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Posts from the ‘Court Procedure’ Category

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Ontario Divorce without Courts: Introduction to Collaborative Practice


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Ontario Divorce without Courts: Introduction to Collaborative Practice

Collaborative Divorce, also known as “Divorce without Courts” or Collaborative Practice, is a new way for lawyers to help resolve your marital dispute respectfully, and without Courts. In Ontario, Lawyers can help negotiate divorce settlements, while maintaining open communication and creating a shared solution between spouses.

In this video we discuss the merits of collaborative practice in divorce.

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: 4 Ways To Enforce Child and Spousal Support Orders in Ontario


Wednesday’s Video Clip: 4 Ways To Enforce Child and Spousal Support Orders in Ontario

For those ex-spouses who are subject to a court order or have agreed that one of them will pay spousal or child support to the other, there are several points about the enforcement of such orders or agreements that are noteworthy, this video reviews some important points to consider.

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

Must Support-Paying Father Abandon Music-Career Dreams?

Must Support-Paying Father Abandon Music-Career Dreams?

In a case called Caine v Ferguson, the court was asked to consider whether a support-paying father of a child, who now had additional children to support, should be relieved of paying $11,000 in support arrears, because he acted as a stay-at-home dad while pursuing a fledgling part-time music career.

The 29-year old father had been previously ordered to pay $332 per month for his first child, who was now 9 years old, based on what the court imputed to be his income of about $35,500. He paid no support whatsoever, and the Family Responsibility Office started taking steps to collect on about $11,000, representing the unpaid support arrears that had accumulated so far. The child’s mother was on social assistance.

The father was now married to another woman with whom he had two additional children. The court described his part-time musical endeavours this way:

He stated that he is a talented musician and that he is writing, performing and producing his own music. He showed the court his recent CD. He says that he is not making any money yet, but he is giving away the CD at no cost and performing at shows for free in order to become better known. He said that his music is being played on music stations. He also has made some music videos that are on the internet.

The father brought a motion asking the court to eliminate the arrears entirely, claiming that he earned no income in the two most recent tax years.

The court found that – despite his child care obligations to his new family – the father was deliberately under-employed, and his decision to stay at home was simply not reasonable in light of his obligations to support his first child. (And it did not help him for the court to learn that he quickly depleted a $10,000 personal injury settlement, obtained after a car accident, by traveling to St. Maarten with his new wife and making music videos).

Rather than try to pursue his music career part-time, the court found that the father could have been earning at least $21,300 per year at a minimum wage job, even taking into account his child care responsibility to his other children. As the court put it:

He is choosing to pursue a speculative music career at [his first child’s] expense. He has no desire to pay child support for [her] and appears quite content with the status quo

He refused to pay child support and completely ignored the order. He has financially abandoned this child. … The court cannot condone such behaviour and needs to send a clear message that there are consequences for acting this way.

… [The mother’s] social assistance entitlement has remained unchanged. It has been the taxpayer who has had to subsidize the [father’s] financial neglect of [his child]

The court concluded that he had made nominal efforts to seek work since 2008, when the order for support of his first child was initially made.  Nothing about his current situation called for a change to that order, other than to adjust the $35,500 that had been imputed to him at the time, since in all the circumstances it was unrealistically high.

The court retroactively imputed that amount of income to the father, and adjusted the arrears slightly to accord with the lower income figure that it imputed. The court also observed that the father could still pursue his musical aspirations on a freelance basis, if he remained adamant.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Caine v Ferguson, 2012 ONCJ 139 (CanLII)

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Whether a Parent has a Right to Move with a Child – the Concept of “Mobility” in Family Law.


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Whether a Parent has a Right to Move with a Child – the Concept of “Mobility” in Family Law.

The moment that the parents of a child separate, everyone’s life circumstances change immediately: there are usually new living arrangements and a custody and access schedule put in place.

But as time passes, there may be other developments as well; for example the parents may embark on new relationships with new partners, or may change jobs.

The potential impact on any court-ordered support, custody or specific access arrangement, and the effect on each parent’s rights must be assessed and weighed.

In cases where one parent’s new relationships or new jobs require a move to another city or province, the concern is even greater. This is because such scenarios give rise the a legal issue of whether the circumstances and preferences of the parents should be allowed to dictate the child’s living circumstances, whether such moves should be allowed and by whom, and — if so — what happens to the custody and access arrangements that are in place.

In family law, this is known as a “mobility” issue.

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

“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