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Posts from the ‘Spouse’ Category

Can You Sue a Cheater for Damages?

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Can You Sue a Cheater for Damages?

These days, not a week goes by without some sort of sexual scandal in the news. Recently, it has focused on allegations of sexual harassment by prominent figures and celebrities but this merely adds to usual crop adultery-scandal coverage that routinely graces the cover of magazines seen while waiting in the check-out line.

I was reminded of an older Family Law decision the other day, which considered the question of whether one person can sue another for cheating on them, or for falsely promising to marry them or have an exclusive relationship with them.

The decision in Lee v. Riley raised exactly this scenario.  The matter came before the court the initially to consider whether the lawsuit actually raised any valid legal claims.  (Under Canadian law, this process serves as a preliminary “screening mechanism” for weeding out those claims adjudged to be entirely without merit, so as not to waste the court’s time (and the taxpayers’ money) on frivolous or otherwise untenable lawsuits.   The prevailing test at the time was whether it is “plain and obvious” that the cause of action cannot succeed.)

In Lee v. Riley the woman had sued the man for what has a rather novel claim.  As the court put it:

The plaintiff [woman] alleges that the defendant [man] failed to advise her that he was involved with another women whom he later married while he was carrying on an intimate relationships with her within a context of an apparent ongoing developing relationship. When she discovered the truth, the [woman] claims that she became ill and has suffered damages. The [woman] asserts a number of causes of action arising out of these facts, including assault, intentional infliction of mental suffering, and fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation.

Although it appeared to have sympathy for the woman, the court dismissed her claim outright, having found no supportable, legal cause of action in her pleadings.  The court wrote:

The [man’s] conduct, as alleged, is morally reprehensible and disgraceful. Nevertheless, the law has never punished either criminally or in civil proceedings, the untruths, half-truths and other inducement which accompany seduction, absent a fraudulent relationship or the presence of a known serious transmittable disease. The [woman] knew who the [man] was and knew the [illegible text] sexual acts being undertaken. The law cannot protect every person against the kind of behaviour the [man[allegedly manifested. Relationships involve risk-taking. People should be honest but it is well known that frequently they are not.

What are your thoughts?  Are there circumstances where the law should recognized a claim in damage by the cheated-on partner?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Lee v. Riley, 2002 CarswellOnt 5558

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

 

 

 

If Only One Person Says “It’s Over”, Is It Really?

If Only One Person Says “It’s Over”, Is It Really?

Who gets to decide when a marriage or other relationship is over? Do both parties have to agree, in the eyes of the law?

That was one of the questions that the court had to ask in a case called Cammaroto Cammaroto.

The facts were a little unusual: The wife wanted out of the dead-end marriage but could not get the husband to leave, likely because he was very comfortable having her pay all the bills. He had never really worked throughout their 10-year marriage, and had not shown any real inclination to get a job. As the court described it:

[The wife] testified that she was trapped in the relationship for many years because she could not get [the husband] to leave and she could not afford to carry two residences making her (in her words) “a prisoner” in the matrimonial home.

The true end-date of the marriage was therefore challenging to pinpoint, and the spouses differed greatly on what that date actually was.

Naturally in a more typical marriage-breakdown scenario, the former partners usually decide to stop living together at some point, making it much easier to isolate the date the relationship has officially ended.   But where – as here – the couple continues to live under the same roof even after one or both of them consider the relationship to be over, the lines can get a little blurry.   It becomes harder to identify the true legal “separation date”.

To frame its determination on this issue, the court stated the law:

Marital relationships cover a broad spectrum and it is difficult to pinpoint when spouses become “separated” while under the same roof. There is no checklist or test that precisely articulates the determination of a valuation date in a case such as this, though courts have articulated factors to consider. It is a fact-driven inquiry in any particular case.

The absence of sexual relations is a factor but it is not conclusive. The degree to which spouses share or segregate income and expenses is important, particularly changes in those arrangements. Communication, social life, interactions with one another in public and behind closed doors all need to be considered. Mutual goals and expectations are relevant. The goal under the Family Law Act‘s property provision is to fix a date on which the economic partnership should as a matter of fairness be terminated. The global question is when it was that the parties knew, or reasonably ought to have known, their spousal relationship was over and would not resume.

On the question of whether one person can unilaterally decide that the marriage is over, the court was unequivocal:

Continuation of a marital relationship requires two people. Either spouse can unilaterally end that relationship without the consent of the other. There are many cases where one spouse knows there will be no reconciliation, but the other may not know. At the same time, the court must be careful to look for some objective evidence upon which to find a date of separation, rather than simply accepting the after-the-fact statements of the party who has decided the relationship is over.

Applying this test to the specific facts in Cammarato, the court found that the relationship had ended a full five years before the couple stopped living together. The court described the marital scene:

By 2005, they ceased to have a sexual or otherwise intimate relationship. Communication between them was largely by notes to one another. They had no social life to speak of. [The husband] had no friends and as a couple they had no mutual friends. Moreover, he objected to and interfered with [the wife’s] association with her own friends and even with her two sons. They had a joint bank account but only [the wife] was putting money into this account after 2006. [The wife’s] description of their relationship is corroborated in some respects by [her doctor’s] notes and the records of the police interventions.

In these circumstances, the court found the marriage was over long before the spouses moved out and went their separate ways. It set the separation date accordingly, for valuing the spouses’ respective assets for equalization.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Cammaroto v Cammaroto, 2015 ONSC 3968 (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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Court Finds Husband Just “Going Through the Motions” on His Job Search

Court Finds Husband Just “Going Through the Motions” on His Job Search

One of the basic principles underpinning Ontario family law, is that the parties must behave with good faith towards each other in when participating in the separation and divorce process. And courts are wary – and frequently critical – of spouses who do not behave this way.

This is illustrated in the decision in Cammaroto v. Cammaroto. There, the couple had married in 2000 after a 2-year long distance relationship, with the 48-year-old husband moving from New York to be with the wife in Ontario. He had expected to easily find work in the retail travel industry, but this never panned out, and he began to drink heavily. Meanwhile the wife, aged 44, was working 12-hour shifts in her job as a nurse.

By 2008, the relationship deteriorated to the point where the husband communicated with the wife mainly by giving her notes and list. Still, the couple continued to live together under the same roof for several more years.

As part of their divorce proceedings, the court had to decide whether the husband should be entitled to spousal support from the wife, who had been supporting him for the entirety of their marriage.

To make this determination, the court had to consider the couple’s overall relationship. In the husband’s favour was the fact that he had moved from New York and left behind a secure job. But by 2006, which was 6 years into the marriage, he had made virtually no genuine effort to find work and the wife had clearly run out of patience. The court concluded that the husband’s failure had been “a very significant cause of the marriage break-down”, and that his alcohol consumption also contributed to it.

The court itemized the husband’s so-called efforts to find work in this manner:

Exhibit 29 records [the husband’s] attempts to find employment. It illustrates a wide ranging attempt at looking into potential jobs, even low level employment such as flyer deliveries, gas bar employment and entry level sales positions. It records a range of dozens of small local employers as well as large chains such as Walmart, Staples, Rogers, Canadian Tie, Home Depot, the LCBO, several hotel chains, Zellers and Leons.

The most impressive aspect of [the husband’s] attempts to find employment are the personalized and well-written cover letters that he sent with resumes or job applications. Superficially, the documentation of [the husband’s] employment search over the years 2000 – 2006 is impressive. However, on closer examination it is apparent that [the husband] was “going through the motions”, documenting many contacts from ads for jobs that he must have known he could not do or would not accept even if he could get a job interview. Some of the content of Exhibit 29 is clearly an attempt to “pad” his efforts to find employment. For example, it is rather silly to include employment as a flight attendant, a short-order cook, a store manager, etcetera. The actual number of job interviews he got over the years was few.

In 2001, [the husband] applied for 17 jobs in total, never more than three in any given month. He agreed on cross-examination that it was not a “diligent” job search that year. In 2002, he made one job application and in 2003, 31. He admitted on cross-examination that many of the “applications” were for jobs he could not do anyway. …

It is also hard to escape the inference that Mr. Cammaroto deliberately sabotaged the only successes he had.

He obtained a job in the travel industry in 2003 but quit the job after taking the initiative with U.S. authorities to check if he could be “in trouble” as a U.S. citizen selling trips to Cuba. He blew the whistle on himself. Then, when told it was not a problem to work for a travel agency selling trips to Cuba so long as he didn’t do so personally, he quit the job anyway.

He was hired as a security guard in December 2005 or January 2006 but quit that job before his first shift to take another travel agency job that lasted only a few weeks.

In April 2006 he was hired at Stock Transportation to drive autistic children in a van but quit during the training session because the children were “wild and noisy” and he was afraid he would crash the vehicle.

There are other examples of how he thwarted actual employment opportunities himself or wasted his time on obviously fruitless pursuits. It is hard to know whether he was genuinely interested in working or just kidding himself. He turned looking for a job and the documentation of his efforts into a job itself. By 2006 he had given up any real effort. Perhaps even before that.

The court also noted that by 2010, when he and the wife were still living together, he was actively looking for other relationships on Match.com under what he called his “contingency plan”. It ultimately concluded that the husband’s lack of genuine job-hunting had been deliberate:

[The husband] admitted that as early as 2008 he was aware of the “rule of 65” in the spousal support advisory guidelines, referencing the principle that if a dependent spouse’s age plus years of marriage equals or exceeds 65 then recommended spousal support should be for an “indefinite” duration.

It is clear from all the evidence that [the husband] was determined to delay the inevitable separation as long as possible to maximize his entitlement to support and not because there was any realistic hope, even in his own mind, that a true marital relationship would ever resume.

Still, the court observed that at the time of the trial, the husband had been out of the workforce for 15 years, and had depression, anxiety, and some other mental health issues that clearly pre-dated the marriage. In these circumstances, he was entitled to some time-limited support from the wife, who had the ability to pay from her $90,000 income as a nurse.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Cammaroto v. Cammaroto, 2015 ONSC 3968

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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Personal Injury Structured Settlements: Are They “Property” or “Income” Upon Divorce?

Personal Injury Structured Settlements: Are They “Property” or “Income” Upon Divorce?

In a recent family case called Hunks v. Hunks, the court considered whether structured settlements – such as the type that are reached as part of a personal injury claim – are considered “property” or else “income” for the purposes of the property-division and equalization regime under the Ontario Family Law Act (the “FLA”).

In that case, Donna and Gary got married in 1995. A few months later, Donna suffered an injury at a supermarket that left her disabled.   She successfully sued the supermarket, and was awarded more than $500,000 in compensation. After using spending about $200,000 for family-related needs, she used the rest to purchase a structured settlement (which is a mechanism by which a personal injury victim such as Donna could receive her settlement funds on a fixed schedule, rather than all up-front).

That structured settlement was arranged so that she would receive $1,290 per month for the rest of her life, as well as a lump-sum payment of $15,000 every five years (to a maximum of four such payments). All of this was subject to a small annual increase.

Unfortunately, the marriage between Donna and Gary did not flourish, and they separated about 15 years after Donna’s accident. In the course of settling out their financial affairs through the customary equalization process mandated by the FLA, the issue arose as to how the structured settlement should be properly characterized.

A lower court found that conceptually, a structured settlement was similar to a “pension” and rather than be excluded it formed part of Donna’s matrimonial property that was subject to equalization.

However, the Court of Appeal later overturned that ruling.   That court found that the structured settlement was essentially a special type of annuity, and it was more analogous to disability benefits. Under Ontario law, such benefits are considered “income” for FLA purposes, and while not subject to the equalization process per se, they are considered in determining spousal support levels.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Hunks v. Hunks, 2017 ONCA 247 (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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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 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 RussellAlexander.com

Does the End of the Relationship Have to be a Two-Sided Decision?

Does the End of the Relationship Have to be a Two-Sided Decision?

In an older case called Strobele v. Strobele, the court considered a narrow and easily-overlooked question:  If spouses agree to separate and one of them wants to reconcile but the other does not, how do you know when the marriage is officially over for the purposes of valuing the marital property?

After a lengthy marriage, the couple was beginning to have marital difficulties.  After enlisting the help of another couple who were mutual longtime friends, they agreed to a written plan of action that involved the wife leaving the matrimonial home for two months.  The idea was that the spouses would get some time and space from each other, seek support and perhaps some counselling, and then regroup to re-evaluate their marriage.

The court heard evidence that although even though it was not his idea, the husband was willing to participate in the plan, even though the wife had a “firmer goal” of reconciling than he did at that point. As the court explained:

[The wife] sought a commitment from [the husband] that he would not have other women in the house during that time. [The husband] demurred and it was left that each would do as she or he pleased during that time apart. … [The wife] makes the point that she only agreed to leave on the understanding that she was not abandoning the home or the relationship and I accept and I think it is clear that she was not abandoning either at that time. It does seem clear that [the husband] was more ambivalent about the long-term prospects than was [the wife]. He would not agree to the monogamy stipulation during the time apart and he required the two-month limit on the period they would cohabit after the time apart.

As it turned out, when the two months was up the husband told the wife that he did not wish to reunite after all, and that the relationship was over.  After a brief return to what was now a tension-filled home, the wife moved out permanently and started divorce proceedings.

This gave rise to a legal question, namely the date on which the couple could be said to have formally separated, for the purposes of pinpointing the valuation date for the equalization of their matrimonial property.  The wife placed the separation date as being the point at which the husband stated he did not wish to reconcile (i.e. after the two-month break), whereas the husband claimed it was a full six months earlier.

The court pointed out that under the Ontario Family Law Act, the valuation date is defined to be “the date the spouses separate and there is no reasonable prospect that they will resume cohabitation.”  Although there is no single factor that determines when this legislative test has been met, the key issue is when the parties know, or – acting reasonably – ought to have known that their relationship was over and would not resume.  The court said:

Continuation of a relationship requires two people. Either can end the relationship without the consent of the other. As a matter of common sense, there will be many cases where one spouse knows that there will be no reconciliation and the other does not because the one has decided he or she does not wish to reconcile, but the other does not yet understand this. A fair determination of this issue requires that an objective eye be cast upon the unique circumstances of the couple. 

Turning that “objective eye” to the couple’s situation, the court ascertained that the separation date was immediately after the two-month break, when the husband indicated a firm intent not to reconcile. At that point, there was no reasonable or foreseeable prospect that they would resume cohabitation, and the marriage had irretrievably broken down.

In contrast, the earlier negotiations mediated by the other couple, and the action plan involving the two-month separation, still pointed to both spouses entertaining the possibility that the marriage could be saved, even if the wife was hoping for that outcome more than the husband.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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Two Necessary Evils – Know Your Obligations Re: Income Tax and Spousal/Child Support


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Two Necessary Evils – Know Your Obligations Re: Income Tax and Spousal/Child Support

Income tax: Not a popular concept even at the best of times. But add in the obligations, which arise in the context of paying child or spousal support, and it’s enough to cause heart palpitations in most Canadians.

This is because the Canada Revenue Agency rules relating to how support payments are to be treated are quite complex. To make things more confusing, the federal Income Tax Act has separate rules for spousal support as opposed to child support.

In this video we review some key points to keep in mind.

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

Justice Pazaratz Blasts Father for Using Mother’s Sexy Selfies in Court

Justice Pazaratz Blasts Father for Using Mother’s Sexy Selfies in Court

Recently I’ve highlighted some of the rulings by the often-outspoken Ontario Superior Court Justice Pazaratz. The decision in S. (J.) v M. (M.) is the next in line, and involves Justice Pazaratz lambasting the father in a custody battle for filing inappropriate materials with the court as part of the parties’ custody battle. Specifically, he filed sexually-explicit selfies that he had retrieved from the mother’s discarded cell phone, among other salacious images and text.

In a sharply-worded preface to his finding that the irrelevant and scandalous materials did nothing to assist the father in his interim custody determination, Justice Pazaratz focused on the impact of his conduct from the child’s perspective, and on the needlessly-hurtful approach to the parents’ litigation.

Justice Pazaratz wrote:

Do nude pictures of parents help judges decide who should get custody?

A silly question?

Why then, on this motion for temporary custody, has the Applicant father attached to his affidavit a series of sexually explicit “selfies” of the mother, retrieved from her discarded cell phone?

And why did he attach dozens of screen shots of the mother “sexting” with another man, describing her sexual preferences in graphic detail?

If the objective was to humiliate the mother, undoubtedly the father succeeded.

But how does humiliation help in family court?

How does irrelevant and scandalous information help a judge determine the best interests of the child?

More importantly — from the child’s perspective — what is the long-term impact of this needlessly hurtful approach to litigation?

a. How will this family ever heal?

b. How will the parents ever again be able to get along?

c. Can cheap shots ever be forgiven?

Justice Pazaratz also lamented the lack of decorum and privacy sensitivity by Family litigants:

Separating parents are already in crisis.  Our court process can either make things better or worse.  And our success will hinge in part on our ability to address the modern realities of technology and social media.

Between e-mails, Facebook, Twitter, texts and selfies — privacy and discretion seem a thing of the past.  These days there’s no shortage of really embarrassing stuff couples can dredge up against one another — if that’s really the path we want to encourage.

But what about relevance (never mind dignity)?

Finally, in his customary blunt manner, Justice Pazaratz summed up his impressions of the father’s “cheap shot” tactics this way:

… [W]here behaviour is neither unusual, illegal nor disputed, there’s no need to inflame tensions by attaching texts and pictures that tell us nothing we need to know.

In this case, a fundamental evidentiary issue relates to the father’s unauthorized use of the mother’s discarded cell phone.

But more to the point, the nude photographs and salacious texts submitted by the father merely confirm what I would suspect of most other adults on this planet:  The mother has a sex life.

Big deal.

For the full text of the decision, see:

J.S. v M.M., 2016 ONSC 2179 (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