civil procedure are usually (but not always) given to the winning party. So the court had to determine which of the parents had been the “successful” one in the proceeding so far.

The stakes were potentially high: The father had incurred about $373,000 in costs in preparation for certain proceedings, including almost $75,000 paid to an expert to provide an opinion on his income for child support purposes, for the years 2010 and 2011, based on various financial scenarios. But despite the staggering run-up of costs, the father was asking for only 25% of it from the mother – which was still just under $90,000.

The court rejected the father’s claim that he was the successful party, stating that his rationale “stretch[ed] the reality of the outcome.” Instead, the judge stated that “even if I found the father was somehow technically successful, I would award the mother costs.”

The judge’s stern stance against the father was explained by the following passages from the 130-paragraph ruling:

This case is another example of courts struggling to determine entitlement and quantum of costs. The costs issue is made more complex by the father’s willingness to spend approximately $400,000 in legal and expert fees. This amount is significantly disproportionate to any amount that he advances as his best possible financial outcome. The father also knew that, if successful, he probably would not recover the costs in any significant way from the mother as she has limited financial resources and appeared in court without counsel.

This case is an extreme example of a person who was prepared, as he has been in the past, to spend significant sums of money without concern for costs or outcome.

While I cannot conclude that the father in this case deceived the court in any manner, his willingness to spend money on legal and expert fees so out of proportion to any economic benefit defies logic. The reasonable conclusion is that the father was prepared to cause financial harm to the mother and his son even at incredible expense to himself. He certainly never expected to recover his costs [from her].

He does not seek to recover most of the significant fees he spent, a signal that the money was not a factor in his pursuit of the case or relevant to any resolution. He was prepared to spend more money than any financial benefit to him if he succeeded.

The judge also observed that the mother had made multiple reasonable offers: she had suggested mediation, and offered to accept reduced support.  The judge found these offers were all “worthy of the father’s consideration”, and would have been far more financially beneficial to both parties than what transpired.

In the end, using the father’s own tally of his costs as a representative “measuring stick” of the fair compensation to which the mother should be entitled, the judge awarded her the nearly $90,000 in costs to be paid by the father, plus the $34,000 he already owed her.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Jordan v Stewart, 2013 ONSC 5037 (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

“The Courthouse is Not a Restaurant,” Says Exasperated Judge

“The Courthouse is Not a Restaurant,” Says Exasperated Judge

The mother was as self-represented litigant who had “very aggressively” pursued multiple claims against the father, and had filed more than 430 documents since their litigation began almost 10 years earlier. Those documents were part of a long history of numerous motions, appeals and a litany of related procedures to contest virtually every aspect of untangling their former relationship, including settling out child custody and support of their two children.
In advance of one of those many motions, the mother had arbitrarily and on short notice absented herself from a half-day court hearing that had been scheduled for March 1, 2013. Less than a week before the motion she had faxed a letter to the court, indicating that she could not attend.

In the court’s e-mail reply, it advised the mother that an adjournment could not be granted without the father’s input, and that since the father’s lawyer would not consent in advance, she could make the request in person at the scheduled hearing date and take her chances.

Instead, the mother failed to show up at the hearing at all. Nor did she call in. She later claimed that she had mixed her calendar up.

The father asked the court for an order forcing the mother to pay for the legal costs he had wasted in preparing for a motion that she did not even bother to attend.

The court, after concluding that the mother’s excuse for missing the hearing date “stretches credulity past its breaking point”, entertained striking out the mother’s motion outright, but ultimately decided to strike it off the list and impose significant costs against her instead.

In its lengthy rebuke of the mother’s conduct, the court wrote:

In coming to my decision I had to deal with a matter of increasing judicial awareness in Canada, namely how to sanction or impose meaningful consequences on irresponsible and inappropriate behaviour by a litigant.


Adding to the difficulties of this case is the “customer-service” expectations that the mother brings to these proceedings. Unlike a retail environment, where the customer is king, the administration of justice cannot possibly proceed in any meaningful way if litigants adopt a customer-service mentality at the courthouse.

The courthouse is not a restaurant where reservations can be rescheduled at the last minute or simply cancelled on the whim of a litigant. Neither can a litigant pick and choose which procedural rules and time deadlines they wish to comply with. The court must impose sanctions on litigants who behave irresponsibly or recklessly.

The court continued:

The attitude and behaviour that the mother brings to this litigation is troubling as it only increases the intensity of the conflict and creates an environment in which any kind of settlement discussions are impossible.

It must be obvious to the mother, even as an unrepresented litigant, that the time deadlines imposed at the case management meetings for the filing of affidavits and briefs and concluding cross examinations are significant and cannot be casually disregarded on a whim. The mother must have known, or ought to have known, that the father would have already incurred significant legal costs in compliance with those deadlines when she attempted to cancel the March 1, 2013 Hearing on less than five business days notice.

Somehow the mother is also oblivious to the obvious fact that by running up the father’s legal bills she is also depriving her children of potential financial resources.

Moreover the mother somehow expects the court to ignore the fact that her last minute demand for an adjournment would not only have a significant financial impact on the father and the children but also on the court’s time and resources. A half day was reserved for the hearing that she demanded and that time slot was denied to other litigants and made an already backlogged list even longer.

The court has a duty to administer its scarce resources wisely and cannot allow litigants to run roughshod over its own process by ignoring deadlines, the rules of court and capriciously failing to show up at scheduled hearings.

After scrutinizing the costs thrown away, the court ultimately awarded the father $3,000, which it intended as:

… a strong message to the mother that her disregard for the rules of court and the meticulous timelines set out at the case management conferences and her unilateral decision to fail to appear at the March 1, 2013 Hearing are totally unacceptable. This kind of behaviour is simply intolerable and must be sanctioned by the court to protect the integrity of the court process and as a warning to the mother and other litigants that this kind of behaviour will have significant consequences.

What are your thoughts about the court’s admonishments? Do too many litigants approach the justice system with a “customer service” mentality, as the court in this case says?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Delichte v Rogers, [2013] M.J. No. 113, 2013 MBQB 93

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

Access to Children by Grandparents: Does a Parent Have Automatic Veto Power?

Access to Children by Grandparents: Does a Parent Have Automatic Veto Power?

Although the case of Simmons v Simmons is actually from Nova Scotia, it’s an interesting and universally-applicable illustration of how Canadian courts can approach an access contest between parents and various other family members – in this case, the grandparents – and how even a parent’s own wishes can be thwarted in appropriate cases.

The father had died of cancer when the boy was only 15 months old. The paternal grandparents had visited the boy often, both prior and immediately after their own son’s death. But when the boy was almost three years old, tension and acrimony developed with the boy’s mother over the frequency of their visits. Although the grandparents were being denied access per se, the mother was not prepared to be particularly cooperative with them until they offered an apology for what she considered was their past ill treatment.

The discord resulted in the grandparents discontinuing their visits to the boy for several months.   Over the objections of the mother, they then succeeded in obtaining a court order granting them interim access to the boy. (And note: Such applications by grandparents are permissible in all Canadian jurisdictions). The application judge had concluded that the boy’s best interests were fostered by nurturing the relationship between him and his grandparents, and ordered that such access should increase gradually over a four-month period, culminating in day-long visits every second weekend.

The mother appealed that order based primarily on the argument that, on the narrow issue of who should access to her son, the prior judge had not given proper deference to her own decision-making authority as his mother.

The Appeal Court rejected that argument, and dismissed the mother’s appeal.

Contrary to the mother’s claim, the judge that made the initial order did not fail to accord proper deference to the mother’s decision-making authority respecting access. He did take it into account; what he didn’t do was let it override consideration of the boy’s best interests.

Although it was a general principle that parents should have autonomy over decision-making relating to their children, this paradigm was not the only acceptable approach to making a determination on the grandparents’ access rights in this case. Rather, the overarching test was merely whether granting such access was in the boy’s best interests.

In this case, judicial deference to the mother’s authority, as a parent, had to be tempered by the court’s willingness to recognize the benefit giving the boy exposure to his extended family, particularly since he had already lost his father.   The previous judge had thoroughly weighed this consideration, along with all the evidence both in favour and against an access award. There was also nothing to suggest that the judge made the order as a way of fostering hope or speculation that the grandparents’ access would resolve the tension between them and the mother.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Simmons v Simmons, 2016 NSCA 86; [2016] N.S.J. No. 494 (C.A.)

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

Self-Represented Wife Asks for $18K in Legal Costs; Court Awards $30K Instead

Self-Represented Wife Asks for $18K in Legal Costs; Court Awards $30K Instead

In McMurter v McMurter, the wife represented herself in the family matter against her former husband, who had a lawyer acting for him in their 15-day trial.

The husband had asked the court to terminate his $2,500-per-month spousal support obligations, but he did not prevail. After hearing all the evidence, the court found there was no material change in either spouse’s financial circumstances to justify such a change.

Pointing out that she had been totally successful at trial, the wife then asked for a court order forcing the husband to pay her full legal fees, including: 1) the legal fees she had already paid a lawyer for representing her up but not including trial, and 2) the fees for the 263 hours she personally spent preparing for and representing herself at the trial, using a rate of $35 per hour. (She had run out of money and was unable to afford to continue paying the lawyer’s retainer). All told, she was requesting a costs order for just over $18,000.

For his part, the husband was willing to pay for, at most, the 263 hours the wife spent preparing herself, but only at a rate of $18.32 per hour, which was what she would otherwise have earned at her regular job. This proposed rate was to compensate for “opportunity cost”, meaning the money she did not earn because she was preparing for trial.

The court was asked to fix the proper amount of legal fees the to which the wife should be entitled.

It started by pointing out that the Family Law Rules contain a presumption that a successful party, like the wife, is entitled to the costs of a case. From that basic premise, a court can adjust the costs award based on various factors, including the importance, complexity or difficulty of the issues, and the time spent on the case. Other decisions have expanded on whether non-legally-trained litigants who ask for costs can automatically expect to be paid the same hourly rate as a lawyer doing the identical work. (Hint: They cannot).

Here, the wife was entirely successful in resisting the husband’s motion to change, and the case was complex. The outcome was of great importance to her, since there was a lot at stake. The court commented that she was exceptionally well-organized and presented her position well, and dealt with complex family legislation and legal issues. As the court put it, “She did the work of a lawyer in addition to the work expected of her as a litigant.”

While it was not appropriate to grant her the full lawyers’ rate, the court awarded the wife 263 hours at $100 per hour, rather than the requested $35 which was “woefully inadequate considering the nature and quality of the work” she did. That higher hourly fee was “reasonable and appropriate for a well prepared and self-represented litigant” who had done work comparable to a junior lawyer in some respects, and to an experienced law clerk in others.

The court also allowed an added 50 hours for legal preparation, for a total of 313 hours. After making some minor deductions, the court awarded a total of $30,000 in costs. It concluded the ruling by saying:

Litigants cannot and should not assume that if a party is self-represented that they will not bear the consequences of a significant cost award in the litigation in the appropriate circumstances if they are unsuccessful.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Costs award:

McMurter v McMurter, 2017 ONSC 725 (CanLII)

Main judgment:

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

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

Ontario Superior Court Justice Pazaratz Speaks Out Against Legal Aid Squandering – Again

Ontario Superior Court Justice Pazaratz Speaks Out Against Legal Aid Squandering – Again

A recent Family law decision by Justice Pazaratz of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice caused a stir this past few weeks. In his written endorsement of a consent order, he bluntly stated that the case before him should not have been dragged out so long, and should not have been funded by public coffers so indiscriminately. He chastised both Legal Aid Ontario and the parties themselves for “squandering scarce judicial and community resources”, writing:

After confirming that Legal Aid was paying for all of this, I couldn’t help but ask some obvious questions:

a. Is it fair for people who have never paid any taxes to be so cavalier about how they spend other people’s money?

b. Is it fair that Legal Aid has decided to fund this easily resolvable case, when every day I see people with much more serious and complex problems who have been denied any help by Legal Aid?

c. Is it fair that more important cases, many involving the well-being of children, couldn’t be dealt with on March 9, 2017 because our court was required to devote one of our limited timeslots to this case?

The balance of the decision has much the same no-holds-barred tone. And while his comments might be unusually critical and frank for a judge, this isn’t the first time Justice Pazaratz has spoken out this way.

In several prior cases he provided similar disapproval of profligate spending on needless motions and other procedural wrangling — whether paid by from the public purse or otherwise.

For example, in Scipione v Scipione, he railed against Family law litigants who run up legal costs, and then ask the losing party to pay them. In explaining that costs rulings are to be directed by an “overall sense of reasonableness and fairness”, he added that “The Rules [of court] do not require the court to allow the successful party to demand a blank cheque for their costs.”

Next, displaying perhaps a little more creative flair, in Izyuk v Bilousov, Justice Pazaratz wrote:

The popular beverage has a catchy slogan: “Red Bull gives you wings.”

But at this costs hearing, the self-represented Respondent father suggested a wry variation:  “Legal Aid gives you wings.”

He now seeks costs in relation to a 1- day custody trial … He won; sole custody.  The Applicant mother was represented by counsel.  Her poor finances qualified her for Legal Aid.   Now she says those same poor finances should excuse her from paying costs.

The Respondent asks a valid question:   Does she have wings?   Can she do whatever she wants in court, without ever worrying about fees – hers or anyone else’s?

Justice Pazaratz ultimately made the following ruling:

In the case at bar, the Applicant conducted herself as if her Legal Aid certificate amounted to a blank cheque – unlimited resources which most unrepresented Respondents would be hard-pressed to match.  A scheduled 3-4 day trial turned into 17 days, largely because the Applicant fought every issue and pursued every dubious allegation, to the bitter end.  She appeared to make up evidence and allegations as she went along.  She defied court orders directly impacting on the child, even while the trial was underway. There have to be consequences.  Either we sanction this irresponsible and destructive behaviour, or we invite more of the same.

Encouraging settlement and discouraging inappropriate behaviour by litigants is important in all litigation – but particularly in family law, and most particularly in custody cases.  No litigant should perceive they have “wings” – the ability to say or do anything they want in court, without consequences.

Returning to the most recent of decision that is now under controversy: It’s a 2017 case called Abdulaali Salih in which Justice Pazaratz simply turns up the volume a little, on what has apparently become a recurring theme with him.

To give his latest comments context: The divorcing husband and wife, both of whom had immigrated from Iraq and had never worked in Canada, were both monthly recipients of government money from the Ontario Disability Support Program. Their litigation was being funded by Legal Aid Ontario, and since they had “no children. No jobs. No income. No property. Nothing to divide.”, he added that it should be “a simple case”.

Yet the couple had repeatedly returned to court to settle even minor issues, and seemed to have no impetus to slow down the steady stream of hearings between them. In expressing his exasperation at the needless dissipation of public money, Justice Pazaratz wrote:

At the March 9, 2017 attendance, apart from paying for the lawyers, taxpayers also had to pay for the following government employees to be present in Courtroom #5 to deal with this matter:

 a. A Court Services Officer.

 b. A Court Reporter.

 c. A Court Registrar.

 d. And me.

I have no idea how much the other players in the courtroom get paid. But as a Superior Court Judge I receive approximately $308,600.00 per year. So you can see that not even counting overhead charges and administrative staff in the building, every hour of court time is hugely expensive.

Many taxpayers can’t afford their own lawyers, and don’t qualify for free assistance through Legal Aid. So they end up representing themselves in court. Or facing financial reality and settling without going to court.

But when you pay no taxes and Legal Aid gives you a free lawyer, there’s no incentive to be sensible. Why worry about the cost when some unsuspecting taxpayer out there is footing the bill?

Clearly Justice Pazaratz has an axe to grind. Does he go too far? Or is he right?

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Scipione v Scipione, 2015 ONSC 5982 (CanLII)

Izyuk v Bilousov, 2011 ONSC 7476 (CanLII)

Abdulaali v Salih, 2017 ONSC 1609 (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

 

Revenge Porn: Not Just a Bad Idea; It’s Also a Crime

Revenge Porn: Not Just a Bad Idea; It’s Also a Crime

A few weeks ago, I reported on the appeal-level decision in the case of “revenge porn” where a woman’s ex-boyfriend had posted explicit photos of her on a pornographic website and showed them to his friends, all without her consent. She sued him for civil damages to compensate for the resulting humiliation.

The existence of this type of case is not unexpected, but it’s not as prevalent as one might think. Despite the widespread use of social media, and the immediacy with which even ill-advised messages can be sent, there are surprisingly few court decisions that involve a person seeking civil damages for an internet-based invasion of privacy, whether through hacking, or by posting without the person’s consent.

Part of the reason might be the impact of the criminal law: In December 2014, the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to add s. 162.1(1). The provision makes it a crime if someone “knowingly publishes, distributes, transmits, sells, makes available or advertises an intimate image of a person” knowing that he or she did not give their consent. The term “intimate image” is defined to include a visual recording, including a photographic, film or video recording, “in which the person is nude, is exposing his or her genital organs or anal region or her breasts or is engaged in explicit sexual activity”. On conviction as an indictable offence, the penalty can be up to five years’ imprisonment.

So far, there are only a small number of reported cases in which anyone has been charged with an offence under s. 162.1.

  • In R v. P.S.D., a young man in a volatile, on-again/off-again relationship with a young woman was charged after he took partially-clad images of her without her consent. He also sent the pictures to two friends, with instructions that they should save them, all with the intent to cause her emotional harm. The blurry, poor-quality photos were taken with his cellphone, in a manner that clearly indicated she had not consented, and showed portions of the woman’s bare breasts. The man was given a suspended sentence, after being given 90 days’ enhanced credit for the 60 days he spent in pre-trial custody.
  • In v. Calpito, the male accused, in his early 20s, confessed to having posted seven nude photos of his former girlfriend on Instagram after their romantic relationship had ended.  The photos were viewed by the woman’s large circle of friends, and even by her employer. The woman described the devastating effect of his actions on her life and university studies. The man was sentenced to a conditional discharge with three years’ probation, together with restrictions on his internet use and a significant term of community service.

The enactment of this new criminal offence, with its potentially hefty sentence, has surely had a chilling effect on the need for civil remedies as well. It means that Canadian law is well-poised to thwart the impulses of spurned ex-lovers to wreak revenge on former partners by oversharing intimate images.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

R v. P.S.D., 2016 BCPC 400 (CanLII)

v. Calpito, 2017 ONCJ 129, 2017 CarswellOnt 340

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the full text of the decision, see:

Perna v Foss, 2015 ONSC 5636 (CanLII)

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the full text of the decision, see:

PP v DD, 2017 ONCA 180 (CanLII)

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