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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

On Income Tax, Support Arrears, and Retroactive Support

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On Income Tax, Support Arrears, and Retroactive Support

Income tax time will be upon us soon enough.  If you are receiving spousal support from your former spouse, you may wonder how those support payments should be treated when it comes time to file your income tax return with the Canada Revenue Agency.

The answer is straightforward:  If you are receiving spousal support from your former spouse or common-law partner, under a court order or written agreement that specifies the amount, frequency and duration of the payments, then those amounts are fully taxable in your hands.  In other words, all those amounts must be reported as “income” on your tax return, and will be taxed accordingly. (This is unlike the situation with child support, which from the recipient’s vantage point is generally considered non-taxable).

Normally, that obligation to declare your spousal support as income on your tax return triggers a corresponding entitlement by your former spouse or partner to claim an equivalent deduction on his or her tax return for those same payments, with some exceptions.

So the short answer, is that spousal support is considered “income.”  But what if the payments you receive now cover support payments that your former spouse should have made in the past?

A pair of recent decisions tackled a narrow – but important – issue relating to how: 1) retroactive support, and 2) support arrears, are to be handled for personal income tax purposes.

In a case from last year called Gonsalves v. Scrymgeour, the court reviewed the law on the tax treatment of retroactive spousal support awards (being those where the support paying spouse is newly-ordered to pay an amount that covers a past period of time during which the other spouse was eligible to receive it). The court confirmed that an award of retroactive spousal support should be reduced, to take into account the benefit of the income tax deduction that the paying spouse would have been able to claim, using the mid-point of the spouse’s respective marginal tax rates.

The more recent decision in Negin v. Fryers addresses support arrears (which are unlike retroactive support because they consist of unpaid amounts that were due under an order made previously).  There, the separated parents had agreed in 2004 that the father would pay child support to the mother in line with Guidelines amounts, together with a set amount of spousal support.   Apparently for some of the years since then, the father overpaid child support by over $52,000, and underpaid spousal support by more than $155,000.  After offsetting these amounts, the mother claimed the father owed just under $103,000 in arrears.

The father claimed – unsuccessfully – that the lump-sum gross amount he now owed the mother in arrears should be “netted down” to account for the different tax treatment of lump sum spousal support, as compared to an order for periodic support.  The wife pointed out – and the court agreed – that it was the policy of the Canada Revenue Agency to allow non-retroactive lump-sum spousal support payments to be deducted by father in the role of the support payor.  The court directed the parents to calculate the amount of child and spousal support owed or overpaid accordingly (as the case may be), in keeping with its specific directions and ruling.

Nobody loves tax time (except perhaps the Income Tax Preparers and Accountants!)  If you have questions about the spousal support you receive, feel free to give our office a call.

For the full text of the decisions, see:

Negin v. Fryers, 2018

Gonsalves v. Scrymgeour, 2017

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

 

 

Did Wife’s Lawyer Know of Husband’s Asset?  And Can Court Assume Wife Knew, Too?

Did Wife’s Lawyer Know of Husband’s Asset?  And Can Court Assume Wife Knew, Too?

In a family law decision called Anderson v. McWatt, the Ontario Court of Appeal addressed a narrow evidentiary point:  If one party is truly unaware of a certain fact, but his or her lawyer may have known about it, can a court impute that knowledge to the party?

The background facts involved a former couple who were interior designers with a successful business.  They started living together in 1980, married in 1989, and separated in 2000, after which point they became embroiled in a full 15 years of high-conflict litigation.

Part of that litigation involved apportioning the spouses’ respective interests in a commercial property in Toronto.  Just prior to their 1989 marriage the husband had bought the property, and led the wife to believe was owned by a development corporation that had been set up.  In reality, he put title in his own name only – a fact he did not reveal in his sworn affidavits and financial statements for over a decade after their 2000 separation.  The wife only learned of the true state of affairs in 2012.

The date of her awareness as to title was key:  One of the issues was the point at which her claim to the commercial property was barred under the two-year limitation period. Indeed, the wife amended her pleadings about two years after making the discovery, to add claim based in equity (i.e. claims for unjust enrichment and constructive trust);  however, if it could be shown she knew or should have known earlier, then her legal claim would be barred.

At trial, the judge confirmed that the wife herself did not actually know that the husband held title to the property until 2012, but ruled that she should have known in 2001.  This is because (as the judge concluded) her own lawyer seemed to know about it, based on some comments he made while questioning the husband in 2001.  The upshot of the lawyer’s comments was that the wife “may very well have a claim against the property” and that “We will make our claim as and when we feel we have sufficient facts to base it on.”

On later appeal, the Court of Appeal rejected the trial judge’s conclusion on this point.The lawyer’s statement did not prove that he – or by extension, the wife – knew the husband was the actual owner of the commercial property. At the time of that questioning in 2001 – and for the next decade – the husband had been hiding the facts of his ownership in his sworn court documents. The wife was allowed to rely on this false information, and her own lawyer’s indication that she “may” have a claim was not an admission sufficient to trigger the limitation period. In fact, the Court found that the wife did “all she reasonably could to determine the truth that the [husband] was concealing.”

For the full text of the decision, see:

Anderson v. McWatt, 2016

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