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Posts tagged ‘offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access’

Wednesday’s Video Clip: How to Find More Information about Ontario Family Law

Wednesday’s Video Clip: How to Find More Information about Ontario Family Law

In this law video we review the different ways you can get more information about family law.

There are many professional people, organizations and other sources that can help you or provide information about family law issues, including:

1. An information centre specializing in family justice

2. A parent education course for separating parents

3. Duty counsel at a legal aid office

4. A community legal clinic

5. A university law school with a student-run legal information service

6. A law society or bar association referral service for a lawyer

7. A divorce support or self-help group

8. Relevant library books and videos

9. The yellow pages, white pages or blue pages in your telephone book have listings for
many of these resources, and

10. A librarian at your public library may also be able to help you.

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

Separation Agreement Drafting Error: Can a Spouse Take Advantage?


Separation Agreement Drafting Error: Can a Spouse Take Advantage?

In Stevens v. Stevens, the couple had been married for 16 years when the wife discovered that the husband had been having an affair. As part of their attempts to reconcile, they crafted a marriage contract, freely negotiated with the help of separate lawyers.

Because the matrimonial home had been purchased using a significant amount of the wife’s own funds (which she had received through gifts and an inheritance), she was keenly interested in having those funds recouped in the event of divorce. To this end the terms of the marriage contract stipulated that the husband should have one-half of the value of the matrimonial home if the marriage broke down completely … which it did shortly after the agreement was signed.

Unfortunately, the draft contract prepared by the wife’s lawyer contained a significant error: it stated that the husband was to receive the whole value of the matrimonial home, not merely half.   The cover letter accompanying the draft adverted to the intended one-half value, so the two documents were inconsistent. Still, the husband and his lawyer did not ask for clarification on the discrepancy; both were well aware that the draft contained a mistake.

After the split, the husband wanted to have the contract enforced as-written, which meant that he would get $2.5 million in the divorce rather than $500,000. The wife applied to have it set aside.

The court found in the wife’s favour.

From a legal standpoint, there had been no “meeting of the minds” between the spouses as to the portion of the home’s value that was to be given to the husband; the evidence was clear that – regardless of what the contract actually said, the wife intended to give only half. Her own lawyer did not realize the mistake until after the couple had separated.

The husband was well aware that there was an error in the draft and he took advantage of it, which was condemnable. The court had harsh criticism for the husband’s lawyer, whose evidence as to her understanding of the cover letter and draft was “concerning”. The court rejected the lawyer’s evidence, having concluded that she was “attempting to hide behind a selective memory by testifying in this vague and uncertain manner.”

In short: The mistake in the marriage contract was not intended by the wife, but was known to the husband and his lawyer, neither of whom obtained clarification. The court said,

A simple phone call followed by a confirmation in writing is all that was necessary. I find that without that simple clarifying act, [the husband’s lawyer] and her client took advantage of the mistake and allowed the process to conclude, while knowing that there was no meeting of the minds on this very material issue.

The court accordingly found that the marriage contract was void and unenforceable.

Incidentally, the husband later appealed that ruling, and in doing so he took a new approach: He asked that, rather than declare the contract void from the outset, the Appeal Court should merely rectify it, so that it was worded in accord with what the parties intended in the first place.

The court rejected this also, pointing out that the husband was trying to advance a fundamentally new argument on appeal, i.e. one that he had not bothered to raise at the trial and which was completely inconsistent with the position he took at trial. This was unfair to the wife, and was not permitted under family trial procedure.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Stevens v. Stevens, 2012 ONSC 706 (CanLII)

Appeal:

Stevens v. Stevens, 2013 ONCA 267 (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

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Can a Kid’s Foster Parent Participate in Child Protection Proceedings?

Can a Kid’s Foster Parent Participate in Child Protection Proceedings?

The Ontario Court of Appeal has considered an interesting question relating to child protection proceedings: Whether a child’s foster parent is entitled to be granted status by the court, so that he or she can participate in the case.

In A.M. v. Valoris Pour Enfants et Adultes de Prescott-Russell the child was made a ward of children’s aid organization named Valoris pour enfants et adultes de Prescott-Russell (the “Society”) when he was two months old. At seven months of age, he was placed with a “foster-to-adopt” mother (the “F-A Mother”), who was assessed as a potential adoptee and with whom the child was placed with the ultimate goal of adoption.

Meanwhile, the Society filed an application asking that the child be made a Crown ward with the biological parents being stripped of their access rights.   The Crown supported the F-A Mother becoming the child’s adoptive parent. (Although the biological parents were given the chance to participate in a trial concerning wardship, they did not do so).

However, in 2016 an aunt and her partner expressed an intention to adopt the child, and the Society decided to support that plan instead. The aunt asked the court to be allowed to be added as parties, and to be granted a temporary order to care for the child.

The question arose as to whether the F-A Mother could be added as a party to those proceedings. A motion judge held that she could; the Divisional Court later overturned that decision. The matter was sent to be heard by a third court – the Ontario Court of Appeal – where the outcome was reversed again.

First of all, the Court confirmed that procedurally, the provincial Child and Family Services Act allows for non-parties, including foster parents, to be added to a child protection proceeding in the right circumstances. The legislatively-prescribed considerations which would favour not granting her such status, such as any procedural delay that might be added, were not of concern here.

Next, in allowing the F-A Mother’s participation, the Court explained that she was in the best position to inform the court on a Crown wardship hearing as to what the child’s needs and best interests involved. It was those best interests of the child, not the rights of the family or the foster parents, that is determinative. The F-A Mother also had a legal interest in the proceeding, especially since the Society had changed its mind about supporting her adoption bid in favour of backing up the child’s aunt. If the F-A Mother was not involved in the proceedings, her chance to adopt the child might be foreclosed.

Ultimately, the Appeal Court found that the Divisional Court in our view erred in interfering in the motion judge’s reasonable exercise of discretion, and it allowed the appeal, and granted the F-A mother status as a party to the child protection proceedings about the child.

For the full text of the decision, see:

A.M. v. Valoris Pour Enfants et Adultes de Prescott-Russell, 2017 ONCA 601 (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

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Wednesday’s Video Clip: The Path to a Successful Divorce

Wednesday’s Video Clip: The Path to a Successful Divorce

While the breakdown of a marriage is never an easy or happy time, the process can go smoothly or it can be a roller coaster. On top of all the emotional turmoil, it is time-consuming, costly and very confusing. That’s why Russell Alexander has written a book outlining the path to a successful divorce, taking readers step-by-step through the process from finding a lawyer to handling post-litigation issues. In 300+ pages, Alexander’s new book, readers will find a solid grounding on the key questions about family law that they’ll face as they go through a divorce, including whether they’ll need a separation agreement first, how courts view adultery and why representing yourself is a bad idea.

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

More on Upcoming Changes to the Ontario Law Relating to Kids and Youth

More on Upcoming Changes to the Ontario Law Relating to Kids and Youth

I reported recently that the Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017 (CYFSA) was given Royal Assent on June 1, 2017. Although it is not yet officially in force, once proclaimed it will make numerous changes to existing child-focused legislation in Ontario.

Most notably, the CYFSA repeals and replaces the longstanding Child and Family Services Act, and amends 36 other pieces of family- and child-related legislation.  Although the upcoming amendments are numerous and broad-ranging, one of their overriding goals is to focus on government-provided child and youth services, and to put children at the centre of decision-making.   They also aim to increase accountability, responsivity, and accessibility in relation to services and service providers.

Specifically, the new legislation sets out that the purpose of the CYFSA is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children. It recognizes that services to children and young persons should be provided in a manner that:

  • Respects regional differences wherever possible, and takes into account physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and developmental needs and differences among children and young persons;
  • Respects a child’s or young person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; and
  • Respects a child’s or young person’s cultural and linguistic needs.

Next, the CYFSA also expressly recognizes that services to children and young persons and their families should be provided in a manner that builds on the strengths of the families wherever possible. It also gives special recognition to the needs and traditions of Indian and native children and families.

Other key changes include:

  • Increasing the age of protection to include 16- and 17-year-olds. Children of this age may be found to be in need of protection; certain added circumstances apply to this age-group in making that determination.  However, 16- and 17-year-olds may not be brought to a place of safety without their consent.
  • Authorizing children’s aid societies to enter into agreements with 16- and 17-year-olds in need of protection, and to bring applications to court.
  • Strengthening the focus on early intervention, helping prevent children and families from reaching crisis situations at home.
  • Making government-provided services more culturally-appropriate for all children and youth in the child welfare system. This includes ensuring indigenous and Black children and youth receive optimum support.
  • In connection with adoption, changing the matters that must be considered in determining the best interests of the child, in keeping with the nature of the changes that are implemented in other parts of the CYFSA. It also adds a new two-stage process for adoptions from outside Canada.

Finally, the CYFSA also sets out extensive rules for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by government and service providers, and sets out new rules for obtaining consent and access to personal records, which are driven by privacy considerations.

These changes build upon feedback received by the government through the 2015 review of the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA). Note that the former Child and Family Services Act remains in-force until the new CYFSA is proclaimed in force.

For the full text of the yet-to-be-enacted legislation, see:

Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 14, Sch 1

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

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Mother Wins Constitutional Challenge on Child Support for Disabled Adult Child

Mother Wins Constitutional Challenge on Child Support for Disabled Adult Child

The recent decision in a case called Coates v. Watson represents a landmark of constitutional law, with the court finding that section 31 of the Ontario Family Law Act discriminates against the adult disabled children of unmarried parents and is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The case involved an unmarried Ontario mother who was responsible for caring for her adult disabled son named Joshua. The biological father had paid some child support, but was looking to have the support payments terminated now that Joshua was an adult.

Joshua suffered from DiGeorge syndrome, which left him with both physical and mental health issues. These in turn prevented him from attending school full-time.

The legal issue arose because section 31 of the provincial Family Law Act (“FLA”) states that every parent has an obligation to provide support, but only if the child is a minor or is in school full-time. The meant that in cases where the disabled child cannot attend school, section 31 actually operates to prevent him or her from falling within the definition of “child” and thus qualifying for child support. When applied to Joshua’s case, the law effectively eliminated the biological father’s obligation to assist in supporting his son.

In contrast, the federal Divorce Act contains no such qualification, and imposes a support obligation on the parents of disabled adult children, regardless of whether the child attends school.

In noting this discrepancy between the federal and provincial legislation, the court ultimately concluded that section 31 of the FLA was unconstitutional, because it discriminates against adult disabled children of unmarried parents on various grounds including parental marital status, and disability. That discrimination is contrary to s. 15 of the Charter, which enshrines the principle that every individual is “equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

If the ruling in Coates v. Watson stands (and is not overturned on appeal), then there is speculation that the FLA might have to be amended by expanding the definition of “child”, or by incorporating the definition found in the federal Divorce Act.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Coates v. Watson, 2017 ONCJ 454 (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

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Wednesday’s Video Clip: What Are The Child Support Guidelines?


Wednesday’s Video Clip: What Are The Child Support Guidelines?

In this law video we discuss the child support guidelines.

In 1997, the federal government brought in a set of new rules and tables for calculating the amount of support a parent who does not have custody of his or her child must pay to the parent who has custody.

These rules and tables were later adopted by the Ontario government and are set out in the Child Support Guidelines.

A link to the Federal Child Support Guidelines is provided in the More Information, Courts and Statutes section of our web site Russellalexander.com.

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

Personal Injury Structured Settlements: Are They “Property” or “Income” Upon Divorce?

Personal Injury Structured Settlements: Are They “Property” or “Income” Upon Divorce?

In a recent family case called Hunks v. Hunks, the court considered whether structured settlements – such as the type that are reached as part of a personal injury claim – are considered “property” or else “income” for the purposes of the property-division and equalization regime under the Ontario Family Law Act (the “FLA”).

In that case, Donna and Gary got married in 1995. A few months later, Donna suffered an injury at a supermarket that left her disabled.   She successfully sued the supermarket, and was awarded more than $500,000 in compensation. After using spending about $200,000 for family-related needs, she used the rest to purchase a structured settlement (which is a mechanism by which a personal injury victim such as Donna could receive her settlement funds on a fixed schedule, rather than all up-front).

That structured settlement was arranged so that she would receive $1,290 per month for the rest of her life, as well as a lump-sum payment of $15,000 every five years (to a maximum of four such payments). All of this was subject to a small annual increase.

Unfortunately, the marriage between Donna and Gary did not flourish, and they separated about 15 years after Donna’s accident. In the course of settling out their financial affairs through the customary equalization process mandated by the FLA, the issue arose as to how the structured settlement should be properly characterized.

A lower court found that conceptually, a structured settlement was similar to a “pension” and rather than be excluded it formed part of Donna’s matrimonial property that was subject to equalization.

However, the Court of Appeal later overturned that ruling.   That court found that the structured settlement was essentially a special type of annuity, and it was more analogous to disability benefits. Under Ontario law, such benefits are considered “income” for FLA purposes, and while not subject to the equalization process per se, they are considered in determining spousal support levels.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Hunks v. Hunks, 2017 ONCA 247 (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

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“Gender Expression” Now Protected for Kids by Law

“Gender Expression” Now Protected for Kids by Law

In what is perhaps a controversial move, the Ontario government has recently passed legislation to allow children to be removed from their parents who opposed the child’s expression of “gender identity” or “gender expression”.

The Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act of 2017 received Royal Assent on June 1, 2017. Once passed, it will change or repeal/replace existing legislation and implement new requirements directing service providers and other entities to support a child’s choice of gender identity or gender expression.

These amended provisions are aimed primarily at courts, social workers, and adoption services. It mandates that when providing services or considering the best interests and welfare of a child, these entities must consider “race, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”

It also prevents parents from challenging a child’s same-sex orientation, or with identification not with the gender that he or she was born, but rather the opposite one.

This directive gives rise to a corollary assessment as well: Whether a child should be removed from a home where the parents oppose a child’s declaration of his or her homosexuality or choice of “gender”. The principle behind this part of the legislation is that a parent who refuses to recognize a child’s preference in this regard is actually perpetrating abuse; the child’s removal from the home environment and into child protection facilities would prevent further abuse from occurring.

The new law is not without its controversy. Objectors claim that it represents an unwarranted incursion into the rights of parents, particularly those relating to religion, and embodies an “anti-parent” agenda.

What are your thoughts on these new changes?

For the full text of the new legislation, see:

Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017, S.O. 2017, c. 14.

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

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Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

In this legal video, we discuss how enforcement in Ontario is done through a provincial government office called the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). The court automatically files all support orders made after July 1, 1987 with the FRO. Separation agreements can also be filed there if they have been filed with the court and then mailed to the FRO.

The parent who is to pay support is told to make all support payments to the FRO. When the FRO receives a payment, it sends a cheque to the parent with custody, or deposits the money directly into that parent’s bank account. It only does this after it has received the money from the paying parent.

If a payment is missed, the FRO takes action to enforce the order or agreement. To do this, the FRO needs as much up-to-date information about the paying parent as possible. This includes his or her full name, address, social insurance number, place of employment or business, income, and any property he or she owns. The information about the paying parent goes on a Support Deduction Information Form which is available at the court. This form is given to the FRO along with the support order or agreement. It is important to update this form whenever the information changes.

The FRO uses different ways to get the payments that are owed. It can:

• get the payments directly from the parent who is supposed to pay support

• have the payments automatically deducted from the parent’s wages or other income (other income includes things like sales commissions, Employment Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, income tax refunds, severance pay, and pensions)

• register a charge (a lien) against the personal property or real estate of a parent who fails to pay the support that he or she owes

• garnish (take money from) the bank account of a parent who fails to pay support

• garnish up to 50% of a joint bank account that he or she has with someone else, or

• make an order against another person who is helping a parent hide or shelter income or assets that should go toward support

The FRO can put more pressure on parents who do not make their support payments by:

• suspending their driver’s licences

• reporting them to the credit bureau so that it will be difficult for them to get loans, or

• canceling their passports.

Once the order or agreement is filed with the FRO, then it is the FRO, not the other parent, that is responsible for any actions taken to enforce it.
Sometimes parents receiving support withdraw from the FRO because it is easier to receive payments directly from the other parent. But if problems arise later, and they want to re-file with the FRO, they might have to pay a fee to do this.

Parents who have an obligation to pay support should also know that the FRO cannot change the amount that the order or agreement says they have to pay. If they think that a change in their financial situation justifies a reduction in the amount of support they should pay, they must get a new agreement or go to court to get the support order changed.

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