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Posts tagged ‘custody and access’

Who Should Get Access to a Dead Person’s Emails?

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Who Should Get Access to a Dead Person’s Emails?

As reported in several recent articles in U.S. media outlets, the U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to rule on an intriguing new legal issue, one that is becoming increasingly prevalent in this era of rampant technology:  Who should have access to the emails belonging to a person who has died?

The question arose in connection with the Yahoo! account used by a now-dead Massachusetts man named John Ajemian.   Four years prior to his 2006 death in a motorcycle accident at the age of 42, he had set up the Yahoo! account with his brother. He had not bothered to make a Will, so when he died there was no governing provision for how the Yahoo! account was to be dealt with.

His two siblings were initially unsuccessful in their application to a Probate and Family Court to grant them access to his account, pursuant to their authority as his surviving relatives. That court had accepted Yahoo!’s lack-of-consent-related arguments, based on the federal Stored Communications Act.

However, after a successful appeal to the state Appeal Court, the lower-court ruling was overturned.  While falling short of imposing a positive mandate for Yahoo! to release the man’s emails, the Appeal ruling at least contemplated the possibility that Yahoo! could do so with the family’s permission.   (The Appeal court also sent one issue back to the Probate and Family Court for a re-hearing, namely the question of whether Yahoo’s stated Terms of Service agreement constituted a valid reason for refusing access.  That outcome will hinge on contract law principles, and will require the court to look at the matter from the standpoint of whether such agreements are valid and enforceable.)

The matter has now been scheduled to be considered yet again, this time by way of an application for judicial review brought before the U.S. Supreme Court.  No date has yet been set for that hearing.

It will be interesting to see how that top Court comes down on the matter, especially knowing that the outcome is so directly and arguably referable to other, similar tech-related scenarios and predicaments.

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

 

Custody Battle Gone Very Wrong:  Mom’s Cellphone Tracker Shows How Misguided Dad Really Is

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Custody Battle Gone Very Wrong:  Mom’s Cellphone Tracker Shows How Misguided Dad Really Is

I have reported previously about a case called M.M.B. (V.) v. C.M.V., the background facts of which are not terribly unique:  After their split in 2013 the parents had agreed to a “parallel parenting” and equal-time arrangement for their three children.  The mother now claimed that in the time since, the father had been engaging in a concerted effort to alienate her from them.  She asked for sole custody and an order that the father undergo therapy.

What’s more noteworthy is the rather epic court ruling in their case, which spanned over 1200 paragraphs, where the court recounted a dizzying array of tactics by each of the parents; overwhelmingly, however, the ruling focused on the misconduct of the father, who the court repeatedly noted had viewed himself as being “in a war” with his former spouse and determined to “win” at all costs.

Among the many accusations of rather mind-boggling misconduct on his part, one of the more interesting ones involved him using an app installed on the mother’s own cell phone to “track” her location.  As the court explained the gist of the mother’s testimony:

During the last two years of the relationship prior to separation, her evidence is that the [father] became more volatile and threw things at or near her. The [mother] testified that he was obsessed with the idea that she was having an affair. Her evidence is that she had never had an affair during the marriage.

 She further testified that the [father] had a constant need to be “in control” and that he utilized a feature on her cell phone to be able to track her whereabouts. Two examples that she cited were, on one occasion when she attended at a lawyer’s office in July 2011, he telephoned her four times during her appointment with the lawyer, knowing exactly where she was at the time. The second example she gave happened in August 2011. They were in New York for a few days and she left early to return to school. While the [mother] was still in New York, she claims that he was able to track her whereabouts and knew that she had taken a different route home. She says that she did so in order to look at possible housing for her and the children. He accused her that she was travelling to a residence for purposes of having an affair.

 As further proof that he was tracking her whereabouts through her cell phone, she indicated that she, as a result of these situations, learned that there was a “track my phone” feature on her phone which she then disabled. Shortly thereafter, however, she testified that he insisted on having her cell phone for some unrelated purpose. When he returned it to her she noticed that that the tracker had been reconnected. …

 When asked about the allegation of tracking the [mother] on her cell phone, his explanation for his knowledge of her going to a lawyer is that their cleaning lady told him this in July 2011 when the [mother] was going to the lawyer.

 When asked about the feature of “find my phone” so that he could allegedly track her whereabouts from his phone, he has a very “plausible” explanation. He claims that because he was using his phone for Association work they jointly downloaded this app so that she would be able to find his phone in the event that he lost it.

 Regarding the knowledge that he had that the [mother] was on a different route on the way home from New York City, the [father] once again has a “plausible” explanation. His brother who is a real estate agent, by happenstance, was showing a house across the road from where the [mother] was driving. His brother took it upon himself to call the [father] to report that he had seen his vehicle, thinking that it was the [father] but of course it was the [mother].

 This court views each of these explanations with a great deal of cynicism.

That cynicism was borne from many other conflicting and incredible explanations by the father, including one piece of “smoking gun” evidence noted by the court several hundred paragraphs later:

In response to the [mother’s] concern that the [father] was tracking her and the children’s whereabouts, the [father’s] response is somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, he “denied this” and stated that he “doesn’t care where she goes”. On the other hand, on several occasions, he admitted to “wanting to locate the children and not her”, which he believes to be a safety issue. He said he ”was able to locate the children by their cell phone devices”.

 This was an admission by the [father] that the court finds is consistent with the evidence given by the [mother] at trial; that she knew that the [father] was tracking her movements through her cell phone. The court finds that this is inconsistent with the [father’s] “explanations” of how he knew the [mother’s] whereabouts on two separate occasions at about the time of the separation. He specifically denied under oath at trial that he was tracking her whereabouts through her cell phone. Undoubtedly, he had forgotten what he said during the assessment, or did not expect this court would take the time to read all of the exhibits.

Particularly as it relates to the father’s highly misguided win-at-all-costs focus, the M.M.B. (V.) v. C.M.V. decision is a virtual judicial textbook on “How Not to Behave” in the post-separation phase.  It could be interesting reading for those who can get through the 1,200-paragraph judgment.

For the full-text of the decision, see

M.M.B. (V.) v. C.M.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

 

 

Are Surreptitious Recordings Admissible in Family Court?

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Are Surreptitious Recordings Admissible in Family Court?

A recent Alberta case called St. Croix. v. St. Croix gave the court an opportunity to review the Canadian law on whether surreptitious telephone recordings could be admitted in Family court.

The background facts that sparked this review featured a mother who had asked the court to admit her evidence of recorded telephone conversations between her and the father of a child they had together.  They were embroiled in a dispute over custody and parenting issues, and she had recorded some of their conversations using her smartphone.  She alleged that in those recordings he had uttered threats to kill her (including a vow to “rip her head off” if she ever tried to take their child from him).

On a motion as to the recording’s admissibility, the court noted that it had not been provided with a copy of the recording, and was merely advised by the mother that it contained a threat of physical violence, and that it was relevant to the broader issues before the court.  The parents disagreed on how relevant it might be.

This scenario prompted the court to review the general law on whether, and in what circumstances, surreptitious recordings are admissible in Family law matters. Here are the key points:

  • Courts generally view surreptitiously-recorded telephone conversations with repugnance.[1]
  • However, short of certain specific privacy expectations, there are few if any restrictions on the admissibility of surreptitious recording of conversations or events. They are generally not prohibited or illegal.[2]
  • Rather than accept or reject them outright, courts will consider what the recordings themselves disclose, and weigh how probative they are, and then assess that against any prejudicial effect. [3]
  • Under the common law (which includes Family Law), it does not generally matter how the evidence is obtained and as long as the other person in the recording knows, prior to the hearing date, that the recordings exist and are being relied on, they can amount to real evidence of conversations or events.[4]
  • However, those restrictions do exist on various facts, and the cases go both ways.

In short:  There’s no clear yes-or-no answer, since it depends on the facts.[5]  

Returning to St. Croix v. St. Croix, the mother sought to have the recordings admitted as evidence on the basis that they were relevant to determining the child’s best interests. But the court pointed out that this might actually heighten the acrimony between her and the father, and reward her for being the better “documentarian” in their interactions.  More to the point, this was likely to prolong their litigation and increase expenses, since it would catapult both of them toward providing the court with longer and more numerous affidavits and court exhibits.

In the end, the court in St. Croix decided not to allow the telephone recording, and added that it would be a rare case where this kind of evidence should be admitted, and only after the court holds a voir dire to determine whether it is admissible in all the circumstances.[6]

For the full text of the cited decisions, see:

St. Croix v St. Croix

Mazur v. Corr

Scarlett v. Farrell

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

 

[1] Scarlett v. Farell. 2014 ONCJ 517.

[2] Mazur v. Corr, 2004 ABQB 752.

[3] Scarlett v. Farell. 2014 ONCJ 517.

[4] Mazur v. Corr, 2004 ABQB 752.

[5] And for those reading, it’s important to seek the advice of an experienced Family lawyer, before trying to use recorded phone conversations in your litigation.

[6]It should be noted, however, that additional procedural steps were still pending, whereby the trial judge would determine whether that decision was final.

Wednesday’s Video Clip: 4 Ways To Enforce Child and Spousal Support Orders in Ontario

Wednesday’s Video Clip: 4 Ways To Enforce Child and Spousal Support Orders in Ontario

For those ex-spouses who are subject to a court order or have agreed that one of them will pay spousal or child support to the other, there are several points about the enforcement of such orders or agreements that are noteworthy, this video reviews some important points to consider.

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

 

Court “Swipes Left” on Tinder’s Discriminatory Pricing Model

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Court “Swipes Left” on Tinder’s Discriminatory Pricing Model

For those who don’t know, Tinder is a hugely-popular dating app, which allows users to view the profiles of potential dates and privately reject them by “swiping left” on their photos.

In a proposed California class-action lawsuit, Tinder’s pricing model for users was recently accused of being discriminatory, since it purports to charge differently for users who are aged 30 or over, compared to those who fall under this age threshold.  After a lower trial court initially blocked the lawsuit from going forward, a California Court of Appeal decision reinstated it, even using the app’s well-known lingo to do so.  The Appeal Court said:

Because nothing in the complaint suggests there is a strong public policy that justifies the alleged discriminatory pricing, the trial court erred… Accordingly, we swipe left, and reverse.

The focus of the lawsuit is the “Tinder Plus” package, which is offered at $19.99 per month to users aged 30 and over. For those who are younger than 30, the price can be up to 50% lower for a comparable package. Tinder sought to justify the distinction with claims that those in the lower age category were more budget-conscious and less likely to buy in at the steeper price.  The proposed lawsuit claimed that this violated California’s anti-age discrimination and civil rights law.  Yet the trial court rejected that argument, after accepting Tinder’s explanation that it’s price model had been reasonably founded after testing the marketplace.

The Appeal Court concluded otherwise:  it held that the alleged distinction was unjustified, and that to the contrary Tinder’s pricing model “employs an arbitrary, class-based, generalization about older users’ incomes as a basis for charging them more than younger users.”  This, the Appeal Court found, violates certain California law, and was indefensible on public policy grounds.

The decision garnered attention in several publications, including Forbes, and Tech Crunch magazine.

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

 

A Day in the Life:  Court Uses “Ladder” Metaphor to Get Through to Firefighter Dad

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A Day in the Life:  Court Uses “Ladder” Metaphor to Get Through to Firefighter Dad

In an upcoming blog about an Ontario court decision in which the court was tasked with sorting out a particularly acrimonious, high-conflict separation and divorce between couple.  The result was a written court ruling that took up more than 1,200 paragraphs.

Obviously, the court had quite a lot to say.  And what was especially noteworthy was the court’s attempt to “get through to” the parents in a manner that they will understand.

The court prefaces that unusually-lengthy ruling with the following comments:

In addition, of course, to the monies spent by the parties, there has been an incredible expenditure of community resources in an attempt to address the conflict this family faces.

The financial cost is just one aspect of the damage done to this family.

The emotional cost to the parties, and in particular to the children, is something that cannot be quantified.

This court heard fourteen days of trial.

This court, at the risk of being accused of being delusional or blinded by eternal optimism, has crafted a decision pursuant to which the court is optimistic that the respondent father’s mentality can be changed from one of “war” as it has been described until now, to one in which the objective is changed from “winning” and “destroying” the other parent to one in which the objective is to have an environment pursuant to which the children can be free to love both parents and can freely move back and forth between them willingly, happily and without the need for the intervention of any of the resources earlier referred to.

This court is not naïve and does not expect that that will occur overnight but on the other hand, this court believes that if it did not try to create that situation it would have let these children down and simply “given up” on them. This court is not prepared to do that.

The court’s next step was to comment on the approach taken by each of the parents throughout the protracted litigation, first to castigate the father, and then to laud the mother. About the father, the court used a metaphor that it hoped would resonate with the father, writing:

As will be seen in this judgment, this court has found that the respondent father has engaged in a “war” as two witnesses have indicated he characterized it at the beginning. The respondent of course denies that he said this but his actions speak far louder than any words that he could have uttered.

The respondent is an acting District Fire Chief and therefore the court has found it appropriate to use a word picture involving a ladder, being a piece of equipment associated with firefighting.

This court finds that the respondent has climbed a ladder and reached the top almost realizing his perceived goal. That goal was to have control over the children and to be in a situation where the mother of those children, being a mother whom he chose for them, was totally marginalized. He almost achieved that goal in that the children at their current ages have each expressed that they do not wish at the current time to have any meaningful relationship with their mother, nor to spend time with her on a regular basis.

This court hopes that the respondent father will see, as this court sees so clearly, that the wall that his ladder should have been against, and the wall that hopefully he will climb after he climbs down from this current ladder is one in which at the top of the wall is a situation whereby the children have a healthy relationship with both parents and can freely love each of them without feeling any guilt towards the other. Love is not a finite quantity pursuant to which if you give love to one of your parents you must take it away from the other. In fact, the children can also love the respondent father’s girlfriend as a “stepmother” without having to feel that by doing so they need to thereby not love their biological mother.

In contrast was the mother’s conduct throughout, which the court found was praise-worthy overall:

This court would be remiss if, in its summary of this case, it did not comment on the applicant mother. This court finds, as with any parent, the applicant mother is far from perfect. In fact, some of her actions, likely taken out of fear of losing her children, exacerbated the situation. This court finds that her parenting style is far more structured than that of the respondent father which “played into” his desire to alienate the children from their mother.

Having said that, the applicant mother has been subjected to not only emotionally abusive treatment from the respondent father and those under his “control” but emotionally and even physically abusive behavior from the children. The court does not “blame” the children as, there is an obvious reason why they are behaving in the manner in which they are behaving.

Many, and in fact probably most, mothers even those who deeply love their children would have “thrown in the towel” by now, but the applicant mother did not. That, this court finds, is not only to her credit but will be something that this court anticipates in years to come will be greatly appreciated by her children.

With that preface to the subsequent 1,200 paragraph’s worth of specific rulings designed to resolve the couple’s dispute, the court added – perhaps optimistically – that:

… this court has crafted a decision that it believes is one that could result in a 180° change being made in their lives from one of adversarial conflict between their parents, the extended families, and unfortunately the children themselves and their mother, to one in which they are allowed once again to “be children” and not have to constantly be concerned about the conflict between their parents.

The court’s stated objective is a good one, and it applies with equal pertinence to anyone embroiled in family litigation involving custody and access issues.

For the full text of the decision, see:

M.M.B. (V.) v C.M.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: Top 5 Questions about Spousal Support

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

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

Money is No Object for Divorcing U.K. Couple

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Money is No Object for Divorcing U.K. Couple

Over the years I have often posted about cases in which a Canadian court invites warring former spouses to reflect on the sheer amount of money they are spending on lawyers and court costs, in waging prolonged battles with each other. [Russ:  there are several of these but here’s just one. All too frequently, the costs of repeatedly going to court – often to dispute relatively trifling legal points – can quickly outstrip the monetary value of what’s being fought over, not to mention the benefit of the overall exercise.

This dubious litigation strategy is certainly not confined to Canadian family law litigants.  As reported in a recent article in the U.K. newspaper known as The Guardian, a separated wealthy British couple have already spent over £2 million (about CDN $3.5 million) slugging it out both in and out of court, all to fight over their £6.6m in family assets (about CDN$11.5 million). This despite the fact that they are only the pre-trial stage of the proceedings, with the trial yet to come.

According to one judge, the two have “completely lost touch with reality,” and noted that the trial itself will cost at least another £200,000 (or CDN$350,000) in lawyers’ fees.

The article reports that the former couple, who ran a company that supplies luxury towels and bathrobes to high-end hotels and spas, had been so single-minded embroiled in their conflict that they ran the risk that there would be no money left for either of them at the end.  At least one judge had admonished them along the way, advising that their litigation campaign was a “scandalous waste of court time.”

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 Unplanned Pregnancy Tantamount to “Theft of DNA”?

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Was Unplanned Pregnancy Tantamount to “Theft of DNA”?

An interesting recent case considered a novel legal argument by a 23-year-old man who unexpectedly found himself the father of a child he didn’t plan to have, after a brief relationship with a 38-year-old woman he met a music festival.

The father, an apprentice iron worker, was in an intimate relationship with the mother for several months.  After learning from the mother that she was pregnant, he decided that he did not want to be involved and they ended their relationship before the child was born.  The mother had sole custody, and the father essentially had chosen to have no contact with the child whatsoever.

Nonetheless, the mother brought an action against the father for child support.  He resisted, claiming that under the “strict terms of their sexual engagement,” he made had it clear to the mother that he did not want to become a parent.  Although they did not use condoms or other physical birth control, they engaged in the “withdrawal method” to prevent conception.  He also claims the mother told him she was “medically infertile.”

Essentially the father asked the court to recognize a new civil claim in tort, one that featured a “hostile sexual act” of the theft of the DNA contained in his ejaculate.  The court described the father’s stated position this way:

The father argues that he is not legally obligated to pay child support because the mother engaged in a “premeditated theft of the father’s DNA” during “a hostile sexual act of DNA theft” leading to the birth of the child. According to the father, he was a victim of the theft of his DNA by the mother “to satisfy the [mother’s] motive to bear a child prior to the [mother’s] biological reproductive expiration.”

The mother brought motion for summary judgment, asking for an immediate court order requiring the father to pay child support, and dismissing the father’s claim outright, on the basis that there was no genuine issue requiring a trial.

The court granted the mother’s motion, and ordered the father to pay.  There was simply no legal basis for the father’s attempt to create a new defence against the mother’s child support claim. Not only did the court not recognize the tort of a “hostile sexual act of DNA theft”, but even if it existed it did not relieve him of his legislated obligation under the Ontario Family Law Act to pay child support.  There was no dispute as to the child’s paternity.

The man and woman had engaged in consensual sex, and had not used birth control (except for the unreliable “withdrawal method”, which the court found was actually evidence that the father did not rely on the mother’s own birth control methods, or on her self-proclaimed infertility).  In short, with their decision to have unsafe sex came with inherent risk of unwanted pregnancy, and with it came child support obligations in law.

In assessing the amount of support the father had to pay, the court noted that the father’s income suddenly dropped significantly when the mother started her court application for child support.  He was currently unemployed, was not looking for work, and had provided the court with no persuasive medical or other evidence on why he was not working despite being capable. Under Ontario law, he had an obligation to earn at whatever level he capable of doing so. Based on the undisputed evidence, the father would be able to earn $35, 000 per year, and his support obligation and arrears were calculated accordingly.

For the full text of the decision, see:

M.-A.M. v. J.C.M.

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: Obligations to Pay Child Support Even with Undue Hardship


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Obligations to Pay Child Support Even with Undue Hardship

In this video a member at the firm reviews a court decision from earlier this year, the court confirmed that a father was still obligated to pay support for his two children from a first marriage even though: 1) he no longer had a relationship with them; 2) he had a new family (and two other small children) to support; and 3) the child support obligation would cause him undue hardship, in light of his difficult financial circumstances.

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