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Posts from the ‘Court Reforms & Changes’ Category

Coming Soon to a Public Library Near You:  Help for Self-Represented Family Litigants

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Coming Soon to a Public Library Near You:  Help for Self-Represented Family Litigants

The National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSLRP) is the new recipient of $100,000 in funds from Law Foundation of Ontario, which has a mandate to improve access to justice for the people of Ontario through a variety of grants, fellowships and awards.    The funds come from the Law Foundation’s “Family Law Access to Justice Fund,” and will be used by the NSLRP to partner with local public libraries.  Together, they will work to set up a pilot program in Public Libraries to serve the needs of self-represented litigants.

The pilot program is slated to begin in July of 2018, and will run for two years.

The first to benefit from this initiative will be the Windsor Public Library and the Essex County Public Library, both of which have committed to partner in this pilot program.

Initial steps will involve: 1) hiring a Project Leader to provide training to librarians on issues related to self-represented litigants and their needs, and 2) developing public educational programming.  The latter will include legal information seminars, question-and-answer sessions with local lawyers, and clinics to educate on the forms to be used in various legal processes.

The NSLRA notes that libraries are well-poised to participate, since they are already tasked with providing the public with access to information, and frequently see patrons who seek legal advice and information in particular.

For more information about this initiative see:

https://representingyourselfcanada.com/family-law-at-the-library-new-project-to-partner-with-public-libraries/

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

Changes to Divorce Act Recommended

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Changes to Divorce Act Recommended

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA), which is the largest professional, nation-wide association for lawyers in Canada, has recently recommended updates to the federal Divorce Act. Put forward by the CBA’s Family Law Section, these suggested changes are aimed at reflecting new realities related to modern-day parenting.
The proposed changes relate to three topics:

• Relocation – Although the test for a court ordering a child to be relocated hinges on the “best interests” of that child, courts are given little guidance on how to apply that test in specific cases. The proposed legislative changes would improve clarity and consistency.

• Child Support in shared parenting situations – The suggested amendments call for the legislation to include a formula for determining child support in shared parenting situations. Currently, the proper approach for courts to apply is complex.

• Updating Divorce Act terminology – The CBA’s proposed changes would see both the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the Divorce Act get updated so that terms such as “custody”, “access” and “best interests of the child” are modernized and replaced with more progressive terms. In particular, the clarity and meaning of the latter term would benefit from incorporating specified factors such as the impact of the child’s cultural, linguistic or spiritual upbringing, as well as the question of whether there is domestic violence in his or her home life.
If for no other reason, from a sheer temporal standpoint this kind of “freshening up” of the Divorce Act is long overdue, since it’s provisions have not been significantly amended for 30 years.

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

Can Bankrupt Wife Still Claim for Equalization of NFP?

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Can Bankrupt Wife Still Claim for Equalization of NFP?

If a spouse declares bankruptcy, is he or she then prevented from claiming for equalization of Net Family Property (NFP?) under Ontario Family law?

That was the question in Kinsella v. Mills, which involved a couple who had separated after 7 years of marriage. At that point, they signed Minutes of Settlement that finalized the splitting of their financial affairs, which was intended to deal with all issues including spousal support, equalization of NFP and constructive trust claims.  The Settlement reflected the couple’s agreement that the husband would take sole ownership of the matrimonial home and assume all debts and costs, and in return would pay the wife an agreed lump sum, together with a monthly amount.

Less than a year later, the wife declared bankruptcy.  She was automatically discharged nine months later.  The couple’s divorce was formalized a few months after that.

The wife then applied to the court to set aside that Settlement, claiming that it was unfair, signed under duress, and in a situation where she had no independent legal advice and did not know what she was signing. If she was successful, the wife planned to re-launch her claim for equalization of NFP, and wanted it divided unequally in her favour.

The husband resisted, pointing out that after the marriage breakdown he was left with a large amount of debt.  Because of the wife’s bankruptcy, she was released from having to pay it, but he was still saddled with debt that they had rung up together.  Nothing about the Settlement was unfair, in his view.

The court was asked to make a ruling.  It observed that nothing in the Family Law Act or the federal Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act  specifically prevents a spouse from making a claim for equalization of NFP after declaring bankruptcy. However, after examining the interplay between the two, the court concluded that the legislation operated to effectively do so.  The court noted the following:

  • The wife’s claim to any equalization payment from husband fell within the very broad definition of “property” under the bankruptcy legislation.
  • The moment she declared bankruptcy, she was no longer entitled to dispose of or otherwise deal with her property. Instead, it immediately vested in the bankruptcy trustee.
  • Once any equalization claim vested with the trustee – and unless the trustee actually joined the wife in the Family Law proceeding – the wife’s hands were tied.

The court added that this impasse be remedied by the wife being discharged as a bankrupt, but getting the trustee’s consent to go forward, or by firing the trustee.  The Family Court also had no authority to undo the wife’s bankruptcy.

Having found the wife to lack the capacity to bring the equalization claim, the court added that the Settlement itself was not subject to being undone, since there was no evidence of duress.  The wife had also failed to obtain legal advice before signing it, despite being encouraged to do so.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Kinsella v. Mills

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

Supreme Court of Canada Hands Down Landmark Ruling on Text Message Privacy

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Supreme Court of Canada Hands Down Landmark Ruling on Text Message Privacy

In a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in a criminal case called R. v. Marakah, which was handed down just this past week, the nation’s top Court framed the essential questions in the opening lines:

Can Canadians ever reasonably expect the text messages they send to remain private, even after the messages have reached their destination? Or is the state free, regardless of the circumstances, to access text messages from a recipient’s device without a warrant?

The accused, Nour Marakah, had been charged and convicted of trafficking in handguns.  Among the evidence used against him were certain incriminating text messages that he had sent to an accomplice’s iPhone.  The messages on his own phone (from where those messages to the accomplice were sent) had already been ruled inadmissible, since their use was found to have breached his Charter right to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the text messages that had been intercepted from the accomplice’s phone were private in the circumstances, and also inadmissible on the same Charter-based grounds.

The Court quickly added that outcome was not automatic: different facts may have led to a different result.  Among other things, the matter hinged on whether Marakah had a reasonable expectation that the texts would remain private.

From a general standpoint, the Court discussed the relevant legal analysis to be applied in these cases.  This involved evaluating the “totality of the circumstances” including the elements of whether the sender has control over the messages once they are sent.  Someone who sends texts messages has meaningful control over what they sent, and how and to whom they disclose the information.  For the purposes of the Charter’s s. 8 protections against unreasonable search and seizure, that control is not lost merely because another individual possesses or can access it.  In other words, even though the sender does not have exclusive control over his or her personal information – only shared control – that does not preclude him or her from reasonably expecting that the information will not be subject to state scrutiny.

Returning to Marakah’s specific case, he had an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy of the text messages on the iPhone of his accomplice. He fully expected their conversation to be private, and had repeatedly asked the accomplice to delete the incriminating messages from his iPhone. The “place” of the police search (i.e. the accomplice’s iPhone) was a private electronic space accessible the accomplice, so this factor also heightened Marakah’s legitimate privacy expectations.

In entertaining, but ultimately rejecting, the policy concerns around recognizing the privacy of text messages in some circumstances, the Court added:

There is nothing in the record to suggest that the justice system cannot adapt to the challenges of recognizing that some text message conversations may engage s. 8 of the Charter.

The Court found that there had been a breach of Marakah’s Charter rights in this case, and that admitting the text messages from the accomplice’s iPhone as evidence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.  Without those texts, he would have been acquitted; to allow the conviction to stand would be a miscarriage of justice.

Although this Supreme Court ruling germinated from a criminal case with Charter implications, it may have eventual repercussions in the civil realm, including Family Law trials.

What are your thoughts on this ruling?  Should text messages be considered private at all times?

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

 

 

[1] 2017 SCC 59 (CanLII).

New Joint Action Plan Announced for Improving Access to Family Law Services in Ontario

New Joint Action Plan Announced for Improving Access to Family Law Services in Ontario

The Law Society of Ontario has just announced its approval-in-principle of a joint action plan that is the culmination of a Family Legal Services Review commissioned last year in conjunction with the Ministry of the Attorney General.  The resulting Report makes 21 recommendations that are aimed at improving access to Family Law legal services, most notably by expanding the role of paralegals. Under the joint action plan being considered, the Law Society commits to the following:

  • To develop a license for licensed paralegals and others with appropriate training, to allow them to offer some Family Law legal services. The licence will support training on the topics of: legal process; completing Family Law forms, investigating certain financial information, Motions to Change, and uncontested divorces.  The Law Society indicates that training will be an intensive and rigorous process, of up to 14 months’ duration, along with testing.
  • To “engage in a robust evaluation of the success of the Family Law legal services license for service providers other than lawyers, and to make any adjustments that are in the public interest.”
  • To consider allowing lawyer candidates (e. articling students) to be given “experiential training” in the licensing process, including how they may support the delivery of Family Law legal services under appropriate supervision.
  • To review the Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers and paralegals, to see whether the current rules on the unauthorized practice of law are as clear as possible on the difference between legal information that is legal advice, versus legal information that might be provided by Court staff to unrepresented litigants. The intent is to effect a common-sense change to give Court staff more latitude to help self-represented litigants navigate the Family Law process.
  • To continue to support the expanded use of unbundled services and legal coaching, including offering Continuing Legal Education opportunities, as well as tools that address concerns over legal liability.

The Law Society indicates that it will also continue to assess what additional Family Law legal services (including advocacy in and out of the courtroom) should be made available by providers other than lawyers.   This again requires consideration of the public interest.

It should be noted as background to this newly-announced initiative, that the Law Society has also ramped up its lobbying efforts, in cooperation with the Bar, to encourage the Federal and Provincial governments to accelerate the implementation of Unified Family Courts to all jurisdiction in Ontario.  (Currently, there are only 17 Unified Family Courts are only available to litigants in the province, mostly in the greater Toronto region).

What are your thoughts on this new action plan?

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

 

More on Upcoming Changes to the Ontario Law Relating to Kids and Youth

More on Upcoming Changes to the Ontario Law Relating to Kids and Youth

I reported recently that the Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017 (CYFSA) was given Royal Assent on June 1, 2017. Although it is not yet officially in force, once proclaimed it will make numerous changes to existing child-focused legislation in Ontario.

Most notably, the CYFSA repeals and replaces the longstanding Child and Family Services Act, and amends 36 other pieces of family- and child-related legislation.  Although the upcoming amendments are numerous and broad-ranging, one of their overriding goals is to focus on government-provided child and youth services, and to put children at the centre of decision-making.   They also aim to increase accountability, responsivity, and accessibility in relation to services and service providers.

Specifically, the new legislation sets out that the purpose of the CYFSA is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children. It recognizes that services to children and young persons should be provided in a manner that:

  • Respects regional differences wherever possible, and takes into account physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and developmental needs and differences among children and young persons;
  • Respects a child’s or young person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; and
  • Respects a child’s or young person’s cultural and linguistic needs.

Next, the CYFSA also expressly recognizes that services to children and young persons and their families should be provided in a manner that builds on the strengths of the families wherever possible. It also gives special recognition to the needs and traditions of Indian and native children and families.

Other key changes include:

  • Increasing the age of protection to include 16- and 17-year-olds. Children of this age may be found to be in need of protection; certain added circumstances apply to this age-group in making that determination.  However, 16- and 17-year-olds may not be brought to a place of safety without their consent.
  • Authorizing children’s aid societies to enter into agreements with 16- and 17-year-olds in need of protection, and to bring applications to court.
  • Strengthening the focus on early intervention, helping prevent children and families from reaching crisis situations at home.
  • Making government-provided services more culturally-appropriate for all children and youth in the child welfare system. This includes ensuring indigenous and Black children and youth receive optimum support.
  • In connection with adoption, changing the matters that must be considered in determining the best interests of the child, in keeping with the nature of the changes that are implemented in other parts of the CYFSA. It also adds a new two-stage process for adoptions from outside Canada.

Finally, the CYFSA also sets out extensive rules for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by government and service providers, and sets out new rules for obtaining consent and access to personal records, which are driven by privacy considerations.

These changes build upon feedback received by the government through the 2015 review of the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA). Note that the former Child and Family Services Act remains in-force until the new CYFSA is proclaimed in force.

For the full text of the yet-to-be-enacted legislation, see:

Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 14, Sch 1

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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Mother Wins Constitutional Challenge on Child Support for Disabled Adult Child

Mother Wins Constitutional Challenge on Child Support for Disabled Adult Child

The recent decision in a case called Coates v. Watson represents a landmark of constitutional law, with the court finding that section 31 of the Ontario Family Law Act discriminates against the adult disabled children of unmarried parents and is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The case involved an unmarried Ontario mother who was responsible for caring for her adult disabled son named Joshua. The biological father had paid some child support, but was looking to have the support payments terminated now that Joshua was an adult.

Joshua suffered from DiGeorge syndrome, which left him with both physical and mental health issues. These in turn prevented him from attending school full-time.

The legal issue arose because section 31 of the provincial Family Law Act (“FLA”) states that every parent has an obligation to provide support, but only if the child is a minor or is in school full-time. The meant that in cases where the disabled child cannot attend school, section 31 actually operates to prevent him or her from falling within the definition of “child” and thus qualifying for child support. When applied to Joshua’s case, the law effectively eliminated the biological father’s obligation to assist in supporting his son.

In contrast, the federal Divorce Act contains no such qualification, and imposes a support obligation on the parents of disabled adult children, regardless of whether the child attends school.

In noting this discrepancy between the federal and provincial legislation, the court ultimately concluded that section 31 of the FLA was unconstitutional, because it discriminates against adult disabled children of unmarried parents on various grounds including parental marital status, and disability. That discrimination is contrary to s. 15 of the Charter, which enshrines the principle that every individual is “equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

If the ruling in Coates v. Watson stands (and is not overturned on appeal), then there is speculation that the FLA might have to be amended by expanding the definition of “child”, or by incorporating the definition found in the federal Divorce Act.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Coates v. Watson, 2017 ONCJ 454 (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

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“Gender Expression” Now Protected for Kids by Law

“Gender Expression” Now Protected for Kids by Law

In what is perhaps a controversial move, the Ontario government has recently passed legislation to allow children to be removed from their parents who opposed the child’s expression of “gender identity” or “gender expression”.

The Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act of 2017 received Royal Assent on June 1, 2017. Once passed, it will change or repeal/replace existing legislation and implement new requirements directing service providers and other entities to support a child’s choice of gender identity or gender expression.

These amended provisions are aimed primarily at courts, social workers, and adoption services. It mandates that when providing services or considering the best interests and welfare of a child, these entities must consider “race, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”

It also prevents parents from challenging a child’s same-sex orientation, or with identification not with the gender that he or she was born, but rather the opposite one.

This directive gives rise to a corollary assessment as well: Whether a child should be removed from a home where the parents oppose a child’s declaration of his or her homosexuality or choice of “gender”. The principle behind this part of the legislation is that a parent who refuses to recognize a child’s preference in this regard is actually perpetrating abuse; the child’s removal from the home environment and into child protection facilities would prevent further abuse from occurring.

The new law is not without its controversy. Objectors claim that it represents an unwarranted incursion into the rights of parents, particularly those relating to religion, and embodies an “anti-parent” agenda.

What are your thoughts on these new changes?

For the full text of the new legislation, see:

Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017, S.O. 2017, c. 14.

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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Proposed Family Law Act Amendments Broaden Support Obligations to Disabled Adults

Proposed Family Law Act Amendments Broaden Support Obligations to Disabled Adults

Under proposed recent amendments to the Family Law Act, parents will be required to support an adult child who has an illness, disability, or other issue that makes them unable to support themselves.

Bill 113, which is a NDP-backed private member’s Bill introduced late March 2017, contains amendments which reiterate that “every parent has an obligation to provide support, to the extent that the parent is capable of doing so, for his or her unmarried child.” The Bill then adds that this obligation extends to any child who is “unable, by reason of illness, disability or other cause, to obtain the necessaries of life.”

Currently, parents who are tasked with the care of adult children with disabilities are only able to obtain child support orders if they were married, with support being ordered as part of the separation and divorce process under the federal Divorce Act. At the moment, Ontario law does govern the rights and obligations of parents who are unmarried, but fails to specifically address the issue of support for disabled adult children. Bill 113 seeks to fill that gap in the provincial law.

The Bill’s introduction follows upon the recent court application on March 24, 2017 by a Brampton single mother named Robyn Coates, who asked an Ontario judge to rule that the yet-unamended Family Law Act discriminates against her 22-year old developmentally disabled son. The judge decided to reserve judgment, and when the ruling is handed down it will only affect Ms. Coates’ particular scenario.

However, the amendments to the Family Law Act under Bill 113 were introduced shortly after. The Bill is currently at the first-reading stage.

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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All Parents Are Equal Act, 2016 Now In Force – Surrogacy Arrangements Impacted

All Parents Are Equal Act, 2016 Now In Force – Surrogacy Arrangements Impacted

Several months ago, I wrote a series of pieces including: Ontario Government Introduces Bill to Strengthen the Legal Status of All Parents, New Surrogacy and Parenting Declaration Laws Upcoming in Ontario, and New Proposed Law Clarifies Parentage, Surrogacy Rights, and Rights Arising from Assisted Reproduction about the All Parents Are Equal Act, 2016.

That Act is now in force, effective January 1, 2017 and (among several other things) amends the Ontario Children’s Law Reform Act to change the former practice around surrogacy arrangements. That former practice called for a court to make a declaration – on the parties’ consent – as to the child’s parentage after birth, and required the parties to file a formal court application to obtain it.

Since obtaining the court declaration was the more costly portion of the former multi-stage process for legally recognizing “parent” status in surrogacy arrangements, the elimination of this steps may come as a welcome change.

However, the Act’s more streamlined is not without its detractors. With the elimination of the need for a court declaration in some circumstances, the safeguards have been moved to the front end of the process, before the child is conceived and born. Now, up to four intended parents of a child born to a surrogate will be recognized without a court order if the following conditions are met:

  • The surrogate and the intended parent(s) received independent legal advice and entered into a written pre-conception surrogacy agreement.
  • The surrogate provided written consent to give up her parental status both before conception and seven days after the birth of the child.

(That seven days is a “cooling off” period, to ensure that the written consent by the surrogate is validly given).

Since in routine cases there will no longer be any court oversight of the process, it will be left to the parties themselves, with the help of their lawyers, to ensure that they meet the requirements of the Act, and that when the time comes, the surrogate gives her consent to relinquish the child.

What do you think of these new changes? Are they an improvement?

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