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Family Proceedings as Catharsis?

Family Proceedings as Catharsis?

The Family courts across the country must see their fair share of acrimony, shameful conduct, sad stories, and tears.

In a pair of cases from western Canada, the courts made insightful observations about the unspoken role that the Family justice system fulfills: to provide the participants with an opportunity to tell their side of the story, and have their “day in court”.

This perhaps-unintended purpose was acknowledged in an Alberta case, where the court wrote:

Often acrimonious contests over custody are a time of catharsis for the parents as each wishes to tell of the unsatisfactory or even reprehensible conduct of the other. To the extent that this satisfies the need to have one’s day in court it may be fulfilling to the parties. Perhaps it even assists a parent in accepting an adjudication he or she finds unsatisfactory.

In another decision, this time from B.C., the court said:

The parties in a family dispute will on occasion use the trial process to a cathartic effect as a means, perhaps, of purging the unhappiness accumulated as their marriage disintegrated.

In that case, the court went on to describe the context in which the need to purge unhappiness arose – perhaps quite understandably:

In this trial, the parties’ rancour had few if any bounds as the evidence particularly that led on Mr. Ruel’s behalf appeared aimed to disparage and demean his former partner. Described succinctly, the defence evidence sought to portray Ms. Ruel as a liar, a thief, a fraudster and a drunk, allegations denied strongly by Ms. Ruel who throughout the trial, while on the stand and while in the court, in spite of admonishments to desist, responded to the defendant’s [Mr. Ruel’s] allegations describing them as lies and Mr. Ruel to be a liar. Ms. Ruel’s anger followed her discovery that the defendant appeared to have entered a marital-like relationship with another woman in Tunisia where he was then employed, the actions he took against her after their breakup, and his subsequent failure to pay spousal support as ordered by this court.

Sounds like a lot of courtroom drama – and not the good kind.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

D.G.S. v S.L.S., 1990 CanLII 5528 (AB QB)

Ruel v Ruel, 2010 BCSC 1043 (CanLII)

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

 

 

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Whether a Parent has a Right to Move with a Child – the Concept of “Mobility” in Family Law.


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Whether a Parent has a Right to Move with a Child – the Concept of “Mobility” in Family Law.

The moment that the parents of a child separate, everyone’s life circumstances change immediately: there are usually new living arrangements and a custody and access schedule put in place.

But as time passes, there may be other developments as well; for example the parents may embark on new relationships with new partners, or may change jobs.

The potential impact on any court-ordered support, custody or specific access arrangement, and the effect on each parent’s rights must be assessed and weighed.

In cases where one parent’s new relationships or new jobs require a move to another city or province, the concern is even greater. This is because such scenarios give rise the a legal issue of whether the circumstances and preferences of the parents should be allowed to dictate the child’s living circumstances, whether such moves should be allowed and by whom, and — if so — what happens to the custody and access arrangements that are in place.

In family law, this is known as a “mobility” issue.

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

For a Divorce Trial, is $430,000 in Legal Fees Too Much?

For a Divorce Trial, is $430,000 in Legal Fees Too Much?

Anyone who has gone through a divorce will know that legal costs can get out of control. But consider the recent Ontario case of McCabe v Tissot, where the court was asked to rule on whether the husband should pay the wife’s legal fees of $430,000, part of divorce litigation that “financially devastated” both former spouses, and which saw the wife alone rack up almost $1 million in legal fees overall.

The court’s first step was to determine which member of the sparring couple had been the successful party at trial, because under Ontario civil procedure this is essentially the starting-point for determining how costs should be apportioned, although additional factors come into play as well. Both parties claimed that they had been entirely successful on all significant issues.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in addition to disputing her entitlement the husband also took issue with the wife’s dollar-figure: the $430,000 she was claiming was both excessive and disproportionate, in his view. The wife had chosen to endlessly litigate to the point where both parties’ financial stability, and thus the well-being of their son, was in jeopardy.  He said that for his own part, he had been financially ruined by the whole process.

The court, after considering the various circumstances (including the reasonableness of the parties’ positions at trial, the offers to settle they had exchanged, and prior courts orders), agreed that the wife had been more successful overall. But it rejected the notion that she should receive the full costs she was claiming. The court said:

[t]he amount of legal fees spent by the parties on this litigation is astronomical and completely unreasonable. The [wife] has mortgaged her home and has very little equity left as was her evidence at trial and as set out in her sworn Financial Statements. The [husband] also spent an exorbitant amount on legal fees borrowing funds from his parents to finance the first trial. The [wife] alone has spent close to $1 million on legal fees and disbursements. The [husband] borrowed over $393,000 from his parents. The fees spent by the parties are completely disproportionate to the issues before the court.

The court continued:

The parties lost sight of what is reasonable and what is proportionate. The financial devastation suffered by this family will last a lifetime. Most importantly it will once again negatively impact their son….

And further:

…from the spring of 2013 onward conflict ensued and they attended court numerous times, obtaining approximately 41 court orders. Not only did this financially devastate the parties and affect Liam detrimentally as set out in my Reasons, but it also resulted in the use of an inordinate amount of judicial resources. My only hope is that the parties have now come to the realization that the destruction both financially and emotionally was not worth it and they will not become embroiled in further litigation in the future. Only time will tell.

After reviewing all the relevant factors, the court concluded that legal costs in the amount of $125,000 were payable by the husband to the wife in the matter.

For the full text of the decision, see:

McCabe v Tissot, 2016 ONSC 4443 (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

Father Who Paid $400K in Legal Fees to “Cause Financial Harm to the Mother and His Son” Ordered to Pay Mother’s Costs Too


Father Who Paid $400K in Legal Fees to “Cause Financial Harm to the Mother and His Son” Ordered to Pay Mother’s Costs Too

If a father runs up almost $400,000 in legal costs – including nearly $75,000 in expert fees – in pursuit of a low-dollar-value victory in court, should this be considered in assessing legal costs later on?

In Jordan v Stewart, court was asked to allocate legal costs in connection with the parents’ dispute over whether the father’s obligation to pay child support for their now-20-something son should be terminated. The young man had been attending University in London, Ontario but when the father learned that he was switching to a college in Toronto, he applied to have child support cut off, on the basis that the young man would be independent and no longer be living with his mother in London. In fact, the father asked for the termination of his support obligation to be back-dated three years.

The father brought a motion to have the support obligation end; the mother wanted the father’s motion dismissed. Although the issues were relatively straightforward, the hearing took up several days of court time, and required expert evidence and scrutiny of the father’s income.

The father did not get the order he wanted, but the mother wasn’t fully vindicated either, since there were additional legal issues that were also addressed at the same time. Given those rather mixed results, the judge was challenged to apportion legal costs, which under Ontario civil procedure are usually (but not always) given to the winning party. So the court had to determine which of the parents had been the “successful” one in the proceeding so far.

The stakes were potentially high: The father had incurred about $373,000 in costs in preparation for certain proceedings, including almost $75,000 paid to an expert to provide an opinion on his income for child support purposes, for the years 2010 and 2011, based on various financial scenarios. But despite the staggering run-up of costs, the father was asking for only 25% of it from the mother – which was still just under $90,000.

The court rejected the father’s claim that he was the successful party, stating that his rationale “stretch[ed] the reality of the outcome.” Instead, the judge stated that “even if I found the father was somehow technically successful, I would award the mother costs.”

The judge’s stern stance against the father was explained by the following passages from the 130-paragraph ruling:

This case is another example of courts struggling to determine entitlement and quantum of costs. The costs issue is made more complex by the father’s willingness to spend approximately $400,000 in legal and expert fees. This amount is significantly disproportionate to any amount that he advances as his best possible financial outcome. The father also knew that, if successful, he probably would not recover the costs in any significant way from the mother as she has limited financial resources and appeared in court without counsel.

This case is an extreme example of a person who was prepared, as he has been in the past, to spend significant sums of money without concern for costs or outcome.

While I cannot conclude that the father in this case deceived the court in any manner, his willingness to spend money on legal and expert fees so out of proportion to any economic benefit defies logic. The reasonable conclusion is that the father was prepared to cause financial harm to the mother and his son even at incredible expense to himself. He certainly never expected to recover his costs [from her].

He does not seek to recover most of the significant fees he spent, a signal that the money was not a factor in his pursuit of the case or relevant to any resolution. He was prepared to spend more money than any financial benefit to him if he succeeded.

The judge also observed that the mother had made multiple reasonable offers: she had suggested mediation, and offered to accept reduced support.  The judge found these offers were all “worthy of the father’s consideration”, and would have been far more financially beneficial to both parties than what transpired.

In the end, using the father’s own tally of his costs as a representative “measuring stick” of the fair compensation to which the mother should be entitled, the judge awarded her the nearly $90,000 in costs to be paid by the father, plus the $34,000 he already owed her.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Jordan v Stewart, 2013 ONSC 5037 (CanLII)

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: When do the Child Support Guidelines apply?


Wednesday’s Video Clip: When do the Child Support Guidelines apply?

In this video we discuss when the child support guidelines apply.

If parents go to court to get a child support order, in almost all cases the court must use the Guidelines to set the amount.

This is true whether the order is applied for under:

• the Divorce Act by parents who are divorcing

• the Family Law Act by parents who were never married, or who were married and have separated but are not getting a divorce

The Guidelines must also be applied whenever a parent applies to the court to change any support order, even if it was originally made before the Guidelines came into effect.

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

“The Courthouse is Not a Restaurant,” Says Exasperated Judge

“The Courthouse is Not a Restaurant,” Says Exasperated Judge

The mother was as self-represented litigant who had “very aggressively” pursued multiple claims against the father, and had filed more than 430 documents since their litigation began almost 10 years earlier. Those documents were part of a long history of numerous motions, appeals and a litany of related procedures to contest virtually every aspect of untangling their former relationship, including settling out child custody and support of their two children.
In advance of one of those many motions, the mother had arbitrarily and on short notice absented herself from a half-day court hearing that had been scheduled for March 1, 2013. Less than a week before the motion she had faxed a letter to the court, indicating that she could not attend.

In the court’s e-mail reply, it advised the mother that an adjournment could not be granted without the father’s input, and that since the father’s lawyer would not consent in advance, she could make the request in person at the scheduled hearing date and take her chances.

Instead, the mother failed to show up at the hearing at all. Nor did she call in. She later claimed that she had mixed her calendar up.

The father asked the court for an order forcing the mother to pay for the legal costs he had wasted in preparing for a motion that she did not even bother to attend.

The court, after concluding that the mother’s excuse for missing the hearing date “stretches credulity past its breaking point”, entertained striking out the mother’s motion outright, but ultimately decided to strike it off the list and impose significant costs against her instead.

In its lengthy rebuke of the mother’s conduct, the court wrote:

In coming to my decision I had to deal with a matter of increasing judicial awareness in Canada, namely how to sanction or impose meaningful consequences on irresponsible and inappropriate behaviour by a litigant.


Adding to the difficulties of this case is the “customer-service” expectations that the mother brings to these proceedings. Unlike a retail environment, where the customer is king, the administration of justice cannot possibly proceed in any meaningful way if litigants adopt a customer-service mentality at the courthouse.

The courthouse is not a restaurant where reservations can be rescheduled at the last minute or simply cancelled on the whim of a litigant. Neither can a litigant pick and choose which procedural rules and time deadlines they wish to comply with. The court must impose sanctions on litigants who behave irresponsibly or recklessly.

The court continued:

The attitude and behaviour that the mother brings to this litigation is troubling as it only increases the intensity of the conflict and creates an environment in which any kind of settlement discussions are impossible.

It must be obvious to the mother, even as an unrepresented litigant, that the time deadlines imposed at the case management meetings for the filing of affidavits and briefs and concluding cross examinations are significant and cannot be casually disregarded on a whim. The mother must have known, or ought to have known, that the father would have already incurred significant legal costs in compliance with those deadlines when she attempted to cancel the March 1, 2013 Hearing on less than five business days notice.

Somehow the mother is also oblivious to the obvious fact that by running up the father’s legal bills she is also depriving her children of potential financial resources.

Moreover the mother somehow expects the court to ignore the fact that her last minute demand for an adjournment would not only have a significant financial impact on the father and the children but also on the court’s time and resources. A half day was reserved for the hearing that she demanded and that time slot was denied to other litigants and made an already backlogged list even longer.

The court has a duty to administer its scarce resources wisely and cannot allow litigants to run roughshod over its own process by ignoring deadlines, the rules of court and capriciously failing to show up at scheduled hearings.

After scrutinizing the costs thrown away, the court ultimately awarded the father $3,000, which it intended as:

… a strong message to the mother that her disregard for the rules of court and the meticulous timelines set out at the case management conferences and her unilateral decision to fail to appear at the March 1, 2013 Hearing are totally unacceptable. This kind of behaviour is simply intolerable and must be sanctioned by the court to protect the integrity of the court process and as a warning to the mother and other litigants that this kind of behaviour will have significant consequences.

What are your thoughts about the court’s admonishments? Do too many litigants approach the justice system with a “customer service” mentality, as the court in this case says?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Delichte v Rogers, [2013] M.J. No. 113, 2013 MBQB 93

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

Access to Children by Grandparents: Does a Parent Have Automatic Veto Power?

Access to Children by Grandparents: Does a Parent Have Automatic Veto Power?

Although the case of Simmons v Simmons is actually from Nova Scotia, it’s an interesting and universally-applicable illustration of how Canadian courts can approach an access contest between parents and various other family members – in this case, the grandparents – and how even a parent’s own wishes can be thwarted in appropriate cases.

The father had died of cancer when the boy was only 15 months old. The paternal grandparents had visited the boy often, both prior and immediately after their own son’s death. But when the boy was almost three years old, tension and acrimony developed with the boy’s mother over the frequency of their visits. Although the grandparents were being denied access per se, the mother was not prepared to be particularly cooperative with them until they offered an apology for what she considered was their past ill treatment.

The discord resulted in the grandparents discontinuing their visits to the boy for several months.   Over the objections of the mother, they then succeeded in obtaining a court order granting them interim access to the boy. (And note: Such applications by grandparents are permissible in all Canadian jurisdictions). The application judge had concluded that the boy’s best interests were fostered by nurturing the relationship between him and his grandparents, and ordered that such access should increase gradually over a four-month period, culminating in day-long visits every second weekend.

The mother appealed that order based primarily on the argument that, on the narrow issue of who should access to her son, the prior judge had not given proper deference to her own decision-making authority as his mother.

The Appeal Court rejected that argument, and dismissed the mother’s appeal.

Contrary to the mother’s claim, the judge that made the initial order did not fail to accord proper deference to the mother’s decision-making authority respecting access. He did take it into account; what he didn’t do was let it override consideration of the boy’s best interests.

Although it was a general principle that parents should have autonomy over decision-making relating to their children, this paradigm was not the only acceptable approach to making a determination on the grandparents’ access rights in this case. Rather, the overarching test was merely whether granting such access was in the boy’s best interests.

In this case, judicial deference to the mother’s authority, as a parent, had to be tempered by the court’s willingness to recognize the benefit giving the boy exposure to his extended family, particularly since he had already lost his father.   The previous judge had thoroughly weighed this consideration, along with all the evidence both in favour and against an access award. There was also nothing to suggest that the judge made the order as a way of fostering hope or speculation that the grandparents’ access would resolve the tension between them and the mother.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Simmons v Simmons, 2016 NSCA 86; [2016] N.S.J. No. 494 (C.A.)

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 Family Courts and Rules – The Basics


Wednesday’s Video Clip: The Family Courts and Rules – The Basics

Most people will have no reason to become familiar with the workings of the Ontario Family Law system. Exposure to the justice system is usually a result of necessity, such as a separation or divorce, with its resulting property, support and child custody issues. As a result, most people do not know how the Family Court system works.

This video will provide a brief and basic review of the Ontario Family Courts, and the Rules that people are expected to follow.

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

Self-Represented Wife Asks for $18K in Legal Costs; Court Awards $30K Instead

Self-Represented Wife Asks for $18K in Legal Costs; Court Awards $30K Instead

In McMurter v McMurter, the wife represented herself in the family matter against her former husband, who had a lawyer acting for him in their 15-day trial.

The husband had asked the court to terminate his $2,500-per-month spousal support obligations, but he did not prevail. After hearing all the evidence, the court found there was no material change in either spouse’s financial circumstances to justify such a change.

Pointing out that she had been totally successful at trial, the wife then asked for a court order forcing the husband to pay her full legal fees, including: 1) the legal fees she had already paid a lawyer for representing her up but not including trial, and 2) the fees for the 263 hours she personally spent preparing for and representing herself at the trial, using a rate of $35 per hour. (She had run out of money and was unable to afford to continue paying the lawyer’s retainer). All told, she was requesting a costs order for just over $18,000.

For his part, the husband was willing to pay for, at most, the 263 hours the wife spent preparing herself, but only at a rate of $18.32 per hour, which was what she would otherwise have earned at her regular job. This proposed rate was to compensate for “opportunity cost”, meaning the money she did not earn because she was preparing for trial.

The court was asked to fix the proper amount of legal fees the to which the wife should be entitled.

It started by pointing out that the Family Law Rules contain a presumption that a successful party, like the wife, is entitled to the costs of a case. From that basic premise, a court can adjust the costs award based on various factors, including the importance, complexity or difficulty of the issues, and the time spent on the case. Other decisions have expanded on whether non-legally-trained litigants who ask for costs can automatically expect to be paid the same hourly rate as a lawyer doing the identical work. (Hint: They cannot).

Here, the wife was entirely successful in resisting the husband’s motion to change, and the case was complex. The outcome was of great importance to her, since there was a lot at stake. The court commented that she was exceptionally well-organized and presented her position well, and dealt with complex family legislation and legal issues. As the court put it, “She did the work of a lawyer in addition to the work expected of her as a litigant.”

While it was not appropriate to grant her the full lawyers’ rate, the court awarded the wife 263 hours at $100 per hour, rather than the requested $35 which was “woefully inadequate considering the nature and quality of the work” she did. That higher hourly fee was “reasonable and appropriate for a well prepared and self-represented litigant” who had done work comparable to a junior lawyer in some respects, and to an experienced law clerk in others.

The court also allowed an added 50 hours for legal preparation, for a total of 313 hours. After making some minor deductions, the court awarded a total of $30,000 in costs. It concluded the ruling by saying:

Litigants cannot and should not assume that if a party is self-represented that they will not bear the consequences of a significant cost award in the litigation in the appropriate circumstances if they are unsuccessful.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Costs award:

McMurter v McMurter, 2017 ONSC 725 (CanLII)

Main judgment:

McMurter v. McMurter 2016 ONSC 1225 (S.C.J.)

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

All Parents Are Equal Act, 2016 Now In Force – Surrogacy Arrangements Impacted

All Parents Are Equal Act, 2016 Now In Force – Surrogacy Arrangements Impacted

Several months ago, I wrote a series of pieces including: Ontario Government Introduces Bill to Strengthen the Legal Status of All Parents, New Surrogacy and Parenting Declaration Laws Upcoming in Ontario, and New Proposed Law Clarifies Parentage, Surrogacy Rights, and Rights Arising from Assisted Reproduction about the All Parents Are Equal Act, 2016.

That Act is now in force, effective January 1, 2017 and (among several other things) amends the Ontario Children’s Law Reform Act to change the former practice around surrogacy arrangements. That former practice called for a court to make a declaration – on the parties’ consent – as to the child’s parentage after birth, and required the parties to file a formal court application to obtain it.

Since obtaining the court declaration was the more costly portion of the former multi-stage process for legally recognizing “parent” status in surrogacy arrangements, the elimination of this steps may come as a welcome change.

However, the Act’s more streamlined is not without its detractors. With the elimination of the need for a court declaration in some circumstances, the safeguards have been moved to the front end of the process, before the child is conceived and born. Now, up to four intended parents of a child born to a surrogate will be recognized without a court order if the following conditions are met:

  • The surrogate and the intended parent(s) received independent legal advice and entered into a written pre-conception surrogacy agreement.
  • The surrogate provided written consent to give up her parental status both before conception and seven days after the birth of the child.

(That seven days is a “cooling off” period, to ensure that the written consent by the surrogate is validly given).

Since in routine cases there will no longer be any court oversight of the process, it will be left to the parties themselves, with the help of their lawyers, to ensure that they meet the requirements of the Act, and that when the time comes, the surrogate gives her consent to relinquish the child.

What do you think of these new changes? Are they an improvement?

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