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Top Five Dirty Tricks In Family Law


Top Five Dirty Tricks In Family Law

It’s no secret that divorces often go badly, and that acrimony and bad behavior amongst former spouses is commonplace. Needless to say, it is usually in the best interests of spouses to treat each other well even during the divorce process, and to behave in an amicable fashion if at all possible.

Yet this rarely happens. In fact, divorcing spouses often resorts to a whole bag of dirty tricks (and these are not limited to misleading their own lawyers, which I’ve written about before Top 5 Lies Clients Tell Their Lawyers.  Here are the top five bad behaviors:

1. Hiding assets.

Family law is quite clear-cut in Ontario; a divorcing couple’s property division and support entitlements to each other are easy to predict in advance. Yet a spouse who predicts a hefty child or spousal support obligation, or one who is unhappy with the anticipated split of property and assets, will sometimes try to hide assets from the other spouse. These creative-but-shady tricks can include dubious transfers to corporations or offshore accounts, or making notional “gifts” to extended family or friends – all designed to put assets out of easy reach. Unfortunately for such spouses, courts have an arsenal of remedies to counteract these tactics, including imputing income and imposing costs on the deceitful spouse.

2. Ceasing to pay the bills.

It is common for one of the separated spouses to move out of the family home but agree (or be ordered by the court) to continue making the mortgage payments, to keep paying the household expenses, and to pay support to the other spouse and children pending the formal divorce hearing. One nasty tactic is for that spouse to stop making those payments, or else be routinely late in making them. This technique is designed to “starve out” the other spouse who is relying on those funds or payments, to the point where he or she is so financially strapped or prejudiced that even an unfair settlement might start to look good.

3. Using delay tactics.

Family litigation is costly at the best of times. But some divorcing spouses manage to double, triple or quadruple their litigation costs – and inflict similar inflated costs on their future Exes – by bringing needless motions, changing lawyers frequently, and generally dragging out the process. This is often a tactical and stalling measure, motivated by a “win at all costs” mentality. Worse, it can be aimed at deliberately driving up costs for the other spouse – often to the point where they are either too financially squeezed, or else too worn down and frustrated to continue the litigation.

4. Going on a spending spree.

Even otherwise honest spouses may start acting out of character when they see divorce on the horizon. If it’s not hiding assets, then it may involve a shopping spree relating to out-of-ordinary and questionable expenses, often designed to arbitrarily inflate the lifestyle that the other spouse will (ideally) be required to pay support for after divorce. This can involve things like having the kids enroll in pricey lessons and camps, or buying new vehicles, furniture, services or sporting equipment. Or it may involve maxing out on joint credit cards to buy household items that will be needed to set up a new, post-divorce residence. This simply leaves both spouses with more debt than they can usually afford. And as before, courts have been well-equipped in law to see through and compensate for these kinds of tactics.

5. Ensuring sought-after lawyers have conflicts.

Especially in high net-worth cases, one divorcing spouse may do some strategic “shopping around” for the top family lawyers, with the objective of making sure that his or her Ex cannot hire the most prominent and well-regarded ones. They may schedule a series of appointments with these lawyers – none of whom they necessarily intend to retain – and divulge just enough about their marriage and divorce situation to each of them so as to preclude that lawyer from being hired by their Ex later on.

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

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.