Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘family law’

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

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

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

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

UK Tightens Immigration Rules for Foreign Spouses

UK Tightens Immigration Rules for Foreign Spouses

In a controversial decision the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has recently upheld the legality of immigration rules that imposed requirements on its British citizens to have a certain level of income before they are able to bring their spouses into the country. These contentious “Minimum Income Rules”, which came into force in 2012, had been challenged by four couples who asserted that they breached their basic human right to have a family life.

The rules require that, before being allowed to bring a spouse to live with them from another country outside the European Economic Area, a British citizen (including a recognized refugee) must have a minimum annual income of at least £18,600 (around CDN$30,600). The couples who contested the rules had argued that the income threshold was set too high, particularly since it increased with each additional child that needed to be supported.

This addition of a set income requirement reflects a stark change from the previous rules, which prior to 2012 had required only that the spouses could establish an ability to support themselves without needing to avail themselves of welfare payments from the UK government.

Although the UK Supreme Court’s ruling confirms that the rules did not violate human rights legislation, it also recommends they be amended, since the current incarnation does not adequately account for the best interests of the children, and neglects to consider other sources of income that the spouses might have.

This UK development is in stark contrast to the immigration policy in Canada, where applicants must prove only that they have enough income to provide basic needs for the spouse or his or her dependent children. (Although those who want to sponsor parents or grandparents are subject to specific income-level requirements and a new process for applying starting in 2017).

And by announcement made December 15, 2016, the Canadian Government has indicated that the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will be speeding up the processing for spousal sponsorship applicants, as part of its commitment to family reunification. Most applications will be processed within a year of a person applying.

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 to Fill out a Financial Statement


Wednesday’s Video Clip: How to Fill out a Financial Statement

In this law video, Darla review the steps required to fill out a financial statement for the family court or negotiating the terms of your divorce settlement.

When entering into a Separation Agreement or bringing an Application before the Court, parties must provide full financial disclosure.

Complete financial disclosure is a prerequisite to the settlement of any family law case. The Family Law Act and its interpretation by our Courts, leaves no uncertainty in this respect. Any agreement can be set aside if a party has failed to truthfully and accurately disclose his or her financial position.

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

Revenge Porn: Not Just a Bad Idea; It’s Also a Crime

Revenge Porn: Not Just a Bad Idea; It’s Also a Crime

A few weeks ago, I reported on the appeal-level decision in the case of “revenge porn” where a woman’s ex-boyfriend had posted explicit photos of her on a pornographic website and showed them to his friends, all without her consent. She sued him for civil damages to compensate for the resulting humiliation.

The existence of this type of case is not unexpected, but it’s not as prevalent as one might think. Despite the widespread use of social media, and the immediacy with which even ill-advised messages can be sent, there are surprisingly few court decisions that involve a person seeking civil damages for an internet-based invasion of privacy, whether through hacking, or by posting without the person’s consent.

Part of the reason might be the impact of the criminal law: In December 2014, the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to add s. 162.1(1). The provision makes it a crime if someone “knowingly publishes, distributes, transmits, sells, makes available or advertises an intimate image of a person” knowing that he or she did not give their consent. The term “intimate image” is defined to include a visual recording, including a photographic, film or video recording, “in which the person is nude, is exposing his or her genital organs or anal region or her breasts or is engaged in explicit sexual activity”. On conviction as an indictable offence, the penalty can be up to five years’ imprisonment.

So far, there are only a small number of reported cases in which anyone has been charged with an offence under s. 162.1.

  • In R v. P.S.D., a young man in a volatile, on-again/off-again relationship with a young woman was charged after he took partially-clad images of her without her consent. He also sent the pictures to two friends, with instructions that they should save them, all with the intent to cause her emotional harm. The blurry, poor-quality photos were taken with his cellphone, in a manner that clearly indicated she had not consented, and showed portions of the woman’s bare breasts. The man was given a suspended sentence, after being given 90 days’ enhanced credit for the 60 days he spent in pre-trial custody.
  • In v. Calpito, the male accused, in his early 20s, confessed to having posted seven nude photos of his former girlfriend on Instagram after their romantic relationship had ended.  The photos were viewed by the woman’s large circle of friends, and even by her employer. The woman described the devastating effect of his actions on her life and university studies. The man was sentenced to a conditional discharge with three years’ probation, together with restrictions on his internet use and a significant term of community service.

The enactment of this new criminal offence, with its potentially hefty sentence, has surely had a chilling effect on the need for civil remedies as well. It means that Canadian law is well-poised to thwart the impulses of spurned ex-lovers to wreak revenge on former partners by oversharing intimate images.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

R v. P.S.D., 2016 BCPC 400 (CanLII)

v. Calpito, 2017 ONCJ 129, 2017 CarswellOnt 340

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

Regret is No Excuse for Disobeying Consent Order: Mom Blocks Grandmother’s Access to Kid

Regret is No Excuse for Disobeying Consent Order: Mom Blocks Grandmother’s Access to Kid

In some Family Law cases, one can speculate about the good intentions behind a parent’s actions, even when they end up being contrary to an agreement with the other parent, or to a court order. Still, it behooves the court to enforce its prior orders and agreements, to maintain the semblance of fairness and respect for the judicial process.

This was the situation in a case called Perna v Foss. The mother and father had married only a month before their child was born, and separated 18 months later.   The father eventually agreed to give sole custody to the mother.

When the boy was around 7 years old, the mother agreed to allow the boy’s grandmother (on the father’s side) to have access to him one day a week. In view of the mother’s acquiescence, the court granted a consent order accordingly.

However, the mother stopped facilitating the access altogether when she formed the opinion that the grandmother was “having conversations with [the boy] regarding serious issues” during those visits. She explained her move to block access in texts and Skype conversations with the grandmother, one of which read as follows:

I will consider giving you ur (sic) time back if u can promise me only good times and no conversations w Jackson about moving or living in Dominican Republic. I want the pressure off of him completely.  I never said I wanted you out of his life Sandra.  I just don’t want him having to answer questions about how he showers or what mommy does.  It’s not fair.  If you agree to this we can start visits again.  …

Evidently the two women were unable to come to an understanding; the mother continued to deny access, which prompted the grandmother to bring a motion for a court order finding her in contempt. The mother ignored the motion, and did not appear in court. (Nor had she taken any steps to vary the initial consent order granting the grandmother access in the first place, which would have been the ordinary course to take if she now took issue with it).

The court considered the circumstances, and agreed that the mother should indeed be held in contempt.

She was clearly aware of the consent order, and could not claim to be confused about its interpretation. She freely admitted to disobeying it on more than one occasion, as her texts and Skype sessions showed. In fact, she had announced both her deliberate intent to block the grandmother’s access, and her reasons for doing so.

The court speculated that the mother perhaps regretted having agreed to giving the grandmother access in the first place, but this did not give her justification or excuse for failing to honour her obligations under the consent order. She did not have the right to unilaterally refuse to comply.

In light of the contempt finding, the court refused to hear any further motions by the mothers – including one she had brought recently for permission to remain in the Dominican Republic with the child – until the contempt was purged.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Perna v Foss, 2015 ONSC 5636 (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