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Posts from the ‘Court Cases’ Category

Are Surreptitious Recordings Admissible in Family Court?

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Are Surreptitious Recordings Admissible in Family Court?

A recent Alberta case called St. Croix. v. St. Croix gave the court an opportunity to review the Canadian law on whether surreptitious telephone recordings could be admitted in Family court.

The background facts that sparked this review featured a mother who had asked the court to admit her evidence of recorded telephone conversations between her and the father of a child they had together.  They were embroiled in a dispute over custody and parenting issues, and she had recorded some of their conversations using her smartphone.  She alleged that in those recordings he had uttered threats to kill her (including a vow to “rip her head off” if she ever tried to take their child from him).

On a motion as to the recording’s admissibility, the court noted that it had not been provided with a copy of the recording, and was merely advised by the mother that it contained a threat of physical violence, and that it was relevant to the broader issues before the court.  The parents disagreed on how relevant it might be.

This scenario prompted the court to review the general law on whether, and in what circumstances, surreptitious recordings are admissible in Family law matters. Here are the key points:

  • Courts generally view surreptitiously-recorded telephone conversations with repugnance.[1]
  • However, short of certain specific privacy expectations, there are few if any restrictions on the admissibility of surreptitious recording of conversations or events. They are generally not prohibited or illegal.[2]
  • Rather than accept or reject them outright, courts will consider what the recordings themselves disclose, and weigh how probative they are, and then assess that against any prejudicial effect. [3]
  • Under the common law (which includes Family Law), it does not generally matter how the evidence is obtained and as long as the other person in the recording knows, prior to the hearing date, that the recordings exist and are being relied on, they can amount to real evidence of conversations or events.[4]
  • However, those restrictions do exist on various facts, and the cases go both ways.

In short:  There’s no clear yes-or-no answer, since it depends on the facts.[5]  

Returning to St. Croix v. St. Croix, the mother sought to have the recordings admitted as evidence on the basis that they were relevant to determining the child’s best interests. But the court pointed out that this might actually heighten the acrimony between her and the father, and reward her for being the better “documentarian” in their interactions.  More to the point, this was likely to prolong their litigation and increase expenses, since it would catapult both of them toward providing the court with longer and more numerous affidavits and court exhibits.

In the end, the court in St. Croix decided not to allow the telephone recording, and added that it would be a rare case where this kind of evidence should be admitted, and only after the court holds a voir dire to determine whether it is admissible in all the circumstances.[6]

For the full text of the cited decisions, see:

St. Croix v St. Croix

Mazur v. Corr

Scarlett v. Farrell

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

 

[1] Scarlett v. Farell. 2014 ONCJ 517.

[2] Mazur v. Corr, 2004 ABQB 752.

[3] Scarlett v. Farell. 2014 ONCJ 517.

[4] Mazur v. Corr, 2004 ABQB 752.

[5] And for those reading, it’s important to seek the advice of an experienced Family lawyer, before trying to use recorded phone conversations in your litigation.

[6]It should be noted, however, that additional procedural steps were still pending, whereby the trial judge would determine whether that decision was final.

Court “Swipes Left” on Tinder’s Discriminatory Pricing Model

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Court “Swipes Left” on Tinder’s Discriminatory Pricing Model

For those who don’t know, Tinder is a hugely-popular dating app, which allows users to view the profiles of potential dates and privately reject them by “swiping left” on their photos.

In a proposed California class-action lawsuit, Tinder’s pricing model for users was recently accused of being discriminatory, since it purports to charge differently for users who are aged 30 or over, compared to those who fall under this age threshold.  After a lower trial court initially blocked the lawsuit from going forward, a California Court of Appeal decision reinstated it, even using the app’s well-known lingo to do so.  The Appeal Court said:

Because nothing in the complaint suggests there is a strong public policy that justifies the alleged discriminatory pricing, the trial court erred… Accordingly, we swipe left, and reverse.

The focus of the lawsuit is the “Tinder Plus” package, which is offered at $19.99 per month to users aged 30 and over. For those who are younger than 30, the price can be up to 50% lower for a comparable package. Tinder sought to justify the distinction with claims that those in the lower age category were more budget-conscious and less likely to buy in at the steeper price.  The proposed lawsuit claimed that this violated California’s anti-age discrimination and civil rights law.  Yet the trial court rejected that argument, after accepting Tinder’s explanation that it’s price model had been reasonably founded after testing the marketplace.

The Appeal Court concluded otherwise:  it held that the alleged distinction was unjustified, and that to the contrary Tinder’s pricing model “employs an arbitrary, class-based, generalization about older users’ incomes as a basis for charging them more than younger users.”  This, the Appeal Court found, violates certain California law, and was indefensible on public policy grounds.

The decision garnered attention in several publications, including Forbes, and Tech Crunch magazine.

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

 

A Day in the Life:  Court Uses “Ladder” Metaphor to Get Through to Firefighter Dad

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A Day in the Life:  Court Uses “Ladder” Metaphor to Get Through to Firefighter Dad

In an upcoming blog about an Ontario court decision in which the court was tasked with sorting out a particularly acrimonious, high-conflict separation and divorce between couple.  The result was a written court ruling that took up more than 1,200 paragraphs.

Obviously, the court had quite a lot to say.  And what was especially noteworthy was the court’s attempt to “get through to” the parents in a manner that they will understand.

The court prefaces that unusually-lengthy ruling with the following comments:

In addition, of course, to the monies spent by the parties, there has been an incredible expenditure of community resources in an attempt to address the conflict this family faces.

The financial cost is just one aspect of the damage done to this family.

The emotional cost to the parties, and in particular to the children, is something that cannot be quantified.

This court heard fourteen days of trial.

This court, at the risk of being accused of being delusional or blinded by eternal optimism, has crafted a decision pursuant to which the court is optimistic that the respondent father’s mentality can be changed from one of “war” as it has been described until now, to one in which the objective is changed from “winning” and “destroying” the other parent to one in which the objective is to have an environment pursuant to which the children can be free to love both parents and can freely move back and forth between them willingly, happily and without the need for the intervention of any of the resources earlier referred to.

This court is not naïve and does not expect that that will occur overnight but on the other hand, this court believes that if it did not try to create that situation it would have let these children down and simply “given up” on them. This court is not prepared to do that.

The court’s next step was to comment on the approach taken by each of the parents throughout the protracted litigation, first to castigate the father, and then to laud the mother. About the father, the court used a metaphor that it hoped would resonate with the father, writing:

As will be seen in this judgment, this court has found that the respondent father has engaged in a “war” as two witnesses have indicated he characterized it at the beginning. The respondent of course denies that he said this but his actions speak far louder than any words that he could have uttered.

The respondent is an acting District Fire Chief and therefore the court has found it appropriate to use a word picture involving a ladder, being a piece of equipment associated with firefighting.

This court finds that the respondent has climbed a ladder and reached the top almost realizing his perceived goal. That goal was to have control over the children and to be in a situation where the mother of those children, being a mother whom he chose for them, was totally marginalized. He almost achieved that goal in that the children at their current ages have each expressed that they do not wish at the current time to have any meaningful relationship with their mother, nor to spend time with her on a regular basis.

This court hopes that the respondent father will see, as this court sees so clearly, that the wall that his ladder should have been against, and the wall that hopefully he will climb after he climbs down from this current ladder is one in which at the top of the wall is a situation whereby the children have a healthy relationship with both parents and can freely love each of them without feeling any guilt towards the other. Love is not a finite quantity pursuant to which if you give love to one of your parents you must take it away from the other. In fact, the children can also love the respondent father’s girlfriend as a “stepmother” without having to feel that by doing so they need to thereby not love their biological mother.

In contrast was the mother’s conduct throughout, which the court found was praise-worthy overall:

This court would be remiss if, in its summary of this case, it did not comment on the applicant mother. This court finds, as with any parent, the applicant mother is far from perfect. In fact, some of her actions, likely taken out of fear of losing her children, exacerbated the situation. This court finds that her parenting style is far more structured than that of the respondent father which “played into” his desire to alienate the children from their mother.

Having said that, the applicant mother has been subjected to not only emotionally abusive treatment from the respondent father and those under his “control” but emotionally and even physically abusive behavior from the children. The court does not “blame” the children as, there is an obvious reason why they are behaving in the manner in which they are behaving.

Many, and in fact probably most, mothers even those who deeply love their children would have “thrown in the towel” by now, but the applicant mother did not. That, this court finds, is not only to her credit but will be something that this court anticipates in years to come will be greatly appreciated by her children.

With that preface to the subsequent 1,200 paragraph’s worth of specific rulings designed to resolve the couple’s dispute, the court added – perhaps optimistically – that:

… this court has crafted a decision that it believes is one that could result in a 180° change being made in their lives from one of adversarial conflict between their parents, the extended families, and unfortunately the children themselves and their mother, to one in which they are allowed once again to “be children” and not have to constantly be concerned about the conflict between their parents.

The court’s stated objective is a good one, and it applies with equal pertinence to anyone embroiled in family litigation involving custody and access issues.

For the full text of the decision, see:

M.M.B. (V.) v C.M.V.

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

 

 

 

Money is No Object for Divorcing U.K. Couple

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Money is No Object for Divorcing U.K. Couple

Over the years I have often posted about cases in which a Canadian court invites warring former spouses to reflect on the sheer amount of money they are spending on lawyers and court costs, in waging prolonged battles with each other. [Russ:  there are several of these but here’s just one. All too frequently, the costs of repeatedly going to court – often to dispute relatively trifling legal points – can quickly outstrip the monetary value of what’s being fought over, not to mention the benefit of the overall exercise.

This dubious litigation strategy is certainly not confined to Canadian family law litigants.  As reported in a recent article in the U.K. newspaper known as The Guardian, a separated wealthy British couple have already spent over £2 million (about CDN $3.5 million) slugging it out both in and out of court, all to fight over their £6.6m in family assets (about CDN$11.5 million). This despite the fact that they are only the pre-trial stage of the proceedings, with the trial yet to come.

According to one judge, the two have “completely lost touch with reality,” and noted that the trial itself will cost at least another £200,000 (or CDN$350,000) in lawyers’ fees.

The article reports that the former couple, who ran a company that supplies luxury towels and bathrobes to high-end hotels and spas, had been so single-minded embroiled in their conflict that they ran the risk that there would be no money left for either of them at the end.  At least one judge had admonished them along the way, advising that their litigation campaign was a “scandalous waste of court time.”

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

Was Unplanned Pregnancy Tantamount to “Theft of DNA”?

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Was Unplanned Pregnancy Tantamount to “Theft of DNA”?

An interesting recent case considered a novel legal argument by a 23-year-old man who unexpectedly found himself the father of a child he didn’t plan to have, after a brief relationship with a 38-year-old woman he met a music festival.

The father, an apprentice iron worker, was in an intimate relationship with the mother for several months.  After learning from the mother that she was pregnant, he decided that he did not want to be involved and they ended their relationship before the child was born.  The mother had sole custody, and the father essentially had chosen to have no contact with the child whatsoever.

Nonetheless, the mother brought an action against the father for child support.  He resisted, claiming that under the “strict terms of their sexual engagement,” he made had it clear to the mother that he did not want to become a parent.  Although they did not use condoms or other physical birth control, they engaged in the “withdrawal method” to prevent conception.  He also claims the mother told him she was “medically infertile.”

Essentially the father asked the court to recognize a new civil claim in tort, one that featured a “hostile sexual act” of the theft of the DNA contained in his ejaculate.  The court described the father’s stated position this way:

The father argues that he is not legally obligated to pay child support because the mother engaged in a “premeditated theft of the father’s DNA” during “a hostile sexual act of DNA theft” leading to the birth of the child. According to the father, he was a victim of the theft of his DNA by the mother “to satisfy the [mother’s] motive to bear a child prior to the [mother’s] biological reproductive expiration.”

The mother brought motion for summary judgment, asking for an immediate court order requiring the father to pay child support, and dismissing the father’s claim outright, on the basis that there was no genuine issue requiring a trial.

The court granted the mother’s motion, and ordered the father to pay.  There was simply no legal basis for the father’s attempt to create a new defence against the mother’s child support claim. Not only did the court not recognize the tort of a “hostile sexual act of DNA theft”, but even if it existed it did not relieve him of his legislated obligation under the Ontario Family Law Act to pay child support.  There was no dispute as to the child’s paternity.

The man and woman had engaged in consensual sex, and had not used birth control (except for the unreliable “withdrawal method”, which the court found was actually evidence that the father did not rely on the mother’s own birth control methods, or on her self-proclaimed infertility).  In short, with their decision to have unsafe sex came with inherent risk of unwanted pregnancy, and with it came child support obligations in law.

In assessing the amount of support the father had to pay, the court noted that the father’s income suddenly dropped significantly when the mother started her court application for child support.  He was currently unemployed, was not looking for work, and had provided the court with no persuasive medical or other evidence on why he was not working despite being capable. Under Ontario law, he had an obligation to earn at whatever level he capable of doing so. Based on the undisputed evidence, the father would be able to earn $35, 000 per year, and his support obligation and arrears were calculated accordingly.

For the full text of the decision, see:

M.-A.M. v. J.C.M.

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

 

Can a Wife’s Contribution to the Welfare of the Family be Worth $1 billion dollars?

Can a Wife’s Contribution to the Welfare of the Family be Worth $1 billion dollars?

This could be one of Britain’s biggest divorce cases exceeding $1 billion Canadian dollars.

The Guardian reports that Tatiana Akhmedova is seeking a claim against her former husband, a Russian billionaire.

The paper reported that she has not received “a penny” and the case is under appeal. The Guardian also reported on the trial decision.

Akhmedov argues “she was due almost half of their £1bn fortune due to her “equal contributions to the welfare of the family” during their marriage”.

The case has similar overtones to the British case Antonio v. Rokos, [2016] EWHC 520 (Fam); Case No. ZCI5P04051, February 15, 2016, High Court of Justice Family Division that considered a mother’s child care budget that included £10,555 a year for wine.

So, what do you think? Does Akhmedov’s argument that her contributions to welfare of the family is worth up to $500 million dollars?

Can You Sue a Cheater for Damages?

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Can You Sue a Cheater for Damages?

These days, not a week goes by without some sort of sexual scandal in the news. Recently, it has focused on allegations of sexual harassment by prominent figures and celebrities but this merely adds to usual crop adultery-scandal coverage that routinely graces the cover of magazines seen while waiting in the check-out line.

I was reminded of an older Family Law decision the other day, which considered the question of whether one person can sue another for cheating on them, or for falsely promising to marry them or have an exclusive relationship with them.

The decision in Lee v. Riley raised exactly this scenario.  The matter came before the court the initially to consider whether the lawsuit actually raised any valid legal claims.  (Under Canadian law, this process serves as a preliminary “screening mechanism” for weeding out those claims adjudged to be entirely without merit, so as not to waste the court’s time (and the taxpayers’ money) on frivolous or otherwise untenable lawsuits.   The prevailing test at the time was whether it is “plain and obvious” that the cause of action cannot succeed.)

In Lee v. Riley the woman had sued the man for what has a rather novel claim.  As the court put it:

The plaintiff [woman] alleges that the defendant [man] failed to advise her that he was involved with another women whom he later married while he was carrying on an intimate relationships with her within a context of an apparent ongoing developing relationship. When she discovered the truth, the [woman] claims that she became ill and has suffered damages. The [woman] asserts a number of causes of action arising out of these facts, including assault, intentional infliction of mental suffering, and fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation.

Although it appeared to have sympathy for the woman, the court dismissed her claim outright, having found no supportable, legal cause of action in her pleadings.  The court wrote:

The [man’s] conduct, as alleged, is morally reprehensible and disgraceful. Nevertheless, the law has never punished either criminally or in civil proceedings, the untruths, half-truths and other inducement which accompany seduction, absent a fraudulent relationship or the presence of a known serious transmittable disease. The [woman] knew who the [man] was and knew the [illegible text] sexual acts being undertaken. The law cannot protect every person against the kind of behaviour the [man[allegedly manifested. Relationships involve risk-taking. People should be honest but it is well known that frequently they are not.

What are your thoughts?  Are there circumstances where the law should recognized a claim in damage by the cheated-on partner?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Lee v. Riley, 2002 CarswellOnt 5558

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

 

 

 

Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support?

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Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support?

Most separated and divorced parents are at least vaguely aware that there are certain enforcement mechanisms available in cases where a parent fails or is unwilling to pay the child support that he or she has been ordered to pay by a court.

Specifically the Family Responsibility Office (FRO), which is a provincial government agency, enforces child and spousal support from delinquent support-payers, and to this end has various enforcement tools at its disposal.  These include garnishment of the support-payer’s wages, and suspension of his or her driver’s license.

But people may not be aware that a parent in default may also face jail time, under the provisions of the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act (“FRSAEA”).  Although this outcome is not common, it does arise in some cases.

The recent decision in Ontario (Director, Family Responsibility Office) v. Garrick was one of them. The father owed child support arrears for over $55,000, which amount had been racked up over several years.  He explained the non-payment with the fact that much of those years had been spent behind bars, after his highly-publicized conviction for fraud perpetrated against several well-known people, including “two football icons” and a doctor at the Hospital for Sick Children.   And while he had now served his time and was released, he claimed that with his criminal record and notoriety, he was now practically unemployable in the community.

The court did not buy it.  It observed that the father had not provided financial disclosure of his income, nor did he bring forth evidence as to the jobs he had applied for, or the rejections he received.  The court also added that his evidence fell short in other ways, too:

A payor in a default proceeding has the onus [under the FRSAEA] of proving that he or she has accepted responsibility to pay child support and has placed the child’s interests over his or her own. Mr. Garrick has provided no evidence of having done anything of the sort.

Indeed – and despite the father’s claims to the contrary – the court found that he was healthy and employable, but had wholly abdicated his support responsibilities to his child while continuing to live an affluent lifestyle.  He had spent a full seven years actively avoiding his financial obligations to his own child.

Turning to the available recourse in these situations, the court noted that the role of incarceration was to compel the father’s compliance with his support obligations, not to punish him.   However, the court added:

I have considered all of those submissions. But the court must conclude that this is a textbook case of a payor arranging his affairs in order to avoid paying the support that he has been found to be capable of paying. [The father] has carried the metaphorical keys of his prison in his pocket. If he is incarcerated, he has, for reasons of his own, chosen to lock himself in.

The court ordered the father to be incarcerated for 90 days, or until the child support arrears were paid in full. Additional jail time was ordered in the event that on a going-forward basis the father continued to put himself in default.

 

For the full text of the decision, see:

Ontario (Director, Family Responsibility Office) v. Garrick 

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

To Get or Vary Child Support, Do Your Kids Still have to be “Children”?

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To Get or Vary Child Support, Do Your Kids Still have to be “Children”?

An Ontario Court of Appeal decision recently brought to the forefront an interesting little legal point, about the court’s authority to make or change child support orders even after children are too old or too independent.

Under Canadian family law, section 15.1 of the federal Divorce Act allows a court to make an order requiring a parent to pay child support for any “children of the marriage”.   (And this term is defined by the Act to include: 1) a child under the age of majority (who has not otherwise withdrawn from his or her parent’s charge), and 2) a child who is over the age of majority but still dependent.)

Based on a prior ruling decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, a court only has the authority to make a child support order if, at the time of the initial application by the parent, the children fall under this “children of the marriage” definition.  In other words, if the support-recipient parent waits until the children are over the age of majority or no longer dependent, then he or she is out of luck since the court lacks jurisdiction to retrospectively make a child support order at that point.

A recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision called Colucci v. Colucci, the court considered a related question: Can a parent apply to the court to vary a child support order, even after the children stop being “children of the marriage”?

The facts of the case involved a father of two children who had been ordered to pay child support but eventually fell into arrears of more than $175,000.  By that time, both children ceased to be “children of the marriage.”  Faced by the prospect of a significant decline in his income as an unskilled labourer, the father brought a motion to change the child support order retroactively, and have his arrears rescinded on the ground that there had been a change in circumstances.

The Appeal Court reviewed the governing law when an order could be varied, as found s. 17 of the Divorce Act.  It was differently worded than the initial-support provision in section 15.1; the stated test for whether a court had the authority to vary an order was different from the test to make an order in the first place.  The Appeal Court concluded that based on that wording, a court did indeed have jurisdiction to vary an existing order even after the children are no longer dependents. (And from an Ontario family law perspective, it should be noted that this aligns with the court’s jurisdiction under the provincial Family Law Act to vary child support orders retroactively in such circumstances).

Although the Colucci decision does not foretell that every parent’s application to vary child support will succeed (since that must be determined on a case-by-case basis), the law is now abundantly clear that a court had the authority to change orders even after the children no longer fall within the “children of the marriage” definition.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Colucci v. Colucci

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

Top 10 Blogs of 2017

Top 10 Blogs of 2017

As we embrace the New Year, we’d like to take the opportunity to thank our readers for their continued interest and support. We would also like to recap some of our most popular posts from yet another busy year.

Here are some of our top blogs from 2017

Number 10: Ontario Superior Court Justice Pazaratz Speaks Out Against Legal Aid Squandering – Again

In his written endorsement of a consent order in Abdulaali v. Salih, Justice Pazaratz characteristically drew attention to the perceived waste of public funds in the case before him. He unapologetically chastised both Legal Aid Ontario and the parties for “squandering scarce judicial and community resources.” He bluntly stated that the case should not have been dragged out so long, and should not have been funded by public coffers so indiscriminately.

Number 9: Court to Delinquent Husband: If You Don’t Play By the Rules, You Don’t Get to Play

With unpaid cost awards of $10,000 and $25,000 from prior decisions, a husband sought an extension for appealing yet another judgment. In Schwilgin v. Szivy, the Court of Appeal for Ontario yielded the wife’s cries for justice in a situation where successive cost awards in her favor ironically left her with an empty wallet. The Court disapproved of the husband’s use of court procedure to delay payment of arrears, effectively, restoring wife’s faith in justice and putting husband on ice.

Number 8: Wife Dumps Husband Over Trump

Would you end a marriage of 22 years over politics? Not “politics” in the colloquial sense—actual governmental politics. 73-year old Gayle McCormick of the U.S. did exactly that. After learning of her husband’s intention to vote for Donald Trump, the retired Californian prison guard was “in shock.” Although Gayle’s husband never ended up voting for Trump, the damage was already done—she became “totally undid” after she saw his true Republican colors. Not even the adhesive backing of a toupee could hold them together after his revelation.

Number 7: Separation Agreement Drafting Error: Can a Spouse Take Advantage

This post recapped the importance of achieving a “meeting of the minds” at the bargaining table. In Stevens v. Stevens, the husband sought to enforce a marriage contract drafted by his wife’s lawyer apportioning the whole value of the matrimonial home to him. The husband and his lawyer’s attempt to take advantage of the drafting error were met with harsh criticism as the Court found in favor of the wife. The Court declined literal interpretation of the contract as the wife clearly intended only a half interest.

Number 6: Calling Someone a “Liar” Online: Is that Defamation, or Merely “Comment”?

This post explores an interesting legal question arising from a not-so common scenario:

From 2008-2010, Levant, an outspoken political commentator, posted nine blogs each bearing a headline calling Awan, a law student, a “liar.” Levant’s digital tirade was prompted by Awan’s testimony at a human rights tribunal in which Awan and fellow law students alleged a Mclean’s magazine cover story titled “The Future Belongs to Islam” had an Islamophobic tone. Levant argued his remarks were merely comments and not defamation in the ordinary sense.

The question is this: Is calling someone a “liar” merely a “comment” made as part of an online discourse, and therefore, not defamatory?

No. The usual defences to defamation do not prevail where there is evidence of malice, as in the case of Awan v. Levant. Levant was ordered to pay Awan $50,000 in general damages and $30,000 in aggravated damages.

Number 5: Father Who Paid $400K in Legal Fees to “Cause Financial Harm to the Mother and His Son” Ordered to Pay Mother’s Costs Too

Does justice favour the party with the biggest legal bill? In Jordan v. Stewart, we commented on a case where a father paid $400K in legal fees seeking to terminate child support.

The Judge denied the father’s request and chastised him for the logic-defying extent he was willing to go in satisfaction of that end. Ultimately, the father’s wanton disregard for the financial consequences and refusal to accept reasonable offers by his ex-wife, resulted in the somewhat ironic outcome of a costs award to the wife.

Number 4: If a Biological Parent is Paying Child Support, Does a Step-Parent Still Have to Pay?

This blog post explored the interesting legal issue of whether a step-parent should pay child support. The legal test is whether the step-parent whom an order for child support is sought against “stands in the place of a parent for a child.” Such determination cannot be made without consideration of all the material circumstances.

In Stetler v. Stetler, a step-father who provided financial support to his partner’s child over the duration of their 8-year relationship refused to pay child support as the child’s biological father had been paying child support all along. The Court found the circumstances of the step-father’s relationship to the child clearly met the legal test.

Number 3: Court Strikes Family Law Firm’s $72,500 “Premium” as Being a Contingency Fee

Few would dispute that legal fees can be expensive. This becomes painfully more obvious when a family law lawyer charges a “premium” for achieving positive results. In Ontario, section 28.1(3) of the Solicitors Act prohibits contingency fee agreements in a family law matter.

The case of Jackson v. Stephen Durbin and Associates serves as a clear reminder to prospective clients with a family law matter: Read the fine print and always ask your lawyer clarifying questions about fees you suspect may be a contingency fee disguised as something else.

Number 2: Self-Represented Wife Asks for $18K in Legal Costs; Court Awards $30K Instead

It pays to be a well prepared self-represented litigant – literally. In the decision of McMurter v. McMurter, a self-represented litigant successfully opposed her husband’s motion to terminate spousal support obligations in a trial that lasted 15 days.

The wife’s request for costs was met with an unusual turn of events – it was improved by the Judge. She requested costs in the amount of $18,000, but ended up receiving $30,000. The quality of her written submissions and oral representation at Court were credited for the irregular increase.

Number 1: Husband’s Hidden Bedroom Cam Nets Wife $15,000 in Damages for Privacy Invasion

This post continues to be popular, and has been our most viewed blog entry this year. In this post we explored the scandalous topic of privacy invasion inside the bedroom. As if separation and divorce weren’t already difficult enough, the wife in the case of Patel v. Sheth became the star of her husband’s hidden camera during a brief period of reconciliation and resumed cohabitation.

The wife sought $50,000 in damages against her husband for intruding upon her seclusion, a new common law tort introduced to redress privacy invasion. The Court found in her favor and awarded her $15,000 in damages. While she did not receive damages to the extent she had been hoping, she undoubtedly walked away feeling vindicated.

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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