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Posts tagged ‘child and spousal support’

Mother Wins Constitutional Challenge on Child Support for Disabled Adult Child

Mother Wins Constitutional Challenge on Child Support for Disabled Adult Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the full text of the decision, see:

Coates v. Watson, 2017 ONCJ 454 (CanLII)

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

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Wednesday’s Video Clip: What Are The Child Support Guidelines?


Wednesday’s Video Clip: What Are The Child Support Guidelines?

In this law video we discuss the child support guidelines.

In 1997, the federal government brought in a set of new rules and tables for calculating the amount of support a parent who does not have custody of his or her child must pay to the parent who has custody.

These rules and tables were later adopted by the Ontario government and are set out in the Child Support Guidelines.

A link to the Federal Child Support Guidelines is provided in the More Information, Courts and Statutes section of our web site Russellalexander.com.

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

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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“Gender Expression” Now Protected for Kids by Law

“Gender Expression” Now Protected for Kids by Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on these new changes?

For the full text of the new legislation, see:

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

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

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Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

In this legal video, we discuss how enforcement in Ontario is done through a provincial government office called the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). The court automatically files all support orders made after July 1, 1987 with the FRO. Separation agreements can also be filed there if they have been filed with the court and then mailed to the FRO.

The parent who is to pay support is told to make all support payments to the FRO. When the FRO receives a payment, it sends a cheque to the parent with custody, or deposits the money directly into that parent’s bank account. It only does this after it has received the money from the paying parent.

If a payment is missed, the FRO takes action to enforce the order or agreement. To do this, the FRO needs as much up-to-date information about the paying parent as possible. This includes his or her full name, address, social insurance number, place of employment or business, income, and any property he or she owns. The information about the paying parent goes on a Support Deduction Information Form which is available at the court. This form is given to the FRO along with the support order or agreement. It is important to update this form whenever the information changes.

The FRO uses different ways to get the payments that are owed. It can:

• get the payments directly from the parent who is supposed to pay support

• have the payments automatically deducted from the parent’s wages or other income (other income includes things like sales commissions, Employment Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, income tax refunds, severance pay, and pensions)

• register a charge (a lien) against the personal property or real estate of a parent who fails to pay the support that he or she owes

• garnish (take money from) the bank account of a parent who fails to pay support

• garnish up to 50% of a joint bank account that he or she has with someone else, or

• make an order against another person who is helping a parent hide or shelter income or assets that should go toward support

The FRO can put more pressure on parents who do not make their support payments by:

• suspending their driver’s licences

• reporting them to the credit bureau so that it will be difficult for them to get loans, or

• canceling their passports.

Once the order or agreement is filed with the FRO, then it is the FRO, not the other parent, that is responsible for any actions taken to enforce it.
Sometimes parents receiving support withdraw from the FRO because it is easier to receive payments directly from the other parent. But if problems arise later, and they want to re-file with the FRO, they might have to pay a fee to do this.

Parents who have an obligation to pay support should also know that the FRO cannot change the amount that the order or agreement says they have to pay. If they think that a change in their financial situation justifies a reduction in the amount of support they should pay, they must get a new agreement or go to court to get the support order changed.

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

Do Partnership Principles Apply to Deciding Who Gets the Dog in a Split?

Do Partnership Principles Apply to Deciding Who Gets the Dog in a Split?

The legal issue of who owns the beloved family pet after separation or divorce has been covered many times by the courts across the country.  As I reported previously on a case called Henderson v. Henderson, the Canadian position is clear: “a dog is a dog. At law it is property, a domesticated animal that is owned. At law it enjoys no familial rights.”

This established principle was applied recently in a B.C. case called Brown v. Larochelle – but with a unique spin: the court held that partnership principles could apply to guessing what the parties might have intended if they turned their mind to what would happen to Luna in the event they broke up.

The young couple lived together for a few years. After their relationship ended the woman brought a court proceeding to determine which of them should get to keep a 3-year-old Korean Jindo rescue dog named “Luna”.   Alternatively, she asked that Luna be shared on/week off basis, or else that the man repay her $475 representing her half of the $950 they had together paid to adopt her.   The man, in contrast, wanted to keep Luna himself.

The court described the lead-up to the dispute this way:

In September of 2015 the parties stopped living together with the [woman] moving to a new apartment that did not permit pets.  In June of 2016 the [woman] obtained permission from her landlady to have pets and contacted the [man] about sharing possession of Luna.

That has led to this litigation.  The [woman] says there was an agreement to share Luna when it became possible.

The [man] says he paid $2,500 to the [woman] when she moved out to adjust certain matters between them and he believed ownership of Luna was one of those matters.

Since September of 2015 the [man] has had virtually exclusive possession of Luna.  The [woman] did take her for some visits/walks some 5 or 6 times after moving out but has had no contact since some time before June of 2016.

After reviewing the Canadian law on the topic, the court confirmed that dogs are treated as property, and distilled the following additional principles from the jurisprudence:

What I extract from the collective wisdom of these cases and some others is as follows:

(a)  pets will not be treated in a manner such as children;

(b)  courts are unlikely to consider interim applications for pet possession;

(c)  Canadian Courts are unlikely to find that joint sharing or some form of constructive trust remedy is apt;

(d)  that pets are a variant of personal property;

The above being acknowledged it is also clear that in Canada there is a legal requirement that animals (and in particular dogs and cats) be treated “humanely” unlike any inanimate personal possession.

The court then considered the fact that the couple had acquired Luna together, in what was essentially a “partnership”:

In this case, Luna was acquired by the parties not individually by either one but rather as what legally might be characterized as a partnership or joint venture.

Basic partnership law provides for an equal division of assets on dissolution of the partnership.  Many partners make agreements as to how they will deal with assets if the partnership winds up.  Many, such as here, do not. …

Applying established partnership principles to the question of the responsibility for Luna post-split, the court added:

… Partnership law requires that partners deal with each other fairly and equitably.  One of the maxims of the law of equity is: “Equity presumes that to be done which ought to have been done”.  In the context of this case, and having seen and heard the parties, I can assume that if they had directed their minds at the time they acquired Luna or during their joint care of her to what would happen if they split-up they would have agreed that this decision would take into account the best interests of Luna and her humane treatment.

After noting some of the tendered evidence that the Jindo breed of dog requires “strong training, patience, and plenty of walks”, the court concluded that joint use of Luna would not be best for her, based on either her breed, or her individual characteristics.   Since it was evident that Luna had “cemented her bond” with the man since the couple’s split, the better decision was to leave her with him.

In the end – and having found no persuasive evidence that the $2,500 the man paid to the woman when they split up was intended to cover Luna in a sort of “property settlement” – the court found that the man was entitled to keep the dog but was required to pay the woman $475 plus minimal court costs.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Henderson v Henderson, 2016 SKQB 282 (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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Untangling Financial Information – By Guesswork and Extrapolation

Untangling Financial Information – By Guesswork and Extrapolation

Although it’s a relatively short little ruling, the decision in Yahya v. Omar gives a glimpse of the type of judicial guesswork that goes into determining a separated couple’s income and earning capacity for the purposes of determining their respective spousal and child support obligations to each other.

The parents lived together common-law for over 15 years, and had three children together.  The judge who ruled on an earlier motion for interim financial relief had held that the father’s income was about $56,000, even though this was a higher figure than he reported on Line 150 of his income tax return.  The judge made a temporary order for the father to pay child and spousal support accordingly.

The parents appeared in succession before four more judges who made orders dealing with various issues, including how the proceeds of the sale of their condominium were to be dealt with, how payment of child support was to be made out of those proceeds, and various other orders. In each case the financial disclosure provided by the parties was less than fulsome.

The father then brought a new motion for an order that the initial child support order was improperly made, because it should be based on his actual income, rather than what the original judge had declared. He claimed that at the time of separation he operated a taxi cab business, and for the past few years his income had been in the range of about $40,000 gross, and under $15,000 net per year.  The father said that although that information had been available to the initial motion judge – and the judge acknowledged that the support might change depending on further disclosure – the judge had improperly relied on the income on his financial statement, which showed about $51,500.

Moreover, the father stated that he had actually been unwell and unable to work for a few months, and that he had surrendered his taxi and was now driving for UBER.   Based on pro rata extrapolation, the father said his income would about $30,000 per year.  He asked that his child support be reduced accordingly.

In contrast, the mother claimed that the father’s income should be set at least $43,000, but ideally it should be set at $90,000 based on both the lifestyle he was apparently living.

In addition to refuting the mother’s figures, the father claimed that she should be looking for work in order to contribute to her own support. But the mother refuted this, claiming that she had a health condition that prevented her from working.  Her only backing for this diagnosis was a one-line letter from a doctor.

The court considered these submissions by both parties.  Starting with the father’s income, it found that the family’s lifestyle certainly showed they were living well beyond the amounts shown in his recent income tax returns, but this did not mean his income should be set at $90,000.  In fact, the court noted the father was “living with various family members and friends”, although he gave no additional financial details around those arrangements.

With no further clarity as to his income, the court concluded that the initial temporary order would have to stand until trial, unless the father could provide further disclosure that warranted a change to it.

As for the mother’s claim to be unable to work:  The court firstly returned the doctor’s letter to the mother, because it had not been properly tendered in evidence, then added that she needed to provide proper disclosure if she wanted to support her claim and settle the outstanding financial issues.  Respecting the level of proof needed for her ostensible medical diagnosis, the court diplomatically added:

If it consists of a single sentence from a family doctor, it will not suffice in which case she should consider investigating employment.

To the extent that it could with the information available, the court made several orders to resolve some of the issues relating to the treatment of the proceeds of sale, and certain arrangements respecting the payment of support.  It added that the next step “must be an informed and productive settlement conference,” which the court emphasized would require each party to file financial statements, as well as net family property statements.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Yahya v. Omar

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: The Difference Between Separation and Divorce in Ontario

Wednesday’s Video Clip: The Difference Between Separation and Divorce in Ontario

A separation occurs when one or both spouses decide to live apart with the intention of not living together again. Once you are separated, you may need to discuss custody, access and child support with your spouse. You may also need to work out issues dealing with spousal support and property. You can resolve these issues in different ways:

• You can negotiate a separation agreement. A separation agreement is a legal document signed by both spouses which details the arrangements on which you have agreed. In some jurisdictions, independent legal advice is required to make the document legally binding.

• You can make an application to the court to set up custody, access, support and property arrangements under the provincial or territorial laws that apply to you.

• You can come to an informal agreement with your spouse. However, if one party decides not to honour the agreement, you will have no legal protection.

To legally end your marriage, you need a divorce, which is an order signed by a judge under the federal law called the Divorce Act.

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

 

Not All Internet Evidence is Created Equally

Not All Internet Evidence is Created Equally

Recently, I have touched on the issue of whether evidence taken from the Internet is reliable enough for the purpose of Family Law trials.

But as anyone knows who has ever spent time surfing the Internet – which is all of us — there are websites, and then there are websites.  Just because something is on the internet, certainly doesn’t mean that it’s reliable, fully accurate, or even remotely true.

How do courts grapple with determining the reliability of website information, and giving it the proper weight for evidentiary purposes?

In a recent immigration case called El Sayed v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), the applicant had objected to the fact that the Immigration Officer had apparently searched the applicant’s LinkedIn profile, and had made certain judgments about him that reflected negatively on his immigration application.

The court turned its focused attention on the issue of internet evidence reliability, citing approvingly from an earlier case:

With regard to the reliability of the Internet, I accept that in general, official web sites, which are developed and maintained by the organization itself, will provide more reliable information than unofficial web sites, which contain information about the organization but which are maintained by private persons or businesses.

In my opinion, official web sites of well-known organisations can provide reliable information that would be admissible as evidence … For example, it is evident that the official web site of the Supreme Court of Canada will provide an accurate version of the decisions of the Court.

As for unofficial web sites, I accept … that the reliability of the information obtained from an unofficial web site will depend on various factors which include careful assessment of its sources, independent corroboration, consideration as to whether it might have been modified from what was originally available and assessment of the objectivity of the person placing the information on-line. When these factors cannot be ascertained, little or no weight should be given to the information obtained from an unofficial web site.

The court added that this approach was approved in some subsequent Canadian decision, but in others the court still demanded expert testimony as to the reliability of the website information, before it would accept it as evidence for the trial or hearing.

The bottom line, is that courts know that everything you see on the internet is not true.  (Although I’m confident that they would approve of the Blogs on my website).

For the full text of the decisions, see:

El Sayed v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) 

ITV Technologies Inc. v. WIC Television Ltd.

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

 

Grandparents Battle It Out for Custody – Should Kids Stay Put Until After Appeal?

 

Grandparents Battle It Out for Custody – Should Kids Stay Put Until After Appeal?

The mother of two children had died in 2013.  About a year later when the father was no longer able to care for them, he handed the children over to his step-parents (who are nonetheless the children’s paternal grandparents by law).

However the maternal grandparents, who lived in British Columbia, also expressed an interest in caring for the children.   In fact, the maternal grandmother moved temporarily to Ontario in order to maintain as close a relationship with the children as possible, and cared for them on a regular basis, in keeping with several temporary court orders that had been made.

Eventually, the two sets of grandparents ended up in a custody battle for the children.  After a three-day hearing, the court granted custody to the maternal grandparents, and gave the paternal grandparents holiday and extended summer access.

The paternal grandparents decided to appeal that Order.   But since there was only a short period of time between when the Order was released and when the children were to be flown to B.C. to join the maternal grandparents, they asked the court for a stay of proceedings (meaning a suspension of the court Order), until they could launch an appeal and have it heard.

The court considered that application, and pointed out that there was a well-established legal test for granting a stay.  Among other things it involved considering whether the children would suffer irreparable harm if the stay was not granted;  on the flip-side involved considering whether granting or denying the stay would foster the children’s best interests.

Looking at those specific aspects of the test, the court observed that to leave the children in the care of the paternal grandparents would be less disruptive than moving them to B.C. pending the appeal hearing.  The court put it this way:

If a stay is not ordered the children will relocate to British Columbia within days. In the event the [paternal grandparents] are then successful in their appeal, the children would be relocated once again to Ontario. No one has suggested that this would be in their best interests. Indeed I would think this might be potentially quite harmful to them.

In reaching this conclusion, the court considered several other factors, including the stable home life the children were currently enjoying with the paternal grandparents, the close and loving relationship they had with them, and the significant turmoil that the children had already had in their young lives.  The court also noted that this was not a situation where they had been removed from the parental grandparents’ care because they were unable to take care of them.

Ultimately the court said:

There is little harm that could come to the children from remaining in the care of the [paternal grandparents] pending completion of the appeal.

However, the court cautioned that the appeal was to be heard expeditiously, and both sets of grandparents were to share the chare of the children until the appeal was fully resolved.

For the full text of the decision, see:

MacLeod v Rae

 

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