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Posts from the ‘Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines’ Category

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

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Top 4 Points About Enforcing Child and Spousal Support Payments


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Top 4 Points About Enforcing Child and Spousal Support Payments

In this video we review 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 will review four 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

The Factors That Influence Lump-Sum Spousal Support Awards

spousal-support

The Factors That Influence Lump-Sum Spousal Support Awards

Between divorced and separated couples, a spousal support order is usually structured so that one spouse will pay the other on an ongoing basis, often monthly and for a term of many years (at least until there is a material change that dictates that the order should be changed). In other words, spousal support is paid out over time, with periodic payments made in specified amounts on a regular basis. The majority of spousal support orders take this form.

However, courts have other payments structure options available to them. Somewhat less common is an award calling for a single, lump-sum payment, which is specifically authorized under section 33(9) of the Ontario Family Law Act.

In an Ontario Court of Appeal decision called Davis v. Crawford, the factors and principles that favour a court making (or not making) such an award were considered. As part of the overarching concern over whether the paying spouse can make a lump-sum payment without undermining his or her self-sufficiency, the court must consider (among other things):

• Both parties’ current assets and means;

• The assets and means they are likely to have in the future;

• The paying spouse’s capacity to provide support.

In Davis v. Crawford the Appeal Court emphasized that a court must weigh the perceived advantages of making the lump sum award being considered in the particular case against any presenting disadvantages of making such an order.

These can include:

• Whether, if the lump-sum award is ordered, the recipient spouse is unlikely to receive any equalization payment or child support payments to which she is entitled.

• Whether there will be any resulting disparity in the former spouses’ income, if the recipient spouse will not receive his or her share of the equalization payment (that otherwise represents the apportionment of the couples’ Net Family Property).

• Whether there will be a resulting inequity because the paying spouse will possibly be discharged from bankruptcy (and thus released from his or her equalization obligation, which was a topic I have written about previously [RA add link to prior article on bankruptcy])

For the full text of the decision, see:

Davis v. Crawford, 2011 ONCA 294 (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: Top 5 Questions About Spousal Support in Ontario, Canada

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Top 5 Questions about Spousal Support in Ontario, Canada

In this video we review some of the more common questions about spousal support in Ontario, including:

1) What is spousal support?

Spousal support — which is sometimes called “alimony” — is money paid from one spouse to the other after the dissolution of the relationship. The obligation to pay spousal support is a legal one, and may arise either from a marriage, or from a common-law relationship.

2) What is the legal basis for obtaining spousal support?

The obligation for one spouse to pay spousal support to the other does not arise automatically from the fact that the parties had a relationship together (whether formally married or common law). Rather, the spouse who is claiming spousal support must prove an entitlement to it.

A court may order spousal support, and will set an amount and duration based on various factors that exist between the parties. The jurisdiction for a court to award spousal support comes from either the federal Divorce Act (as part of a divorce order), or from the Ontario Family Law Act.

3) What factors dictate the duration and amount of spousal support?

The determination of how much support a spouse should receive, and for how long, is a complex equation. In making a spousal support order courts consider several factors, including:

• the length of the entire relationship (including time living together before marriage);

• the financial circumstances of each spouse, both during the relationship and
after separation;

• the functions performed by each spouse during the relationship;

• the financial repercussions or detrimental financial effect on one or both spouses of caring for each other or for any children of the relationship; and

• each spouse’s ability to support him or herself.

In some cases one spouse may have suffered a financial loss or disadvantage as result of joint career and lifestyle decisions made during the marriage or relationship (for example the decision to move the family so that a spouse can take a new job, or that the mother will give up her career to stay home and raise the children). A disadvantaged spouse will be entitled to support to compensate him or her for that setback.

There may also be a limit on the duration of the support that one spouse receives from the other, as means of encouraging the recipient spouse to achieve post-separation financial independence as quickly as possible. Alternatively, the order may contain a built-in review mechanism.

Note that there are certain tax consequences relating to spousal support — both from the payor’s and the recipient’s perspective. In short — and provided it is paid pursuant to either a written separation agreement or a court order — it is considered “taxable income” in the hands of the spouse who receives it, and is deductible from the taxable income of the spouse who pays it. These tax ramifications are taken into account when determining the amount of support.

4) How does the spouse’s behaviour affect spousal support entitlement?

Generally speaking, the entitlement to spousal support is not dependent on the spouse’s pre- or post-separation behaviour, morality, or ethical conduct. In other words, a spouse who is otherwise entitled to spousal support after the dissolution of a marriage will not become disentitled because he or she was violent, or because it is later discovered that he or she had an extra-marital affair during the marriage.
Having said that, a court’s determination of the amount and duration of spousal support will hinge upon each party providing forthright, comprehensive financial disclosure to each other. If in making the determination the court feels that one spouse has withheld financial information (e.g. has failed to disclose a source of significant income), the court may impute income to the spouse and award the other spouse his or her support accordingly.

5) What happens if there is a change in circumstances?

As indicated above, the notion of one spouse receiving spousal support from the other is rooted in several concepts and principles, including:

1) the financial disadvantage or dependence that relationship gave rise to must be redressed post-separation; and

2) the ability of the paying spouse to fund the spousal support award must be taken into account.

The amount or duration of spousal support may have to be adjusted if there is significant change in the financial circumstances of either party. This change must be significant, and must not have been foreseen when the separation agreement or the court-ordered spousal support award was made.

We hope you have found this video helpful. If you require further information about spousal support please contact us.

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

Wednesdays Video Clip: How Base Child Support is Calculated

 

How Base Child Support is Calculated

In this video we discuss how the Child Support Table in the Guidelines sets out the amounts of support to be paid, depending on the “gross income” of the paying parent and the number of children that the support order covers. Gross income means before taxes and most other deductions. The amounts to be paid are based on the average amounts of money that parents at various income levels spend to raise a child.

In simple cases, the table alone will determine how much money will be paid. In more complicated cases, the table is used as the starting point. There is a different table for each province and territory.

If both parents live in Ontario, the Ontario table applies. Also, if the paying parent lives outside of Canada and the parent with custody lives in Ontario, the Ontario table applies. But if the paying parent lives in another province or territory, the table for that province or territory is the one that applies.

You can get a copy of the Child Support Table for Ontario by phoning 1-888-373-2222.

Or you can visit the Department of Justice Canada’s web site at www.canada.justice.gc.ca/en/ps/sup and click on “Simplified Federal Child Support Tables” to find the table for each province and territory.

The table sets out the amount of support that must be paid at different income levels from $8,000 to $150,000, depending on the number of children. A base amount is given for every $1,000 increase in income, along with a way to calculate amounts in between.

There is also a Simplified Table where you can look up the paying parent’s income to the nearest $100, without having to do any calculations.

Sometimes, a judge does not accept a parent’s statement of income. Instead the judge uses an amount of income that is reasonable based on things such as the parent’s work history, past income, and education. The judge will then apply the table to that income.

A judge might do this if the parent:

• fails to provide the required income information

• is deliberately unemployed or under employed, or

• is self-employed or working “under the table”, and there is reason to believe they do not report all of their income

Before the Guidelines came into effect, judges had more flexibility in deciding the amount of support. Now, in simple cases, judges must order the amount shown in the table. Judges can order different amounts, but only in special cases. And they must use the table amount as a guide.

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

Self-Reporting Your Income: How to Go Wrong

Canada Revenue Agency Warning Sign, A Canadian road warning sign with words Canada Revenue Agency with a sky background

Self-Reporting Your Income: How to Go Wrong

If you are a separated or divorced parent and also self-employed, then you likely know of your legal obligation to report your income so that any child support obligations (or entitlements) can be determined under the federal Child Support Guidelines (the “Guidelines”).

This can be more complicated than you may think. Because unlike those who receive a straight salary, if you earn your living through self-employment, or if you are paid through a corporation, then the calculation of your income can fluctuate greatly from year to year. It may also require some crystal ball-gazing, and be driven by numerous esoteric variables and discretionary business-decisions.

Not surprisingly, when family disputes involving one or more self-employed parents end up in court, the judge is authorized to closely scrutinize your self-reported income to fix the true amount. As part of this exercise, the Guidelines allow the judge to “add back” or impute income to your declared income in certain cases. These include situations where you:

• Are intentionally unemployed or under-employed;

• Divert income;

• Unreasonably under-use property that could be used to generate income;

• Fail to produce income information when legally required to do so;

• Deduct an unreasonably high amount of expenses from income (and this is not solely governed by whether the deduction is permitted under the Income Tax Act); and

• The beneficiary under a trust.
(The Guidelines also allow the court to impute income to you in certain defined tax scenarios).

Needless to say, there is a lot of gray-area in that list; for example, in a small corporation or single-person business you may have a lot of leeway in determining the amount of expenses that you deduct from income. Essentially, it is an “executive decision” in the colloquial sense, highly dependent on factors unique to your specific self-employment arrangement, and may vary from year to year as business needs and economic factors dictate.

In fact, the over-generous deduction of business expenses is the area where most self-employed parents trip up in reporting their total income for child support purposes. Here are just a few of the ways that you can go wrong in reporting income:

• By trying to deduct business expenses for what are actually recreational purposes. For example, in a case called Dunham v. Dunham the court added back 100 percent of the amount that the self-employed spouse had tried to claim for gasoline and oil expenses relating to a snowmobile and an airplane.

• By being over-generous in deducting expenses for items that have a dual purpose. For example, in A. (A.) v. A. (C.) the court disallowed certain capital cost allowance deduction in relation to a $60,000 truck and a computer, because they were used by the father (who was a private investigator) for both personal and business-related purposes).

• By hiding behind your accounting professional in justification of various decisions made in coming up with an income amount;

Note the following:

• Just because the deduction is allowed by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) does not mean it will be allowed for Guideline support and income-determination purposes.

• On the flip-side, if the deduction clearly disallowed by the CRA, then it will also be disallowed under the Guidelines when calculating income.

• The fact that a deduction may have survived a CRA audit does not mean that for child support purposes the deductions will not be added back by the court if warranted. Family courts have a great deal of discretion in this area.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Dunham v. Dunham, 1998 CarswellOnt 4571 (Ont. Gen. Div.)

A. (A.) v. A. (C.), 2012 CarswellBC 3001 (B.C. S.C.)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offerig 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 www.RussellAlexander.com

Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines Are Now an Even Handier Tool

tool

Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines Are Now an Even Handier Tool

We have written before about the role of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAG), which are designed to provide guidance and inject some certainty into the court’s task of setting spousal support levels between former spouses in certain prescribed scenarios.

But since they are only “advisory” (rather than mandatory) in nature, questions sometimes arise as to when courts should use them, when they can or should deviate from them, and under what support-adjudicating circumstances can they be referred to by courts in the first place.

Assuming at the outset that the facts of a case potentially fall within the purview of scenarios that the SSAGs were drafted to cover, the answer to the last question – broadly stated – is “anytime”.

This was not always the case under Ontario law. When first introduced in draft form in 2008, they were arguably designed to apply only to initial (first-time) spousal support applications, but not to review situations were the spouses returned to court subsequently to have an existing order varied. This conclusion was fortified by a 2008 ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal in a case called Fisher v. Fisher (And it should be noted that the Court drew these conclusions about the non-applicability of the SSAGs despite the fact that the issue was not really germane to the case before it).

Relying on that Court of Appeal ruling in Fisher, subsequent courts had been reluctant to apply the SSAGs to anything other than initial applications. However, that strict stance was loosened over the years, most notably in 2014 decision – ironically also by the Court of Appeal – in which the SSAG’s purview was expanded to review applications as well.

In Gray v. Gray, the Appeal Court was asked to consider whether an earlier trial judge had made a reversible error in failing to consider the SSAGs while deciding the wife’s review application. In doing so, it observed that Fisher had been decided at a time when the SSAGs were not yet in finalized form. Since then there had been a final version released which expressly addressed certain variation scenarios; there was also a body of case law that involved SSAG-guided review.

(For example, in one such case called Abernathy v. Peacock, the recipient mother had been initially awarded considerably less spousal support than that to which she was otherwise entitled, in order to leave the paying father more money with which to pay child support. When her spousal support entitlements later came up for review, the court concluded that the SSAGs were an appropriate benchmark, given that they were being used to adjust support amounts that may very well have been awarded in the first place).

Collectively, on both initial applications and review scenarios it was clear to the Appeal Court in Gray that the SSAGs were to be considered a “valuable tool for courts to use in assessing a reasonable amount of spousal support”, and that they should be “routinely consulted”.

Although the Court thus confirmed the SSAG’s applicability to review applications, it cautioned that they should not be applied “wholesale”. Rather – and since they still remain only advisory in nature – family courts were to first consider complicating factors such as situations where one or both divorced spouses have second families, or where the paying spouse has enjoyed a post-separation increase in income. In such cases, according to the Ontario Court of Appeal, a court “must conduct an analysis of the facts of the specific case to assess whether the SSAG ranges are appropriate.”

What all of this means is that spouses who are contemplating separation and divorce can look to the SSAGs as a trustworthy starting point or “baseline” for discussions around spousal support amounts – no matter what the stage of the proceedings between them. Although the SSAG-set amounts are not carved in stone, they can provide a little bit of certainty to a sometimes-uncertain process.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Fisher v. Fisher, 2008 ONCA 11 (CanLII)

Abernethy v. Peacock, 2012 ONCJ 145, [2012] O. J. No. 1203; 2012 ONCJ 145 (CanLII) add’l reasons 2013 ONSC 2045 (CanLII)

Gray v. Gray, 2014 ONCA 659 (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

Top 5 questions about spousal support in Ontario, Canada – video

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Top 5 questions about spousal support in Ontario, Canada

In this video we review the top 5 questions about spousal support in Ontario, Canada.

Spousal support — which is sometimes called “maintenance” or (especially in the U.S.) “alimony” — is money paid from one spouse to the other after the dissolution of the relationship. The obligation to pay spousal support is a legal one, and may arise either from a marriage, or from a common-law relationship. Either spouse can make a claim for it, provided:

• the spouses have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for at least three years; and

• the claim for spousal support is made within one year of couples’ separation.

The obligation for one spouse to pay spousal support to the other does not arise automatically from the fact that the parties had a relationship together (whether formally married or common law). Rather, the spouse who is claiming spousal support must prove an entitlement to it.

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 www.RussellAlexander.com.

Top 5 questions about spousal support – video


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Top 5 questions about spousal support in Ontario, Canada

In this video we review the top 5 questions about spousal support in Ontario, Canada.

Spousal support — which is sometimes called “maintenance” or (especially in the U.S.) “alimony” — is money paid from one spouse to the other after the dissolution of the relationship. The obligation to pay spousal support is a legal one, and may arise either from a marriage, or from a common-law relationship. Either spouse can make a claim for it, provided:

• the spouses have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for at least three years; and

• the claim for spousal support is made within one year of couples’ separation.

The obligation for one spouse to pay spousal support to the other does not arise automatically from the fact that the parties had a relationship together (whether formally married or common law). Rather, the spouse who is claiming spousal support must prove an entitlement to it.

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 www.RussellAlexander.com.