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What Constitutes “Hardship” When You Are Well-to-Do?

What Constitutes “Hardship” When You are Well-to-Do?

In determining the proper amount of spousal support that should be awarded after a married couple divorces, the court is guided by various established legal and policy-based principles. One of them is that the support should seek to alleviate economic “hardship” on the part of the spouse who is entitled to receive it.

As with many of the other factors, the concept of “hardship” is relative:  What amounts to hardship in one family setting will be vastly different to what is considered hardship in another.

This dichotomy was well-illustrated in Plese v. Herjavec, which involved the high-profile divorce between Canadian television personality Robert Herjavec (most recently seen on the reality shows Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den) and his wife of 24 years, Diane Plese.

In the context of determining the appropriate amount of spousal support to which the wife should be entitled, the court wrote:

Spousal support is also designed to relieve economic hardship.  What is “hardship” in the context of this family?  I need to look at the pre-separation lifestyle of the family to understand this context.

At the date of separation, the parties lived in a 22,000 square foot home (not counting the basement) with an indoor pool, ballroom, tennis court, tea house, and ten-car garage housing numerous luxury vehicles. The home was located on more than 2 acres in one of the most exclusive areas of Toronto.  The parties owned a ski chalet in Caledon, a luxurious vacation property in Florida, boats and other water craft and a Muskoka cottage.

The former couple’s lifestyle was commensurately extravagant, as the court described:

The family travelled extensively.  Family holidays were often taken using THG’s private jet, which Ms. Plese described as one that can fly “over the ocean”.  Holidays included European destinations.  On a holiday in Greece, the parties rented a yacht and staff to sail the family around the Greek Isles.  Ms. Plese testified that if the aircraft was being used for THG business, and she wished to take a trip, Mr. Herjavec would charter a private plane for her.   Mr. Herjavec did not refute this evidence.

Ms. Plese’s financial statement shows she owns considerable expensive jewellery from Cartier.  At valuation day it was worth over $428,000.  Ms. Plese says this figure reflect roughly half of what it cost.  Again, I heard no evidence to the contrary.

Mr. Herjavec testified he spent $100,000 on a piano for High Point, but, since no one in the family could play, invested a further $25,000 on a device that would play the piano.  Mr. Herjavec owned and operated numerous luxury cars. The middle child, Skye, received a car for her 16th birthday.  The children were educated at exclusive private schools.  The two girls attended elite American universities.  Both older children have pursued post-graduate studies, at no personal financial cost to them.  The family lived a rarified existence of privilege and luxury.

It is telling that [their daughter] Skye, when asked whether it was true she enjoyed luxurious holidays with her family, simply answered:

I mean they were just vacations to me, I don’t – it depends on how you see them.

Skye was then asked how she saw them. She answered:

I was going on vacation with my family … it depends what you – like that’s how I grew up, that’s – it was a vacation with my family is how I saw it.

In awarding support, the court had to examine the post-split downgraded lifestyle that the wife was now living, in light of the divorce after a longstanding marriage.  The court explained:

Ms. Plese testified that her lifestyle has suffered since the breakdown of the marriage.  For example, instead of travelling by private jet, she flies with commercial airlines.  Instead of staying in a suite of rooms at luxurious hotels, she now stays in a single hotel room.   I have no evidence that Mr. Herjavec has experienced any similar reduction in his lifestyle.

I conclude that without spousal support, Ms. Plese will have suffered economic hardship as a result of the end of the marriage.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Plese v. Herjavec, 2018 

At Russell Alexander Collaborative 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

We Are Now Seeking an Associate Family Lawyer

Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers is growing and we are seeking an Associate Family Lawyer to join our team! We practice exclusively in all areas of family law at multiple office locations in Ontario. We provide the opportunity to work remotely up to three days a week.

Job Type: Full-time

Salary: $150,000.00 – $200,000.00

Required skills and knowledge:
• Qualified to practice law in Ontario;
• Minimum of 3 years experience in Family Law and litigation;
• Interest and/or Certification in Collaborative Practice;
• Ability to work independently and in a team-environment;
• Strong and effective analytical and problem-solving skills, and excellent writing skills;
• Ability to engage in effective oral advocacy;
• Excellent organizational and time management skills, including attention to detail, and an ability to multi-task;
• High level of professionalism and initiative.

Responsibilities:
• Drafting legal documents, including but not limited to, pleadings, motions, affidavits, financial statements and conference briefs;
• Upkeep on all current client files, as well as bringing in new clients
• Delegating work to law clerks, and working closely with law clerks on files;
• Attending court.

Applications will be kept confidential. Please submit resume and cover letter to reception@russellalexander.com

GM Oshawa Assembly Plant Closing & Divorce

The Ghosts of GM: Past, Present and Future

On November 26, 2018, the General Motors Company (GM) announced that it will cease allocating new product to its Oshawa assembly plant beyond the end of 2019. This came as a shock to the 2,500 employees who work at the Oshawa plant and the many more who depend on their income. While the jury is still out on whether GM will be laying off or re-training its 2,500 employees, one thing is certain—a large cohort of GM’s employees stand to lose their livelihood.

Whether laid off or re-trained, employees who have a potential, current or settled family law matter will need to govern themselves wisely to weather the impact that closure will have on their day-to-day lives. Accordingly, this post explores the likely, and, not so likely, family law implications of GM’s closure of its once thriving Oshawa assembly plant.

The Ghost of GM Past: Settled Family Law Matters

If your family law matter was previously settled by way of a Separation Agreement or Final Order, the loss of employment income may trigger a review of child support or spousal support, or parenting.

Support obligations

It is likely that the loss of employment income will mean that you cannot afford to pay child support and/or spousal support as set out in a Separation Agreement or Final Order. In the case of a Separation Agreement, you may be able to rely on a built-in review clause to revisit the issue of support. Most Separation Agreements contain a dispute resolution clause which may be the first place to start in this endeavor. In the case of a Final Order, you will likely want to bring a Motion to Change a Final Order if you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on the appropriate adjustment out of court. A qualified lawyer can assist with making this process as seamless as possible.

Parenting

It is not likely that your loss of income will impact settled parenting arrangements. However, you may find yourself needing to reduce your parenting time with the children in order to focus on finding a new job. In this scenario, you may likely need to rely on the dispute resolution clause in your Separation Agreement or bring a Motion to Change a Final Order altering an access schedule in order to achieve the desired relief.

The Ghost of GM Present: Current Family Law Matters

If you are currently going through a legal separation from your spouse, the loss of employment income may affect a number of aspects in your separation, including but not limited to, support, assets and liabilities and alternative career planning.

Child support and spousal support

You may have credible grounds by which to vary a temporary Order for support in your legal proceeding. As an Order for support would have been based on your GM income at the time, the Order may be varied by the new circumstances. You may seek such relief at a pre-trial conference or by bringing a motion. It is not likely, however, that your loss of income resulting from being laid off will extinguish your entire obligation to pay support. Rather, you may still be required to pay support on the basis of employment insurance income or imputed income. However, the extent of any such continuing obligation depends on the particular facts of your case.

Assets and liabilities

The loss of employment income may result in a budgetary deficit, impacting your ability to keep the matrimonial home. If you are no longer able to maintain your share of the mortgage and bills associated with the matrimonial home, it may have to be listed for sale—which may be the most poignant of all of your post-closure concerns. Worry not. There may be options available to you for preventing this outcome such as, a buy-out, borrowing or disposition of investments, RRSPs, RRIFs or your GM pension. However, the viability of these options to save the matrimonial home will need to be assessed against the surrounding issues in your proceeding such as support, equalization and other issues relevant to your case.

Alternative career planning

You may wish to delay your re-entry into the workforce to obtain credentials in a more stable industry. While this will yield economic benefits in the long run, your current financial obligations of support and solvency will be deciding factors. Delayed income generation caused by alternative career training may likely be manageable provided that the financial obligations of your ongoing separation are minimal. However, your freedom and ability to pursue such an undertaking may require a corresponding compromise and will depend on the unique facts of your case.

The Ghost of GM Future: Potential Family Law Matters

If you have been planning to separate from your spouse, the loss of employment income can have significant family law implications on a number of obligations arising in separation, including but not limited to, support, parenting and family property.

Child support and spousal support

It is not likely that being laid off will defer support obligations. You may be obligated to pay support if you receive employment insurance income sufficient enough to meet legislative minimums. If you do not qualify for employment insurance, your spouse may still seek support by imputing an income on you commensurate with your work experience, whereby you will be required to pay support. In either scenario, the obligation to pay child support and spousal support may survive the loss of income depending on the facts of your particular situation.

Parenting

It is likely that being laid off will mean expanded parenting time. While increased parenting time may yield social benefits, it may also impinge on your economic rehabilitation. Your spouse may expect you to dedicate your new found time to caring for young children who are not in school. These, and other significant changes to parenting time after initiating your separation, may likely hinder your re-entry into the workforce. A properly drafted parenting agreement can help by moderating unrealistic expectations.

Family property

You will have a legal duty upon separating from your spouse to avoid the reckless depletion of family property. While you may wish to list personal or real property for sale to help make ends meet, it is not likely that you will be able to freely dispose of family property after your date of separation without your spouse’s prior consent or proper accounting. You will have to be mindful of how you manage family property as mismanagement may prejudice the equalization of net family property and may result in a Court order.

Bottom line

The closure of GM’s Oshawa assembly plant in 2019 will disrupt the lives of many families, the impact of which might be felt most by those dealing with a potential, current or settled family law matter. Contacting a lawyer for legal advice tailored to the particular facts of your case is a proven way to mitigate the effects of an imminent disruption to income. While it may seem impossible to afford a lawyer at this time, there may be options available to finance the cost of much-needed legal representation.

At Russell Alexander Collaborative 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.

What is the Resolution Evolution – the Path to Peace?

What is the Resolution Evolution – the Path to Peace?

The Resolution Evolution – the Path to Peace is an OCLF/OAFM Conference and your opportunity to take advantage of world-class training close to home, to meet and network with other collaborative professionals, and to socialize with our professional colleagues.

The conference will run May 2, 3 & 4, 2019 at the Brookstreet Hotel, Ottawa, Ontario.

To register or learn more, click here.

10 Things You Should Know About Collaborative Practice & Family Law

In a regular divorce case, parties often rely upon the court system and judges to resolve their disputes. Unfortunately, many people often come to view each other as adversaries, and court cases may become a battleground. The resulting conflicts take an immense toll on emotions—especially the children’s.

Collaborative Practice is by definition a non-adversarial approach. Collaborative Practice lawyers pledge in writing not to go to court. They negotiate in good faith, and work together to achieve mutual settlement outside the courts. Collaborative Practice is designed to ease the emotional strains of a breakup, and foster the well-being of children.

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