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Posts tagged ‘division of family property’

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 we review 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

Moving with a Child: Mother’s Views Take a Back Seat to “Super ordinate Considerations” Affecting Child

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Moving with a Child: Mother’s Views Take a Back Seat to “Super ordinate Considerations” Affecting Child

In cases where spouses are separated or divorced, the decision of where a parent can live and work is no longer his or her alone.   Rather, the Family Court may become involved, and may be asked to give the parent permission to relocate, particularly if that involves moving with the child to a faraway community or jurisdiction, such that convenient access by the other parent is foreclosed.

Recently I talked about a noteworthy decision in a case called Porter v. Bryan where the Ontario Court of Appeal considered the various interests that must be considered when granting (or denying) permission in such cases.

In identifying those factors, the Court drew from a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in a landmark case called Gordon v. Goertz, where the country’s top Court said:

…the views of the custodial parent, who lives with the child and is charged with making decisions in its interest on a day-to-day basis, are entitled to great respect and the most serious consideration. The decision of the custodial parent to live and work where he or she chooses is likewise entitled to respect, barring an improper motive reflecting adversely on the custodial parent’s parenting ability.

However, while the custodial parent’s views are entitled to “serious consideration,” and were part of a balancing of the two parents’ competing interests as well, it was actually the child’s best interests that were to be given what the court called “superordinate consideration”, with the entire analysis to be determined using a child-centred perspective.   This was in line with the Court’s own prior ruling in a case called Berry v. Berry as well.

Applying these principles to the fact situation in Porter v. Bryan:   While the mother’s reasons for moving – while entitled to “great respect” – were relevant only to the extent that they related to her ability to meet the needs of her son.   The overall focus was to remain – at all times – on what was in the best interests of the child.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Berry v. Berry

Porter v. Bryan

Gordon v. Goertz

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

With Joint and Shared Custody, Can There Still be a “Primary Caregiver”?

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With Joint and Shared Custody, Can There Still be a “Primary Caregiver”?

In 2015, the parents of a 5-year-old boy separated, and agreed to an arrangement involving joint custody, as well as shared parenting.  This agreement was brought before the court for its endorsement in a court order.

In the context of the mother’s bid to relocate the boy to another city (which was the subject of a prior blog a narrow legal question arose:  If there is “joint custody”, together with “shared parenting”, can there still be a “primary caregiver”?

The question is important because under the family law principles relating to mobility – meaning the ability of a parent to move elsewhere with the child – the decisions of the “primary caregiver” are given added weight by a court in evaluating the plan to relocate.  (This principle will be the subject of an upcoming Blog).  But the question is arguably muddy when, as in this case, the parents have agreed to a joint custody and shared parenting model.

The Ontario Court of Appeal cleared up any doubt:  In rejecting the motion judge’s conclusion that in such cases there can no “primary caregiver” in law, the three-member panel of the Court wrote:

We do not agree that the legal status of joint and shared custody forecloses the possibility that one parent can be, for the purposes of a mobility motion, the primary caregiver. On the record before us, it is evident that although the parties have joint and shared custody, the mother is nevertheless the primary caregiver. This conclusion is not only supported by the mother’s evidence, but from the father’s admission on his …affidavit, his answers in cross-examination, and affidavits from two of the father’s aunts.

Accordingly, with the mother designated as having the primary caregiver role, the court gave her reasons for moving the child special consideration, relative to other factors including the father’s objection to the plan.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Porter v. Bryan

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

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

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

In this video Russell reviews some of the more common questions about spousal support in Ontario, including:

1) What is spousal support? Spousal support — which is sometimes called “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.

2) What is the legal basis for obtaining spousal support? 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. A court may order spousal support, and will set an amount and duration based on various factors that exist between the parties. The jurisdiction for a court to award spousal support comes from either the federal Divorce Act (as part of a divorce order), or from the Ontario Family Law Act.

3) What factors dictate the duration and amount of spousal support? The determination of how much support a spouse should receive, and for how long, is a complex equation. In making a spousal support order courts consider several factors, including:

• the length of the entire relationship (including time living together before marriage);

• the financial circumstances of each spouse, both during the relationship and after separation; • the functions performed by each spouse during the relationship;

• the financial repercussions or detrimental financial effect on one or both spouses of caring for each other or for any children of the relationship; and

• each spouse’s ability to support him or herself. In some cases one spouse may have suffered a financial loss or disadvantage as result of joint career and lifestyle decisions made during the marriage or relationship (for example the decision to move the family so that a spouse can take a new job, or that the mother will give up her career to stay home and raise the children). A disadvantaged spouse will be entitled to support to compensate him or her for that setback.

There may also be a limit on the duration of the support that one spouse receives from the other, as means of encouraging the recipient spouse to achieve post-separation financial independence as quickly as possible. Alternatively, the order may contain a built-in review mechanism.

Note that there are certain tax consequences relating to spousal support — both from the payer’s and the recipient’s perspective. In short — and provided it is paid pursuant to either a written separation agreement or a court order — it is considered “taxable income” in the hands of the spouse who receives it, and is deductible from the taxable income of the spouse who pays it. These tax ramifications are taken into account when determining the amount of support.

4) How does the spouse’s behavior affect spousal support entitlement? Generally speaking, the entitlement to spousal support is not dependent on the spouse’s pre or post-separation behavior, morality, or ethical conduct. In other words, a spouse who is otherwise entitled to spousal support after the dissolution of a marriage will not become dis-entitled because he or she was violent, or because it is later discovered that he or she had an extra-marital affair during the marriage. Having said that, a court’s determination of the amount and duration of spousal support will hinge upon each party providing forthright, comprehensive financial disclosure to each other. If in making the determination the court feels that one spouse has withheld financial information (e.g. has failed to disclose a source of significant income), the court may impute income to the spouse and award the other spouse his or her support accordingly.

5) What happens if there is a change in circumstances? As indicated above, the notion of one spouse receiving spousal support from the other is rooted in several concepts and principles, including:

1) the financial disadvantage or dependence that relationship gave rise to must be redressed post-separation; and

2) the ability of the paying spouse to fund the spousal support award must be taken into account. The amount or duration of spousal support may have to be adjusted if there is significant change in the financial circumstances of either party. This change must be significant, and must not have been foreseen when the separation agreement or the court-ordered spousal support award was made.

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 Upholds Separation Agreement as Being “In Substantial Compliance” with the Law

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Court Upholds Separation Agreement as Being “In Substantial Compliance” with the Law

Do you have a two-decades-old separation agreement that you are trying to have overturned?  Then the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Smith v. Smith might be of interest to you.

The facts were these:  Before getting married, and just as they were about to move in together, the husband and wife signed a cohabitation agreement, in which the wife gave up any claim to spousal support.   The husband had previously had a prior relationship end badly, and was eager not to have history repeat itself.

When they split 18 years (and two kids) later, the wife claimed spousal support nonetheless, but the trial judge upheld the terms of the separation agreement and dismissed her claim.

She brought an appeal, claiming that the trial judge had erred.  She wanted the agreement to release her spousal support overturned, since she claimed it did not conform to the provisions of the federal Divorce Act – whether viewed from the time it was signed, or now.

The Appeal Court took a closer look at the situation, including the wife’s assertion that the trial judge had overlooked certain facts, such as:

  • The alleged power imbalance between her and the husband;
  • The lack of any discussion about spousal support; and
  • The fact that she had no independent legal advice when she signed the agreement (though she admitted having the chance to obtain it at the time).

The Appeal Court rejected these arguments.  It pointed out that when tasked with reviewing a separation agreement purporting to release spousal support, a court’s job involved two steps:  to first consider the circumstances at the time it was reached, and then to look at the substance to see whether it complied at the time with the federal Divorce Act.

During the first step, the court pointed to specific findings of fact that the trial judge had made, namely:

  • The wife knew the husband wanted a cohabitation agreement, and they had discussed it before she received the draft prepared by his lawyer.
  • She skimmed the agreement, read some parts, and did not read others.
  • She had a full six weeks to obtain independent legal advice, but – by her own admission – chose not to do so.
  • At the time she signed the agreement, she though it was fair. There was no fraud, coercion, or duress.

As for the second step, the Court found the agreement to be in “substantial compliance” with the Divorce Act. More importantly, in light of all the circumstances including the economic disadvantages suffered by each spouse because of their 18-year marriage, the wife would not be entitled to spousal support even if the separation agreement did not exist.

The Court affirmed the trial judge’s conclusions, dismissed the appeal, and confirmed the validity of the agreement.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Smith v. Smith

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

Oops! How Should a Family Court Decision be Corrected?

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Oops! How Should a Family Court Decision be Corrected?

In Gray v. Gray, the husband in a matrimonial dispute was faced with a “worst-case” scenario:  The trial, which had been scheduled on the first day of work in a new job, had gone ahead without him.

The husband, who had Multiple Sclerosis, had sent a friend in his place that day, to explain his absence to the court.   With this medical condition, work was hard for him to find, and it seems that just the night before, he had been hired for a new job in construction that started the next day.  He decided that he could not risk compromising his new position, and sent his friend to court in his place.

But the judge decided that the husband’s new job was not a sufficient excuse, and proceeded with the trial without him. The trial judge essentially approached the matter as being “on default,” accepted the mother’s evidence in full, and essentially found in her favour on all issues.

This prompted the husband to launch an appeal, based on the fact that the order had been made in his absence.  But under Ontario Family Law, the procedural route for doing so was unclear.  He could either:  1) to bring a motion to the same Family Court, to “set aside” its own prior trial decision; or 2) to launch an appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Perhaps to “hedge his bets” the husband did both.   The mother, who resisted the appeal, claimed that the proper course was for the husband to first bring a motion, and – if unsuccessful – launch an appeal only as a second step.

This scenario sparked an interesting procedural issue that ended up before the Ontario Court of Appeal, which had to decide which of the two routes was the appropriate one.  The determination hinged on the wording of Rule 25(19)(e) of the Family Law Rules, which allows Family Court to “change” a prior decision that had been made in error, which included situations where it was made even though one of the parties was not in attendance due “for a reason satisfactory to a court”.

The Court of Appeal looked closely at the wording of the Rule, the history behind it, and the broader Family Law context in which it operates.  Although the word “change” was not defined to include “set aside”, an expansive interpretation of the provision “promotes the underlying philosophy, scheme, and purpose of the Family Law Rules.”  That interpretation required the husband to first proceed by a motion, and was the most effective one way for the trial court to correct orders that fell within its ambit.

The Appeal Court accordingly ordered the husband’s appeal de-listed, until his motion to set the order aside could be decided in the Family Court.  If – and only if – that motion was dismissed, he could bring a formal appeal before the appellate court.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Gray v. Gray

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: How are Child Payments Taxed?

Wednesday’s Video Clip: How are Child Payments Taxed?

In this video we discuss the tax consequences of child support.

Parents who receive child support payments under an agreement or court order made after April 30, 1997, do not have to include those payments in their taxable income. Parents who make these payments cannot deduct the payments from their taxable income.

This tax rule does not apply to continuing support paid under agreements or court orders made before May 1, 1997. The old rule still applies until the agreement or order is changed. Under the old rule, parents receiving support must pay tax on the amount received, and parents paying support can deduct the payments from their taxable income.

The new tax rule means that more of the support money received by the parent with custody is available to spend on the children. It also means that parents paying child support under an agreement or court order made after April 30, 1997, will have less after-tax income than parents paying the same amount according to an agreement or order made under the old tax rule. Courts take this into account when making new support orders. Parents who have a support arrangement under the old tax rule may agree that they want the new tax rule to apply. They can do this if they both sign a form called “Election for Child Support Payments (T1157)”, that says they want the amount of support to stay the same but the new tax rule to apply.

You can get this form from any tax services office. Or you can call the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) at 1-800-959-2221 and ask to have a copy mailed to you.

If one parent wants to change to the new tax rule, but the other does not, the parent who wants the change must apply to court to change the existing child support order or agreement. Parents thinking of doing this should be aware that when the court makes a new child support order or changes an existing order or agreement, it must apply the Child Support Guidelines.

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 Strikes Family Law Firm’s $72,500 “Premium” as Being a Contingency Fee

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Court Strikes Family Law Firm’s $72,500 “Premium” as Being a Contingency Fee

Most of you will be familiar with “contingency fees”, meaning the fees a client agrees to pay a lawyer only if the lawyer is successful in the litigation for which he or she is hired.   They are most often used in personal injury matters, with the lawyer’s fee being calculated as a percentage of the amount recovered for the client.

But what you may not know is that in Ontario Family Law matters, contingency fee arrangements are prohibited outright. And in a recent decision, the court “undid” an arguably creative approach by a Toronto-area Family Law firm, finding it was a prohibited contingency fee by another name.

In Jackson v. Stephen Durbin and Associates, the husband was involved in a contentious custody battle with his wife over their 6-year-old daughter.   Under the retainer he signed with the law firm chosen to represent him, the husband agreed to pay the lawyers an hourly rate for working on his case, but “with a daily counsel fee for court or tribunal appearances at ten-fold (solicitor’s) hourly rate and an increase in fees in the event of a positive result achieved (“results achieved fee”)”.

About two years into the litigation process, the husband had depleted the retainer funds and began to accrue arrears with the law firm.  After several accommodations and re-negotiations, the husband still owed the firm its fees totaling $132,500.

He challenged the law firm’s overall bill, especially the “results achieved fee” of almost $72,500, which had been rendered on a separate invoice.   He claimed this was tantamount to a contingency fee agreement in a Family Law matter, which is clearly prohibited by section 28.1(3) of the Solicitors Act.

After reviewing several prior cases on this point, the court agreed. The Act’s wording describes a contingency fee agreement as being one that provides that the remuneration paid to the lawyer for legal fees is contingent “in whole or in part” on the successful disposition or completion of the matter.  The retainer in question stipulated an increase in the event of a “positive result achieved”.  As the court put it:

The logical interpretation of that agreement is that the “results achieved fee” is only chargeable if a successful result is achieved.  I find that the language of the retainer agreement combined with the way the results achieved fee was charged (by way of a separate account), confirms the firm’s intention that the fee was contingent on the successful disposition or completion of the matter in respect of which services were provided.  As such, the results achieved fee charged by the respondent to the applicant is a contingency fee defined by the Solicitor Act and is a prohibited charge.

In short, the “results achieved fee” was merely a contingency fee arrangement in a creative wrapper.  The court accordingly ordered the law firm to refund the almost $72,5000 “premium” that the husband had been charged.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Jackson v. Stephen Durbin and Associates

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

If the Wife Goes to Stay with Her Mother – Does the “Clock” on their Relationship Start Over?

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If the Wife Goes to Stay with Her Mother – Does the “Clock” on their Relationship Start Over?

In Whalen-Byrne v. Byrne, the issue for the family court seemed simple enough: It was to determine the precise duration of the former couple’s relationship, which in turn would drive the duration of spousal support the husband had been adjudged to owe the wife.

And the beginning and end dates were uncontentious:  both husband and wife agreed that they began living together in 1993, and separated in 2010, which on a straightforward calculation was a span of 17 years.

But the problem was that at one point – from October 1996 to March 1997 – the wife moved out of the matrimonial home and went to stay with her mother.    After this brief separation they reconciled, and went on to get married a few years later.

The court was therefore left to determine what effect this separation had on the duration of their union.  A trial court had pegged it to be 13 years, on the basis that the separation essentially “restarted the clock” on their relationship, and that it really only commenced to run after they reconciled.  The trial judge explained it this way:

It appears that following the [wife] moving in with her mother the parties continued to be open to the possibility of continuing a relationship; however, both parties were taking steps to put distance between themselves (i.e. cessation of cohabitation and pursuit of relationships with other persons other than the other party). The most reasonable interpretation is that the parties intended to be separate from one another subject, at best, to the possibility of resumption of cohabitation. I find therefore that the period of cohabitation for consideration in respect of the [wife’s] claim for spousal support commences March 1997 and concludes with separation on April 10, 2010 for a period of thirteen years.

The wife appealed this ruling, and the Court of Appeal agreed with her reasoning.

In determining the length of cohabitation, the trial judge had been incorrect to “reset” it at the reconciliation point.  Instead, the facts showed that even when the wife went to live with her mother, the couple never formally separated; they merely had what the court called an “interim separation” that included “the possibility of resumption of cohabitation.”  In drawing this conclusion, the court considered the following evidence:

  • They lived apart for only a brief 5-month period;
  • They did not separate their finances;
  • The husband continued to support he wife financially, including allowing her to use a credit card in his name;
  • The wife took only a small suitcase of clothes with her, and no furniture;
  • Although the wife went on a few dates with another man, she was not involved in another relationship;
  • In December 1996, the husband proposed marriage to the wife with a ring and in front of their children, to which she replied “not yet”; and,
  • By February 1997 the parties were discussing marriage.

The Appeal Court concluded that for determining the duration of the husband’s spousal support obligation, the correct period of cohabitation was 16 years and 10 months, less 5 months for the brief separation, for a total of about 16.5 years.

The Court recalculated the wife’s support entitlement accordingly, and determined that she was entitled to spousal support from the husband that would last 14 years from the agreed date of their separation in 2010.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Whalen-Byrne v. Byrne

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: Finding a Lawyer

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Finding a Lawyer

In this video we talk about the various ways people can find a lawyer to help them, including:

Community Legal Clinics

Community legal clinics provide legal services to low-income people in areas such as housing, employment insurance, income support, immigration, human rights, and workers’ compensation. Some clinics also provide assistance with wills, powers of attorney, and education law. To find the community legal clinic nearest you, visit the Legal Aid Ontario web site or call Legal Aid Ontario.

The Law Office of Russell Alexander Family Lawyers

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