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Posts tagged ‘and enforcement of court orders’

Mother’s Bid to Relocate Child – Was it Just a Pretext to Join New Romantic Partner?

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Mother’s Bid to Relocate Child – Was it Just a Pretext to Join New Romantic Partner?

The parents of a 5-year old boy had separated in 2015, and had a court-approved agreement as to joint custody and shared parenting.  The mother now wanted to relocate with her son from Cochrane, Ontario to Thunder Bay where she had multiple job offers waiting.  She had recently quit her job as a prison transport officer in Cochrane, which did not allow her to properly fulfill her childcare responsibilities. As the court explained:

…. [H]er schedule was unpredictable; sometimes working out of town, sometimes working overtime, sometimes both, and never knowing until the last minute. This would have impaired her ability to care for her son – not knowing in advance whether she would be called in to work in the morning before he went to school, or whether she would be home in time to pick him up again – but her employer temporarily accommodated her with a schedule that avoided unpredictable deployment. Eventually, however, her employer withdrew this accommodation. After exhausting her vacation time and sick leave, the mother resigned her position. Prior to her resignation, her employer invited her to apply for another position in Cochrane with a more parenting-friendly schedule. She was successful, but the employer subsequently had to revoke the offer.

The mother said the move to Thunder Bay was necessary to remain financially viable and provide for her son, and that as the son’s primary caregiver, her decisions about where to live and work out to be given considerable weight.

The father objected to the mother’s plan.  For one thing, it would strip him of the chance to influence his son.   For another, he claimed the mother’s alleged need to move was merely a pretext to be with her new romantic partner, who also lived in Thunder Bay.   He also questioned her lack of ability to find new work in Cochrane, and felt that – since she had quit her job – her current state of financial hardship was self-imposed.

The mother’s bid to move had been rejected earlier by a motion judge, who discounted the allegation that the ostensible need for the move was a pretext.  However, the judge did conclude that both parents’ views had equal weight, and that the resolution called for a simple balancing of pros and cons between Cochrane and Thunder Bay, from the perspective of how the boy might benefit. In the end, the motion judge concluded that the mother should be able to find suitable work in Cochrane if she tried.

The Appeal Court saw things differently, and granted the mother’s appeal.

First of all, the motion judge had erred in not characterizing the mother as the primary caregiver, and in not giving her particular reasons for moving “serious consideration.”  Also, the judge was wrong in deciding that the mother’s financial circumstances were not self-imposed; they were brought on by the employer’s withdrawal of prior accommodation of her childcare responsibilities.  Nor was there any basis for the judge to conclude that the mother could likely find work in Cochrane – in fact the evidence showed otherwise.

The Appeal Court explained:

There is, in our view, a valid and compelling parenting-based reason for the move: it is necessary to enable the primary caregiver to remain financially viable while providing care for the child. The mother has done all she can be expected to do to secure employment in Cochrane. It has not worked out, and there is no good reason for her and her son to live in poverty when she has secured employment in Thunder Bay that will allow her both to parent her son and to provide economically for him.

The court also said it was “encouraged” in this regard by the fact that the mother had offered to provide air travel to Cochrane for the child, which was one of her employment benefits at one of the Thunder Bay jobs.  She also offered to accommodate the father’s work schedule as a forest firefighter when he was deployed across Canada.

The court granted the mother’s appeal, allowing her to move with the child to Thunder Bay, and ordered a new access regime, with the parents working out an acceptable access schedule between them.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Porter v. Bryan

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

Couple’s Use of Support Set-Off Calculations Costs Husband His $15,000 Tax Credit

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Use of Support Set-Off Calculations Costs Husband His $15,000 Tax Credit

The husband and wife separated in 2011.  Based on their respective yearly incomes, they amicably resolved their issues as to child support by way of an agreement and consent order that was filed with the court.   They reached an agreement on child support by using a software program which, as the court put it, “introduce[d] various offsetting inputs and devise[d] a final unilateral payment from one spouse to the other.”

The outcome of the calculations was that the husband owed a single payment to the wife, who acknowledged that he was not required to pay further support for a specified time-period.   On this income tax return for the year, the husband then went ahead and claimed non-refundable child tax credits of almost $15,000 in respect of their two children.

As the court explained:

All of the usual stressful, difficult and emotional issues for this couple relating to child custody, financial support and raising a family within the constraints of marriage breakdown were resolved in a laudatory, sensible and agreeable fashion. [The husband] testified all issues settled amicably. Lawyers were involved to prepare all documents, undertake court proceedings and ensure all details complied with the parties’ wishes and the law. All seemed to unfold accordingly until the Minister’s reassessment disallowing the 2012 dependent deductions. Understandably, [the husband’s] child support commitment was predicated upon his use of the dependent deductions to reduce his taxable income.

The problem was that the Income Tax Act provision under which the husband had purported to claim that tax credit, namely s. 118(5.1), was an exception to the general rule in another section of the Act that disallows a support-paying person from claiming a tax deduction for dependents in certain stipulated instances.  Under the wording of that latter provision, the loss or non-use of the dependent deduction could be prevented only where both parents factually pay to the other an amount for child support.

In this case, since the spouses had essentially used a set-off procedure to come up with a single payment by the husband to the wife, there was no such payment by each of them separately, as the provision required.

Unfortunately, this meant that the Minister of National Revenue disallowed the $15,000 the husband purported to claim under s. 118(5.1) of the Act.  Because the husband was the only spouse to pay “a support amount”, the Minister concluded, he did not fall within the exception in s. 118(5.1) and was not eligible.

The husband appealed the Minister’s decision, but was unsuccessful.   The court pointed out that the case law precedent was uniform in its interpretation of the Act, and that the fact that the couple had used a set-off mechanism in the course of calculating their child support obligations to each other did not transform the respective and distinct values they used into “a support amount” as that term is used in the Act’s provision.  The Act, as worded, did not accommodate for the “expeditious use of a computer software program, the culmination of which is a unilateral payment of a support amount by only one parent to the other.”

Despite this outcome arguably based on technicalities, the court said it had “no alternative but to dismiss” the husband’s appeal, “however sympathetic it may be.”

For the full text of the decision, see:

Harder v. The Queen

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: How Base Child Support is Calculated

Wednesday’s Video Clip: 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

 

Child’s Aboriginal Heritage Not a “Super-Weight” Factor in Adoption, Court Rules

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Child’s Aboriginal Heritage Not a “Super-Weight” Factor in Adoption, Court Rules

Recently I wrote about a Charter-based challenge to certain provisions of the Ontario Child and Family Services Act, where a Métis father claimed that provisions of that Act offended his child’s right to equality under the law.  He claimed that because the term “Native child” did not include those of Métis heritage, the legislation’s effect was to unjustly exclude his son from receiving certain services to which other Aboriginal children were entitled.

Aboriginal heritage was likewise one of the key elements in a recent B.C. Court of Appeal decision.

The birth mother of a 10-year old Aboriginal child opposed the application by another family to adopt him.  The boy’s grandmother had become his legal guardian immediately after birth; she had had him placed with the new family full-time at 20 months, where he has lived continuously ever since.  After obtaining legal custody and guardianship a few years ago, the family applied successfully to the court to formally adopt him.

The birth mother appealed that adoption order.  She claimed that the lower court judge who granted it failed to fully consider the importance of the child’s Aboriginal heritage and cultural identity as a factor contributing to his best interests, as required under section 3(2) of the provincial Adoption Act.

The Appeal Court disagreed; that factor was just one of many listed in the legislation that a court needed to consider.   The court observed:

With respect, I am unable to agree with the birth mother’s interpretation of s. 3(2) of the Act. First, in determining whether an adoption order should be made, a child’s Aboriginal heritage and cultural identity does not attract a “super-weight” over the other factors. Neither do the words in s. 3(2), nor the context of the Act, allow for an expanded interpretation beyond the plain meaning of the text of the provision. …  [E]ven if the birth mother’s interpretation of s. 3(2) were to be accepted, the evidence establishes that the adoptive parents have done everything they could reasonably have done to ensure that the child learns about, participates in, and appreciates the significance of his Aboriginal heritage and culture. The evidence is clear that the child knows about his particular Band and First Nation, and speaks with pride about being Aboriginal.

The court also pointed out that in this case, the child had a strong emotional bond with the adoptive family, which included his two siblings, identified the parents as his “mother” and “father”, and would suffer significant emotional harm if he was removed from their care at this point.  The lower court judge had properly weighed all the factors and had not applied the legislative mandate improperly.

For the full text of the decision, see:

M.M. v. T.B.

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: 10 Ways to Get Information About Family Law

 

Wednesday’s Video Clip: 10 Ways to Get Information About Family Law

In this video we discuss how there are many professional people, organizations and other sources that can help you or provide information about family law issues:

1. An information centre specializing in family justice

2. A parent education course for separating parents

3. Duty counsel at a legal aid office

4. A community legal clinic

5. A university law school with a student-run legal information service

6. A law society or bar association referral service for a lawyer

7. A divorce support or self-help group

8. Relevant library books and videos

9. The yellow pages, white pages or blue pages in your telephone book have listings for many of these resources, and

10. A librarian at your public library may also be able to help you.

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

Was Parents’ Money a Gift or Loan? The Perils of Poor Documentation

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Was Parents’ Money a Gift or Loan? The Perils of Poor Documentation

Picture this not-uncommon scenario:   The parents provide their newly-married adult daughter or son with a significant amount of money to put towards the down-payment of a first home.

All goes well until a few years later when that son or daughter, ensconced in the home purchased partly with the parents’ money, decides to divorce.  How does that money get treated in that divorce settlement?  Was it a gift to the couple, or a loan that was expected to be repaid?

The question is a very important one because under Ontario family law, the characterization of the parents’ money in the hands of the adult son or daughter becomes a prime consideration in the valuating separation-date assets. Under the Family Law Act, funds that are gifts to the couple during marriage get put into the “pot” for equalization of Net Family Property as usual; funds that are considered loans must naturally be repaid to the original lender.

So the intent behind the advance of funds is key.

In a recent 130-paragraph judgment in a case called Chao v. Chao, the courts scrutinized the evidence to determine what the parents’ intentions had been a full 37 years earlier, when they advanced over $450,000 to their newly-married son, as well as half the cost of the couple’s new $260,000 home.

The then-newlyweds used invested those funds wisely:   For the last 25 years of their marriage, neither husband nor wife worked at anything other than small jobs here and there, and essentially lived off the income generated from investments purchased with the money from the husband’s parents.  By the time of the trial, their investments and various account balances had grown so that the couple’s assets were nearing the $2 million mark, although neither party provided reliable figures.

Indeed, the court commented specifically on the unsatisfactory state of the financial and other evidence that had been given, some of which was purported to come from the husband’s mother, who was now 89 years old.  (The husband’s father had already passed away).  As for murky evidence of the intent behind the initial advance of funds, the court wrote:

 It is noteworthy that neither the [wife], the [husband], nor the [husband’s] mother … gave evidence of any verbal agreements, representations, expressions of intent or discussions between either of the [husband’s] parents and one or more of the parties surrounding or touching upon the [financial] advances. The evidence of each of the affiants regarding the intentions of the [husband’s] parents in making the advances consist of assumptions, understandings or conclusions of what was intended by the parents, rather than indications of what one or more of the parties may have said at the time.

By way of illustration, the husband said that in 1975 when the parents advanced half the costs of their first home, there was “an understanding” between him, them and the wife that whenever the house was sold, half the proceeds would be returned to the parents.  However, the court noted that he “never asserted that anyone ever expressed this understanding verbally or in writing.”

The court also dismissed some other late-breaking evidence put forth by the husband:

 I would strike out exhibit D to the [husband’s] affidavit as it is stated by the respondent to be undated handwritten lists made by him which he “discovered” when he “found” a file and “discovered” that it contained “some evidence to support my case that while I was unemployed, my mother provided investments in our names for our living expenses.”

The handwritten list is self-serving, has marginal probative value and in any event should have been disclosed earlier by the [husband] The probative value of handwritten list is marginal because there is no suggestion by either party that the investment accounts owned by them or with their children originated from their own earnings or resources. It is common ground that the investments were derived from advances made by the [husband’s] parents. The issue is how to properly characterize those advances, whether as gifts, loans or as subject to a resulting trust.

Ultimately the court considered what little evidence had been provided, in the context of deciding a motion for summary judgment which (if granted) would obviate the need for a trial on this issue.   It found as follows:

Based upon all of the evidence before me I find that the presumption of resulting trust in favor of [the husband’s mother] has been rebutted. I also find that the various advances made by the [husband’s] parents cannot be characterized as loans from them to the [husband]. Based upon the evidence the reality of the situation is that there never was any expectation, prior to the parties’ separation, on the part of [the husband’s mother] that the [husband] and the [wife] would be required to repay any portion of the funds advanced by her and her husband. … [I]t would be unfair to permit the [husband] to receive a credit for a debt to his mother, with the financial benefits that would flow to him from that credit on the equalization calculation.

The lesson to be learned from Chao v. Chao is a simple one.  Parents:  Put it in writing. 

Anytime parents advance funds to adult children with the expectation of being paid back, they must make sure there is ample evidence in the form of clear documentation that a loan was intended.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Chao v. Chao

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

 

Should Aboriginal Heritage Trump Child Protection Needs?

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Should Aboriginal Heritage Trump Child Protection Needs?

In a recent child protection case, the court summed up nature of the proceedings with a definite air of gravitas:

This case is also about the equality rights of Métis children and their families in the child protection context in Ontario, and whether the provincial government is respecting those rights. It is an important opportunity for this province to demonstrate its commitment to act upon the Calls to Action that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued in 2015.

The facts involved a child who had been apprehended at birth by the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), and was in foster care ever since.  He was now almost two years old.

The father claimed the child was of Métis heritage.  This claim was an important fact, because the definition of “Native child” contained in the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) did not include Métis.   This meant that a Métis child would not gain the same advantages as one who had been designed a “Native child” under the CFSA; including the benefit of a legislative mandate to the court to the effect that any order made in relation to the child was to bear his or her cultural, religious, and regional differences in mind.

Against that background, the CAS had applied to have the child made a Crown ward, with no access to the parents at all.  This sparked a successful Charter of Rights challenge by the child’s father, who claimed that the differing treatment of Métis children was in violation of the guarantee of “equality before and under law, and equal protection and benefit of law”.  A prior court had temporarily addressed the father’s concern by ordering the child to be treated as if he were in the more beneficial “Native child” category for the purposes of the court application by the CAS to make him a Crown ward.

The court then turned to assessing the parties’ positions on that application.  It acknowledged that there were numerous factors involved in deciding a child protection application, and the child’s Aboriginal heritage was just one of them.  Here, the father had raised the issue at the eleventh hour, and had supplied only scarce evidence to show that maintaining the native heritage and culture was important to the family.  The court said:

What I have outlined above is the totality of the evidence this court was given relative to [the father’s] background. He did not give any testimony about his Aboriginal background or any connections that he had or has in that community other than his relatively brief contact with the Métis Ontario Healthy Babies Healthy Children Program.

The court quoted from a prior ruling in which the court had to deal with similar issues, then added its own comments:

Our compassion toward and recognition of the importance of native heritage and families remains unwavering.  But special status does not equate to a blanket exemption from legislation carefully crafted to protect vulnerable and often damaged children.

 I agree with all of the considerations that are set out by [the prior judge] in the above-quoted paragraph. In addition, I do not feel that the legislative scheme put in place to recognize the importance of Native heritage and culture for children who have been designated as Native can be meaningfully applied in the abstract. There must be evidence of the nature of the involvement of the child’s family in the Native community. The mere claim that someone is Native does not allow the court to consider the relevant factors within the legislative scheme, without some evidence of what is important to this family, this child, and the Aboriginal community the child is said to be a member of.

In this case, the required proof was absent. The father had also not shown that his prior inappropriate parenting skills had improved even though he had parenting services available to him for several years.  An attempt to find the child suitable placement with extended family-members had failed.  Meanwhile, the child had begun to thrive in his current care arrangement that did not feature any involvement by the parents.

Finally, the court observed that prior to bringing its application, the CAS had invited members of various Ontario-based Métis communities to participate in the litigation or provide the placement options for the child, without success.

Ultimately, the child was made a Crown ward, with no access to the parents.  However, the court also directed that the CAS should make every effort that any foster parent or adoptive placement would be willing to educate the child on his Aboriginal heritage and culture, and to expose the child to his culture on an age-appropriate basis.

For the full text of the decision, see:

CCAS v G.H. and T.V.

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: Confidentiality

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Confidentiality

In this video Russell discuss how all information you provide to your lawyer is completely private and confidential. All the details of your case will be handled with the utmost confidentiality and respect for your privacy.

The privilege of confidentiality between solicitor and client is, in law, a protection which belongs to the client. Therefore, it is up to the client, only, whether or not that confidentiality is to be waived.

Please remember this when your family members or friends request information directly from your lawyer. Lawyers are frequently contacted by new partners, or other family members who want to discuss your case.

You have to give your lawyer specific instructions to permit that discussion to take place. Also, as the time spent by your lawyer will be time spent on your file, you will be billed for any time spent discussing your case with anyone at your request, or in the context of your file

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

Are “Pet Trusts” the Future of Canadian Law?

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Are “Pet Trusts” the Future of Canadian Law?

A little while ago I wrote about a recent B.C. pet-custody case called Brown v. Larochelle.  This case falls in neatly with other Canadian family law decisions that hold, almost universally, that in a separation or divorce pets are considered “property”, and are not subject to any sort of order that grants either party “custody”.

The Brown decision refers to an Ontario case, Coulthard v. Lawrence, in which the court was asked to settle a similar dispute between a separated couple over their two shared dogs, except in that scenario the Small Claims action was framed not as a “custody” battle, but rather a request to have the court decide which of the former partners gets the benefit of an order for possession of the beloved pets.

In making its decision, the court referred to a few scholarly articles and reputable studies, that set out some of the statistics relating to pet ownership in Canada, as it informs the resolution of such legal disputes:

It is clear from everything both parties have said, and what is in Ms. Coulthard’s affidavit, that the dogs were very much part of the household before the July 2011 termination of cohabitation, and then even after the Labour Day 2011 moving out of the Plaintiff’s house by Mr. Lawrence.

I explained to the parties that I was going to make reference to a publication, the publication really supports what both of them feel is the status of these dogs in their household. It’s a 2010 publication with the humourous title, “Fat Cats and Lucky Dogs”. It’s by two lawyers, one a Toronto lawyer, Barry Seltzer, and the second by a professor of Law at Texas Tech University School of Law, Professor Gerry Beyer. The book has received recognition internationally.

The authors at page 2 of the actual portion of the book, as opposed to the introduction, refer to a 2001 IPSOS-Reid study, Canadian study, it was called a pet ownership study, the formal name is “Paws and Claws”. And I quote from the text, but the text in turn is quoting from the IPSOS-Reid research: “Eight in ten of the pet owners … (83%) consider their pet to be a family member; only 15 percent said they love their pet as a pet rather than as a family member. This perception of the pet as family translates into ‘parental’ behavior for many pet owners: seven in ten (69%) pet owners allow their pets to sleep on their beds and six in ten have their pet’s pictures in their wallets or on display with other family photos. Almost all pet owners (98%) admit to talking to their pets.”

The court went on to quote text passages referring to the legal concept of “pet trusts”, under which money his held in trust to be used to provide for the care of any pets alive during the lifetime of the person setting up the trust.  Although the concept is not widely-recognized in Canada, it does have some acceptance in U.S. law.  As the court explained:

I am referring to a statement made in the text, in the introduction. As I say, the book was published in 2010. And at XIII of the introduction, the coauthors write: “At the time of writing…” and this is 2010, “…about 40 states plus the District of Columbia recognize pet trusts in some form. As the demand for pet protection increases, however, other states will come on board.”

The status or recognition in a legal form of pets is indicated in appendix G of this book. It refers to what is known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. Lawyers who study law learn of the continuing ongoing basis in the American law of what’s called uniform legislation and uniform pronouncements of law. So at page 142 of the book it starts out, the heading is “Uniform Statutes on Pet Trusts”. “In the United States the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws revised the country’s Uniform Probate Code in 1990. More than 300 lawyers, judges and law professors, selected by state government, make up the conference. Its main task is to propose legal statutes for uniform and model laws in specific subjects and help state legislatures put the statutes into law.”

The text then goes on to quote from sample codes drafted by the conference in 1990 and amended in 1993 and it says that: “Approximately 10 states have enacted…” the particular provisions, which they then quote.

And then page 143, under a section headed “Trusts for Care of Animals”, the authors point out: “Likewise, the section 408 of the Uniform Trust Code completed in 2000 provides that a ‘trust may be created to provide for the care of an animal alive during the settlor’s lifetime.’ Approximately twenty states (See Appendix H) have enacted this Code which contains the following pet trust provision…”

I’m not quoting what the actual uniform code trust provisions are, but simply to indicate how advanced American law has gone, to allow for the protection of animals, to elevate them in a way that inanimate personal property has no protection.

Although the court in Coulthard v. Lawrence does not specifically adopt the U.S. concept of pet trusts into the Ontario-based scenario on which it was asked to rule, it does consider the duality of the property-vs.-custody dichotomy:

Part of what I said to Mr. Lawrence during his very able submissions was that when he upset the, what I called, scales of balance by after several months revoking what had been the arrangement where there was the equal sharing of the dogs, he had actually tipped the scales against him by resorting to self-help, and that he did so because, in his understanding, he owned the dogs and he was better suited. I put it out to him that he was walking both sides of the street, that he wanted to consider the dogs as members of the household, as fully as the pet owners referred to in Mr. Seltzer and Professor Beyers text or book have stated is the practice of most pet owners, they’re not considered property, they’re considered family members, but what he was doing was depriving the dogs of Ms. Coulthard’s role in their lives.

To recognize pet trusts is an interesting approach to take, and one that arguably adds a practical approach to a difficult legal conundrum, given the unique nature and role of pets in most relationships and families.

For my pet-loving and non-pet-owning readers alike:  What are your thoughts?

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Coulthard v. Lawrence, 2011 CarswellOnt 15952, [2011] O.J. No. 6207

Brown v. Larochelle

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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