Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Equalization’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds like a good deal, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the full text of the decision, see:

       Virc v. Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the full text of the decision, see:

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

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

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

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Wednesday’s Video Clip: How to Fill out a Financial Statement


Wednesday’s Video Clip: How to Fill out a Financial Statement

In this law video, Darla review the steps required to fill out a financial statement for the family court or negotiating the terms of your divorce settlement.

When entering into a Separation Agreement or bringing an Application before the Court, parties must provide full financial disclosure.

Complete financial disclosure is a prerequisite to the settlement of any family law case. The Family Law Act and its interpretation by our Courts, leaves no uncertainty in this respect. Any agreement can be set aside if a party has failed to truthfully and accurately disclose his or her financial position.

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 a Judge Go “Off the Map” When Making a Ruling?

Can a Judge Go “Off the Map” When Making a Ruling?

In an interesting recent Court of Appeal case named Gomez v. McHale, a question arose as to whether a motion judge, asked to award an amount for equalization of net family property, was constrained to award only the exact dollar amount proposed by the spouse who succeeds on the motion, or whether the judge was entitled to craft a different monetary award that made sense in the circumstances.

The couple’s relationship had lasted about five years. Under s. 5(6) of the Ontario Family Law Act, a court can award un unequal amount for equalization of net family property in cases where awarding an equal amount would be “unconscionable”, in light of various factors including the length of time the couple had lived together.

They both brought summary judgment motions against each other, with the wife asking for one of two things:

• A straightforward equalization of net family property, which would result in her receiving $268,000 (which we will call “Option 1”); or

• An unequal division, to the tune of four-fifths of that amount, which was $214,000 (“Option 2”).
The husband, in contrast, wanted the either of the wife’s claims – whether under Option 1 or Option 2 – to be dismissed outright by the court.

Ultimately, a court granted the wife a third Option – but one that neither of them had asked for. For various reasons related to the specific facts, the court ordered the wife to receive an equalization payment of $60,000.

The wife appealed, claiming that the motion judge had strayed from the available choices presented at the motion hearing. In particular, the wife contended that the judge’s only available choices were to pick either Option 1 or 2, or possibly to grant her partial judgment in some amount, and direct that the rest of the issues be sent on to be resolved at a full trial.

The Court of Appeal disagreed. As that Court wrote:

Put bluntly, this is not the way motions for summary judgment, especially duelling motions, work. The motion judge was entitled to consider all the evidence and then apply the relevant statutory provision, s. 5(6) of the FLA, and determine both whether an unequal division was appropriate and, if so, the quantum of the unequal division. He was not limited to choosing one of the two amounts proposed by the appellant and, if he was inclined to reject them, referring the question of quantum on to a trial. … He was not limited to choosing only one of the appellant’s alternative positions.

The wife also claimed that the judge had made an error by not following a mathematical formula for calculating the unequal division of net family property (using the actual period of cohabitation as a percentage of the five-year period specified in s. 5(6) of the Family Law Act). The court disagreed: While a mathematical approach might help the court in some cases, it did not have to be applied in every single one.

In the end, the Appeal Court concluded that the motion judge’s final amount of equalization, set at $60,000, was fair and reasonable in view of all the circumstances, which included the fact that the wife had not made any significant contributions to the home during the period of cohabitation and marriage.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Gomez v. McHale, 2016 ONCA 318 (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 Confirms Unique “Philosophy” of the Ontario Family Law Rules

Appeal Court Confirms Unique “Philosophy” of the Ontario Family Law Rules

The Ontario Court of Appeal, in a recent case called Frick v. Frick, confirmed that the Ontario Family Law Rules are philosophically different from their civil counterpart, and reflect the unique nature of litigation involving families.

The initial facts in Frick v. Frick were unremarkable: The couple married in 1993 and had two children. They separated 20 year later, and the wife started divorce proceedings. In addition to custody and spousal/child support, she also asked for the usual equalization of Net Family Property (NFP).

But after filing her pleadings, the wife learned that the husband had spent money on extra-marital activities during the marriage, namely those incurred during what she claimed was a “10-year affair”, as well as the cost of male and female escort services and an adult fetish website membership.

In light of that spending, the wife claimed the husband had recklessly depleted his share of family funds during the marriage. Because of it, she asked for an unequal division of NFP in her favour, now that their relationship was over. She asked the court for permission to amend her claim accordingly.

But the court declined, and went one step further by expressly preventing the wife from asking for an unequal NFP division at trial. The wife appealed.

The Appeal Court ruled in her favour, finding that the motion judge had made several procedural errors. For one thing, he had innovated certain evidentiary requirements for the wife to meet, that were simply not contained anywhere in the Family Law Rules (FLR). He took issue with the wife’s failure to specify in her pleadings the precise FLR provisions on which she relied for unequal division, even though these were implicit. He took procedural liberties by essentially bringing his own motion to strike out the wife’s unequal division claim, and baring her from pursuing it at trial, even though the husband had not requested these remedies himself.

The motion judge had also applied an unjustly-high threshold for establishing the wife’s unequal division claim, and had deprived her of notice that it might be struck out permanently. As the Appeal Court put it:

Here, the wife knew that the motion was to strike portions of her document. She could not have known that her claim for an unequal division would be judged according to the summary judgment rules. Nor could she have known that her claim would be barred forever since she was denied leave to amend.

The key error, however, was the motion judge’s assessment that the FLR governed certain procedural aspects inadequately, and that he should look to the civil procedure rules for guidance instead. (Although Ontario judges are permitted to do this where warranted, the motion judge in this case showed over-reliance on the civil rules, and misunderstood when they could be invoked.).

In this context, the Court of Appeal made some important comments about the fundamental nature of the FLR:

The Family Law Rules were enacted to reflect the fact that litigation in family law matters is different from civil litigation. The family rules provide for active judicial case management, early, complete and ongoing financial disclosure, and an emphasis on resolution, mediation and ways to save time and expense in proportion to the complexity of the issues. They embody a philosophy peculiar to a lawsuit that involves a family.

The Appeal Court allowed the wife’s appeal, in part.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Frick v. Frick, 2016 ONCA 799 (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: Transfer of Property in Ontario – Separation or Divorce


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Transfer of Property in Ontario – Separation or Divorce

In Ontario, whenever there’s a marriage breakdown, and spouses separate or divorce, if they jointly own property, then usually one spouse will release his or her interest in that property, either in return for an equalization payment or other predetermined benefit.

In this video, we explain how transfers of property in Ontario work, focusing on mortgage issues, equalization payments, and land transfer tax; and what documents and information you will be asked to bring to an appointment.

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.

Unpaid Equalization Could Come Out of Bankrupt Spouse’s Pension

Retirement Pension

Unpaid Equalization Could Come Out of Bankrupt Spouse’s Pension

We’ve talked recently in Can the Post-Bankruptcy Distinction Between Support and Equalization Payments be Circumvented? about an interesting distinction in Canadian law: a claim for unpaid equalization payment is “swept into” a paying spouse’s bankruptcy, whereas claims for unpaid child or spousal support can survive it.

In a case called Syrette v. Syrette, the wife took a position that is worth noting: in the face of her former husband’s newly-declared bankruptcy, she asked the court to allow her to pursue her unpaid equalization claim against his pension assets.

This is because pension assets can be subject to special provisions under the Ontario Pension Benefits Act, which keep them exempt from seizure by way of execution, which includes seizure by a bankruptcy trustee. So while the husband’s other assets were now in the trustee’s hands for distribution to his creditors (and were thus no longer available to satisfy the wife’s established equalization claim in the usual way), his pension assets remained untouched. This meant the wife could take steps to have those funds used in satisfaction of her equalization payment entitlement.

As a procedural aside, this required the bankruptcy court’s permission: Normally, the moment the husband declared bankruptcy, an automatic stay (i.e. suspension of legal proceedings) is triggered, which applies to all creditors – including the wife. However, in the circumstances the court was willing to grant the wife permission to proceed nonetheless:

Unfortunately for [the wife], not only are her equalization proceedings against [the husband] stayed as a result of his bankruptcy, any such equalization claim will be extinguished after the discharge … unless she obtains leave to proceed from the bankruptcy court …

The courts now routinely grant an order for leave to proceed in circumstances where a spouse wishes to proceed with an equalization remedy against the pension, presumably because the granting of such a stay does not prejudice the bankrupt estate in any way, and because it is consistent with desire of the courts to divide pension assets between spouses in circumstances where there are no other significant assets to be divided. The normal order is worded so as to permit the claimant to commence or continue proceedings in the matrimonial court for equalization against the pension, notwithstanding the bankruptcy or subsequent discharge.

The wife was therefore allowed to proceed to enforce her equalization claim against the bankrupt husband’s pension.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Syrette v. Syrette, 2011 CarswellOnt 10640, 2011 ONSC 6108

Varied on other grounds:

Syrette v. Syrette, 2012 ONCA 693

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 the Post-Bankruptcy Distinction Between Support and Equalization Payments be Circumvented?

Past Due

Can the Post-Bankruptcy Distinction Between Support and Equalization Payments be Circumvented?

Recently I wrote “How Does an Unpaid Equalization Payment Intersect with Bankruptcy?” about the impact that a paying spouse’s bankruptcy has on the recipient spouse’s entitlement to nonetheless receive either child/spousal support, or an equalization payment as part of a separation or divorce. I observed that – perhaps surprisingly – Canadian law treats these two categories quite differently in terms of the post-bankruptcy collectability by the recipient spouse.

Perhaps this distinction is why some courts might be tempted to try to re-cast a spouse’s entitlement, to maximize the possibility that his or her valid family law-related claim against the bankrupt spouse – essentially in creditor/ debtor roles – will be more likely to be preserved and enforced after the bankruptcy.

But as a case called Mwanri v. Mwanri illustrates, this re-characterization is not always appropriate or permissible in law.

After a trial, the husband and wife were granted a divorce, with the husband being ordered to pay the wife about $50,000 as an equalization payment. However, he filed an assignment in bankruptcy soon after, without ever having paid a dime in satisfaction of that obligation (his spousal and child support payments were current, however). It was unlikely that his assets would be sufficient to satisfy the amount he owed the wife in equalization.

In light of this and other developments, the wife applied to a motions judge for an order that his ongoing child and spousal support obligations be converted to a lump-sum amount in the same amount as the equalization payment would have been, i.e. $50,000. The motion judge agreed, ostensibly under a broad discretion to do so under the Ontario Family Law Act and the federal Divorce Act. The husband was discharged from his bankruptcy shortly after.

From a legal standpoint, the motion judge’s ruling effectively circumvented the distinction in law between the types of award: Unpaid equalization payments got swept into the husband’s bankruptcy and evaporated once he was discharged, while spousal support obligations did not. So by asking for a $50,000 lump-sum spousal award – which was the same amount she would have received in equalization were it not for the husband’s bankruptcy – the wife could enforce the award even after the husband was discharged. In other words, the motions judge simply converted the mother’s now-unenforceable equalization claim into an enforceable entitlement to lump sum spousal support.

The husband objected, and brought an appeal to the Court of Appeal, claiming that the judge’s award was tantamount to re-distributing the husband’s assets in favour of the wife and in preference to his other creditors.

The Appeal Court agreed with the husband. It found that when it came time to make the support award, the motion judge had failed to consider: 1) the father’s status as an undischarged bankrupt; 2) the effect of a lump sum spousal support award on the father’s ongoing bankruptcy, and 3) the implications of the father’s eventual discharge from bankruptcy on the parties’ financial circumstances and assets.

The lump-sum award – not coincidentally in the same amount as the equalization payment would have been – had been made without regard to the father’s impending bankruptcy, and amounted to an end-run around the normal operation of the bankruptcy legislation. Since this was impermissible, the motion judge’s earlier ruling was overturned.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Mwanri v. Mwanri, 2015 ONCA 843 (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.

Is a Verbal Marriage Contract Only Worth the Paper It’s Written On?

Blank Paper

Is a Verbal Marriage Contract Only Worth the Paper It’s Written On?

In an interesting case from British Columbia, the court was asked to rule on whether a verbal marriage agreement, purporting to govern the division of a couple’s assets, was valid and enforceable.

The backstory featured a rather lavish courtship between a now 59-year-old doctor and a 49-year-old lawyer, who got married in Las Vegas in 2011. As part of their contentious divorce about three years later, the court heard that the husband had led the wife to believe that he was financially well-off; in the months prior to their wedding he had acted like a rich man, whisking her off to stay in 5-star hotels in destinations such as San Francisco, Palm Springs, Seattle, Europe, Los Angeles, Hawaii. In reality, he was overwhelmed with debt, owed money to Canada Revenue Agency, and had been repeatedly investigated and fined for improper billing in his medical practice.

Unaware of the true state of affairs, the wife proceeded with their wedding plans. At some point prior to the nuptials, she raised her concerns over a property she owned on Ross Street; she wanted it to be excluded from their family property, since it was her only asset and she wanted to have something for her children from a previous relationship.

They verbally agreed that the husband would not make a legal claim to it in the event they separated; the wife’s faith in his promise was fortified by her assumption that the husband was well-off in his own right. They had also discussed her understanding that under Canadian family law the Ross Street home would not become family property unless they lived in it together (which they did not intend to do, post-marriage, since it was rented to a tenant). They couple also agreed verbally to each pay their own credit card debts and their own car expenses, but share household expenses equally.

However, years of lavish and impulsive spending by the husband both before and during the marriage took its toll; after the inevitable financial collapse the wife was finally made privy to the true state of their precarious financial situation. The court described the next phase of their relationship this way:

She suggested to [the husband] that they move into Ross Street, but he would have to sign an agreement that recognized her sole right to that property and his sole obligation to pay his debts. [The husband] retorted that he would sign anything she wanted but she did not understand what it meant to be his wife. He suddenly asserted the marriage was over and he wanted a divorce. At the end of October 2014, [the wife] gave her Ross Street tenant notice and she moved into that home on January 1, 2015.

As part of the now-contentious divorce proceedings – and despite his verbal assurances to the contrary – the husband claimed against the wife’s Ross Street property nonetheless.

Ultimately the court issued a 132-paragraph ruling, which among other things considered in detail the provisions of the B.C. family legislation relating to division of property. The ruling culminated in a finding that the verbal agreement between the former couple to exclude the Ross Street home was valid and enforceable.

Among the evidence in favour of this conclusion was the fact that throughout their marriage they had acted in a manner that was consistent with the existence of such an agreement: the wife paid all the expenses related to the property and kept any income derived from it; the husband was never added on title, rarely attended at the property, and never made any financial or labour contributions to it (other than helping to power-wash the exterior on one occasion).

Although under Canadian law not all verbal agreements will necessarily be valid and enforceable, in this case the husband’s lack of credibility likely sealed the deal: In a preface to its ruling, the court underlined its finding that the husband “is not a trustworthy person”, that he had “little respect for the truth”, and that his evidence was “generally … unreliable and incredible”. This no doubt informed the court’s conclusion on the agreement’s existence, despite the husband’s unbelievable claims to the contrary.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Brown v. Brown, 2016 BCSC 1037 (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