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Posts from the ‘Divorce’ Category

Is Husband’s Payment of 230 Gold Coins Under Islamic Marriage Contract Excluded from Wife’s Property?

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Is Husband’s Payment of 230 Gold Coins Under Islamic Marriage Contract Excluded from Wife’s Property?

Under the law governing Islamic marriage, a “Maher” (sometimes written as “Mahr”) is a written marriage contract.  In the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Bakhshi v. Hosseinzadeh, the narrow legal question was whether, under the Ontario Family Law regime, the property transferred under a Maher is excluded from the definition of Net Family Property (NFP), and by extension excluded from the equalization calculation of the parties’ respective NFPs upon divorce.

When they married in Iran in 1995, the couple had entered into the Maher in keeping with their religious and cultural beliefs.  The Maher contained a clause that required the husband to pay the wife 230 gold coins promptly upon her request.  The spouses later immigrated to Canada.

When in 2013 the wife began divorce proceedings and various related court applications, the issue arose as to how the notional transfer from the husband of those 230 gold coins under the Maher was to be treated in law.  At the initial trial, the judge concluded that the Maher obligation was valid and that the value of the gold coins – about $80,000 – was to be excluded from the wife’s NFP total.

The Court of Appeal was asked to entertain the husband’s appeal.  It began by confirming the ruling of prior courts to the effect that despite being religion-based, marriage contracts such as a Maher can be enforceable, provided they satisfy the elements of a valid domestic contract under Canadian law.  Once deemed valid, they are interpreted like any other civil contract, by looking at their wording and the objective intentions of the parties at the time the agreement is made.

Next, the Court observed that definition of NFP found in the provincial Family Law Act includes all property owned by a spouse on the valuation date.   The Maher in this case contained no express agreement that the payment of 230 gold coins was to be excluded from the wife’s NFP, nor was there any basis to infer that the spouses intended at the time to exclude it.  To the contrary, it was executed in Iran and contained other terms that suggested the couple envisioned continued life in that country, and were not contemplating their potential mutual obligations under the Ontario legislation.

The Appeal Court concluded that the Maher payment was to be treated under the Family Law Act like any other payment obligation between the spouses, meaning that it was to be included in the overall calculations.  That outcome was in keeping with the rest of the legislative regime, which envisions that spouses own property separately during marriage, and does not allow for transactions between spouses to be excluded from NFP calculations.

The Court re-calculated the NFP by including the value of the Maher payment, while clarifying that the husband still needed to actually (i.e. physically) transfer the 230 gold coins to the wife’s possession.  Even though its value was to be included in the overall equalization calculation, the Maher payment itself was considered a demand obligation with a paper value, which meant the wife was entitled to pursue debt collection remedies if the husband refused to pay.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Bakhshi v. Hosseinzadeh

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

 

Could Long-Haul Trucker Dad Quit His Job (and Avoid Child Support) Due to Dizziness?

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Could Long-Haul Trucker Dad Quit His Job (and Avoid Child Support) Due to Dizziness?

After separating from the father, the mother had full-time custody of their two 17-year-old children.  The father agreed to pay a set amount of child support, based on his long-distance trucker’s income of $66,000.   However, he was prohibited from communicating with any of them, under the terms of his bail following a guilty plea for assaulting the mother.

About a month after the consent order for child support was made, he claimed that he had experienced a bout of encephalitis, which afflicted him with facial paralysis, dizziness, vertigo, and some mental impairment.   He claimed he was no longer able to work at his job from that day forward; thus with no income, he claimed he was unable to pay child support.

However, he filed no current medical reports with the court to support that contention, other than certain 2-year-old notes and reports that the court found unhelpful.  While it was true that he was on short-term disability right after he quit, he did not provide any evidence as to whether he even applied for long-term disability at all.

The court didn’t buy it.

The father had quit his job for no reason.  His purported illness – which was medically confirmed not to have been a stroke – lasted only a short period of time.  He did not lose his truck driver’s license because of it.

In short:  the father had no valid excuse for not continuing to work and continuing to live up to his financial responsibilities to the children, as he had done before.  He had essentially chosen not to continue working, likely as a bid to avoid his child support obligations entirely.

In light of the fact that he was capable of earning more, the court relied on one of the provisions of the Child Support Guidelines that allowed it to impute income.  As the court explained:

Imputing income is one method by which the court gives effect to the joint and ongoing obligation of parents to support their children. In order to meet this obligation, the parties must earn what they are capable of earning. If they fail to do so, they will be found to be intentionally under-employed.

Notwithstanding the father’s current state of self-imposed unemployment, the court set the father’s income back at the $66,000 level.  It ordered him to continue paying support at the same level as he had done before he quit, and sorted out the amount of the unpaid arrears as well.

For the full-text of the decision, see:

Armstrong v. Wallace

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

 

 

In Custody Case, Court Avoid Declaring Either Warring Parent the “Winner”

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In Custody Case, Court Avoid Declaring Either Warring Parent the “Winner”

The parents of a now 13-year-old boy and of three other now-adult children had separated very acrimoniously in 2012.  The court describes the end of the relationship this way:

The parties separated at the end of December, 2012. There was a meeting of the family, not including [the 13-year old son], in early January, 2013. It was hoped that that meeting would be civil, and would set the stage for an orderly transition to the parties living separately. Instead, matters went rapidly downhill thereafter. There were allegations of abuse, violence, theft, destruction of property, assaults, and other allegations of a similar nature. The [father] began videotaping interactions between the parties and their children. The police were called on many occasions. The Children’s Aid Society was involved.

After the ill-fated family meeting, the mother had primary care of the boy, while the father had access only on alternating weekends.  The court heard that under this arrangement, the boy was by all accounts thriving in his school and social environments.  He had a strong attachment to both parents, and was equally happy spending time with either of them.  His stated preference was to spend equal time with them both.

Nonetheless, the father applied for sole custody of the boy.  He claimed that the mother had abused all children for years, and indeed two of them and their paternal grandmother gave testimony to confirm that opinion. (And the court noted that two of those three adult children no longer wanted anything to do with their mother.)   Two of the boy’s siblings gave evidence that the boy would be much better off living with his father, and one of them felt that he would be better off not seeing the mother at all.  One sibling was more conciliatory, but also believed that the boy would do better living with the father.

The father’s opinion of the mother was unequivocal:  He claimed she was a “vindictive, destructive, and evil” person.

The court was left to resolve all this competing evidence in a high-conflict situation, to arrive at a workable resolution.  In doing so, it reiterated the guiding principle in such matters:

It is trite that decisions respecting the custody of or access to a child must be made in accordance with the best interests of the child. The interests of the parents are entirely secondary.

The court then added:

Having heard 16 days of evidence, it is quite clear that each party is, for the most part, concerned with his or her interests first and foremost. The hatred of these parties for each other is palpable. Control is of paramount importance.

Both parties have behaved unreasonably.

Against this background, the court concluded there had been no abuse of the boy, and that – when not embroiled in litigation – were good parents and have the boy’s best interests in mind.  Even though the parents lived quite some distance away, and assuming that the father could commit to getting the boy to school, there would be an order for joint custody, with an equal shared / parallel parenting regime involving at least 40 per cent of the boy’s time being spent with each parent.  (And if the father could not commit to the school-day driving then the current arrangement would remain, but with increased access to him).

The court added that it also wanted to avoid making an order for sole custody to one parent or the other, for fear that the chosen parent would consider themselves the “winner” and use such a determination as an “instrument of oppression.”

For the full text of the decision, see:

Hart v. Krayem

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

 

Dad Loses Joint Custody, But Gets Access to Give Son Needed “Down-time”

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Dad Loses Joint Custody, But Gets Access to Give Son Needed “Down-time”

In a case called Newman v. Nicholson, the parents of a 14-year old boy had been subject to a court order, granting them each joint custody.  The boy lived in the primary care of his mother since he was 2 years old.

Over that period, the mother had done most of the work around attending to the boy’s needs:  For example, she facilitated his involvement in highly-competitive Triple-A level hockey, as well as high performance athletic programs, hockey camps and high school sports.

In contrast, the father had been comparatively unreliable in meeting the boy’s needs, and sometimes had trouble getting him to school or sports functions on time.  This was compounded by the fact that his driver’s license had been suspended by the Family Responsibility Office for non-payment of child support.   His income had also dropped for unrelated reasons, and the mother claimed he had increased his consumption of alcohol.  She also had concerns that the boy spent too much time playing video games while in the father’s care.

The mother applied for sole custody (but with generous access to the father), on the basis that there had been a significant change since the order had been made.  She pointed out that while she had taken charge of attending to all the boy’s needs, the father had not even honoured his financial obligations as a parent.  More troubling was the fact that the father deliberately ignored her emails and was unresponsive in his communication with her about the boy’s various existing health issues, some of which required monitoring.

The father wanted the joint custody to remain as-is.

After considering the boy’s best interests, the court concluded that the existing situation was indeed ripe for change, primarily due to the nature of communication between the parents, which the court called “abrasive and contemptuous.”  That, coupled with the father’s historic inability to get the boy school and sports on-time, was justification for removing the father’s entitlement to joint custody and reducing his access time.  Although both parents had a strong bond with the boy, and both wanted a role in parenting him, the mother had played the lead role with respect to his schooling, medical needs, activities registration and scheduling.  The court added that at this point in his life, the boy needed consistency and routine.

However, the father was to continue to play a meaningful role in the boy’s life.  In particular, the court found that the boy’s time with his father was “an opportunity for [him] to play video games and allow him some ‘down time’”.

The court accordingly imposed a schedule for reduced access, which would be increased once the father got his license back.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Newman v. Nicholson

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

Is Sex Addiction Relevant to Divorce?

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Is Sex Addiction Relevant to Divorce?

With the recent coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, there has been speculation in the Canadian media about the validity of his claims to have a “sex addiction”, and whether such a so-called affliction really exists at all.

In the Weinstein case, sex addiction is being used by the perpetrator of objectionable and oftentimes criminal behavior towards women.   But in a Family Law case from a few years ago called Yunger v. Zolty, it was the flip-side:  It was the wife who wanted to raise the husband’s sex addiction to bolster her legal position on various disputed issues, namely to shed light on the reason for the marriage breakdown and to cast doubt on his ability to parent their daughter.

But in rejecting the wife’s request for the husband’s medical records on his treatment, the court explained:

Production of the father’s medical records

The mother asks for an order that the father produce his medical records from Bellwood Health Services and any other health care professionals relating to his sexual addictions.

The father denies that he has sexual addictions.  He says he went to counselling in relation to this issue because of pressure placed on him by the mother and her family.  He says he is currently seeing a counsellor to help him deal with the difficult issues arising from the marriage breakdown.

 The mother submits that disclosure of the medical records would assist in determining whether the father had or has sexual addictions and why the marriage broke down.  I have difficulty, however, in understanding how these determinations are relevant to the issues in this litigation.

The mother suggests that the father’s addictions may be related to [their daughter’s] difficulties with her father.  However, there is no evidence, at this point, that this is or may be the case.

The disclosure of medical records is highly intrusive.  There are compelling reasons for preserving the confidentiality of communications between the father and his doctor or therapist.   In the absence of evidence that such records would be relevant to any of the issues in this case, in particular, to the parenting issues, I decline to order that they be disclosed.

Although the court in this case made it clear that alleged sex addiction was not relevant to the particular issues between the divorcing husband and wife, one is left to wonder where there are other scenarios where it might be.

What are your thoughts?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Yunger v. Zolty

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 Husband Take Advantage of Drafting Error to “Cherry-Pick” Settlement Terms that Suit Him?

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Can Husband Take Advantage of Drafting Error to “Cherry-Pick” Settlement Terms that Suit Him?

In a brief oral judgment, the Ontario Court of Appeal tackled an unusual situation were the husband sought to accept only those portions of a settlement offer that were to his advantage, based on the accidental inclusion by the wife’s lawyer of a “severability clause.”  Strictly speaking, that clause theoretically allowed the husband, who was self-represented, to accept and abide by only those portions of the settlement that were of financial benefit to him, while disregarding the others.

And this is precisely what he tried to do:  Upon reading the offer the husband availed himself of the mistake, by promptly advising that he accepted only the specific term of the settlement agreement that absolved him of paying child support from the date of separation onward.  He did not accept any other essential terms of the offer, and advised the wife and her lawyer accordingly.

Within hours of the husband’s purported acceptance, the wife’s lawyer wrote to advise him of the mistake.

The parties appeared before a motion before a judge, to sort the matter out.  In refusing to enforce only the favourable settlement terms formally accepted by the husband, that judge pointed out that there had been an obvious drafting mistake, since it made no sense for the severability clause to have been included in the settlement offer.   On later appeal by the husband, the Appeal Court echoed the motion judge’s conclusion:

To allow the [husband] to accept the clauses that financial benefit him and require the [wife] to litigate all other clauses more than a year after the offer was submitted would be blatantly unfair.

The Court of Appeal added that the husband had failed to demonstrate that the motion judge had been wrong, and pointed out that it had the authority in any event to correct inadvertent errors that find their way into a settlement offer. The Court ruled in the wife’s favour, corrected the error, and ordered the husband to pay $6,000 in legal costs.

For the full text of the decision, see:

McAfee v. McAfee, 2017 ONCA 785 (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

If the Wife Goes to Stay with Her Mother – Does the “Clock” on their Relationship Start Over?

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If the Wife Goes to Stay with Her Mother – Does the “Clock” on their Relationship Start Over?

In Whalen-Byrne v. Byrne, the issue for the family court seemed simple enough: It was to determine the precise duration of the former couple’s relationship, which in turn would drive the duration of spousal support the husband had been adjudged to owe the wife.

And the beginning and end dates were uncontentious:  both husband and wife agreed that they began living together in 1993, and separated in 2010, which on a straightforward calculation was a span of 17 years.

But the problem was that at one point – from October 1996 to March 1997 – the wife moved out of the matrimonial home and went to stay with her mother.    After this brief separation they reconciled, and went on to get married a few years later.

The court was therefore left to determine what effect this separation had on the duration of their union.  A trial court had pegged it to be 13 years, on the basis that the separation essentially “restarted the clock” on their relationship, and that it really only commenced to run after they reconciled.  The trial judge explained it this way:

It appears that following the [wife] moving in with her mother the parties continued to be open to the possibility of continuing a relationship; however, both parties were taking steps to put distance between themselves (i.e. cessation of cohabitation and pursuit of relationships with other persons other than the other party). The most reasonable interpretation is that the parties intended to be separate from one another subject, at best, to the possibility of resumption of cohabitation. I find therefore that the period of cohabitation for consideration in respect of the [wife’s] claim for spousal support commences March 1997 and concludes with separation on April 10, 2010 for a period of thirteen years.

The wife appealed this ruling, and the Court of Appeal agreed with her reasoning.

In determining the length of cohabitation, the trial judge had been incorrect to “reset” it at the reconciliation point.  Instead, the facts showed that even when the wife went to live with her mother, the couple never formally separated; they merely had what the court called an “interim separation” that included “the possibility of resumption of cohabitation.”  In drawing this conclusion, the court considered the following evidence:

  • They lived apart for only a brief 5-month period;
  • They did not separate their finances;
  • The husband continued to support he wife financially, including allowing her to use a credit card in his name;
  • The wife took only a small suitcase of clothes with her, and no furniture;
  • Although the wife went on a few dates with another man, she was not involved in another relationship;
  • In December 1996, the husband proposed marriage to the wife with a ring and in front of their children, to which she replied “not yet”; and,
  • By February 1997 the parties were discussing marriage.

The Appeal Court concluded that for determining the duration of the husband’s spousal support obligation, the correct period of cohabitation was 16 years and 10 months, less 5 months for the brief separation, for a total of about 16.5 years.

The Court recalculated the wife’s support entitlement accordingly, and determined that she was entitled to spousal support from the husband that would last 14 years from the agreed date of their separation in 2010.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Whalen-Byrne v. Byrne

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

Mother’s Bid to Relocate Child – Was it Just a Pretext to Join New Romantic Partner?

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Mother’s Bid to Relocate Child – Was it Just a Pretext to Join New Romantic Partner?

The parents of a 5-year old boy had separated in 2015, and had a court-approved agreement as to joint custody and shared parenting.  The mother now wanted to relocate with her son from Cochrane, Ontario to Thunder Bay where she had multiple job offers waiting.  She had recently quit her job as a prison transport officer in Cochrane, which did not allow her to properly fulfill her childcare responsibilities. As the court explained:

…. [H]er schedule was unpredictable; sometimes working out of town, sometimes working overtime, sometimes both, and never knowing until the last minute. This would have impaired her ability to care for her son – not knowing in advance whether she would be called in to work in the morning before he went to school, or whether she would be home in time to pick him up again – but her employer temporarily accommodated her with a schedule that avoided unpredictable deployment. Eventually, however, her employer withdrew this accommodation. After exhausting her vacation time and sick leave, the mother resigned her position. Prior to her resignation, her employer invited her to apply for another position in Cochrane with a more parenting-friendly schedule. She was successful, but the employer subsequently had to revoke the offer.

The mother said the move to Thunder Bay was necessary to remain financially viable and provide for her son, and that as the son’s primary caregiver, her decisions about where to live and work out to be given considerable weight.

The father objected to the mother’s plan.  For one thing, it would strip him of the chance to influence his son.   For another, he claimed the mother’s alleged need to move was merely a pretext to be with her new romantic partner, who also lived in Thunder Bay.   He also questioned her lack of ability to find new work in Cochrane, and felt that – since she had quit her job – her current state of financial hardship was self-imposed.

The mother’s bid to move had been rejected earlier by a motion judge, who discounted the allegation that the ostensible need for the move was a pretext.  However, the judge did conclude that both parents’ views had equal weight, and that the resolution called for a simple balancing of pros and cons between Cochrane and Thunder Bay, from the perspective of how the boy might benefit. In the end, the motion judge concluded that the mother should be able to find suitable work in Cochrane if she tried.

The Appeal Court saw things differently, and granted the mother’s appeal.

First of all, the motion judge had erred in not characterizing the mother as the primary caregiver, and in not giving her particular reasons for moving “serious consideration.”  Also, the judge was wrong in deciding that the mother’s financial circumstances were not self-imposed; they were brought on by the employer’s withdrawal of prior accommodation of her childcare responsibilities.  Nor was there any basis for the judge to conclude that the mother could likely find work in Cochrane – in fact the evidence showed otherwise.

The Appeal Court explained:

There is, in our view, a valid and compelling parenting-based reason for the move: it is necessary to enable the primary caregiver to remain financially viable while providing care for the child. The mother has done all she can be expected to do to secure employment in Cochrane. It has not worked out, and there is no good reason for her and her son to live in poverty when she has secured employment in Thunder Bay that will allow her both to parent her son and to provide economically for him.

The court also said it was “encouraged” in this regard by the fact that the mother had offered to provide air travel to Cochrane for the child, which was one of her employment benefits at one of the Thunder Bay jobs.  She also offered to accommodate the father’s work schedule as a forest firefighter when he was deployed across Canada.

The court granted the mother’s appeal, allowing her to move with the child to Thunder Bay, and ordered a new access regime, with the parents working out an acceptable access schedule between them.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Porter v. Bryan

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

Couple’s Use of Support Set-Off Calculations Costs Husband His $15,000 Tax Credit

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Use of Support Set-Off Calculations Costs Husband His $15,000 Tax Credit

The husband and wife separated in 2011.  Based on their respective yearly incomes, they amicably resolved their issues as to child support by way of an agreement and consent order that was filed with the court.   They reached an agreement on child support by using a software program which, as the court put it, “introduce[d] various offsetting inputs and devise[d] a final unilateral payment from one spouse to the other.”

The outcome of the calculations was that the husband owed a single payment to the wife, who acknowledged that he was not required to pay further support for a specified time-period.   On this income tax return for the year, the husband then went ahead and claimed non-refundable child tax credits of almost $15,000 in respect of their two children.

As the court explained:

All of the usual stressful, difficult and emotional issues for this couple relating to child custody, financial support and raising a family within the constraints of marriage breakdown were resolved in a laudatory, sensible and agreeable fashion. [The husband] testified all issues settled amicably. Lawyers were involved to prepare all documents, undertake court proceedings and ensure all details complied with the parties’ wishes and the law. All seemed to unfold accordingly until the Minister’s reassessment disallowing the 2012 dependent deductions. Understandably, [the husband’s] child support commitment was predicated upon his use of the dependent deductions to reduce his taxable income.

The problem was that the Income Tax Act provision under which the husband had purported to claim that tax credit, namely s. 118(5.1), was an exception to the general rule in another section of the Act that disallows a support-paying person from claiming a tax deduction for dependents in certain stipulated instances.  Under the wording of that latter provision, the loss or non-use of the dependent deduction could be prevented only where both parents factually pay to the other an amount for child support.

In this case, since the spouses had essentially used a set-off procedure to come up with a single payment by the husband to the wife, there was no such payment by each of them separately, as the provision required.

Unfortunately, this meant that the Minister of National Revenue disallowed the $15,000 the husband purported to claim under s. 118(5.1) of the Act.  Because the husband was the only spouse to pay “a support amount”, the Minister concluded, he did not fall within the exception in s. 118(5.1) and was not eligible.

The husband appealed the Minister’s decision, but was unsuccessful.   The court pointed out that the case law precedent was uniform in its interpretation of the Act, and that the fact that the couple had used a set-off mechanism in the course of calculating their child support obligations to each other did not transform the respective and distinct values they used into “a support amount” as that term is used in the Act’s provision.  The Act, as worded, did not accommodate for the “expeditious use of a computer software program, the culmination of which is a unilateral payment of a support amount by only one parent to the other.”

Despite this outcome arguably based on technicalities, the court said it had “no alternative but to dismiss” the husband’s appeal, “however sympathetic it may be.”

For the full text of the decision, see:

Harder v. The Queen

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

 

 

If Only One Person Says “It’s Over”, Is It Really?

If Only One Person Says “It’s Over”, Is It Really?

Who gets to decide when a marriage or other relationship is over? Do both parties have to agree, in the eyes of the law?

That was one of the questions that the court had to ask in a case called Cammaroto Cammaroto.

The facts were a little unusual: The wife wanted out of the dead-end marriage but could not get the husband to leave, likely because he was very comfortable having her pay all the bills. He had never really worked throughout their 10-year marriage, and had not shown any real inclination to get a job. As the court described it:

[The wife] testified that she was trapped in the relationship for many years because she could not get [the husband] to leave and she could not afford to carry two residences making her (in her words) “a prisoner” in the matrimonial home.

The true end-date of the marriage was therefore challenging to pinpoint, and the spouses differed greatly on what that date actually was.

Naturally in a more typical marriage-breakdown scenario, the former partners usually decide to stop living together at some point, making it much easier to isolate the date the relationship has officially ended.   But where – as here – the couple continues to live under the same roof even after one or both of them consider the relationship to be over, the lines can get a little blurry.   It becomes harder to identify the true legal “separation date”.

To frame its determination on this issue, the court stated the law:

Marital relationships cover a broad spectrum and it is difficult to pinpoint when spouses become “separated” while under the same roof. There is no checklist or test that precisely articulates the determination of a valuation date in a case such as this, though courts have articulated factors to consider. It is a fact-driven inquiry in any particular case.

The absence of sexual relations is a factor but it is not conclusive. The degree to which spouses share or segregate income and expenses is important, particularly changes in those arrangements. Communication, social life, interactions with one another in public and behind closed doors all need to be considered. Mutual goals and expectations are relevant. The goal under the Family Law Act‘s property provision is to fix a date on which the economic partnership should as a matter of fairness be terminated. The global question is when it was that the parties knew, or reasonably ought to have known, their spousal relationship was over and would not resume.

On the question of whether one person can unilaterally decide that the marriage is over, the court was unequivocal:

Continuation of a marital relationship requires two people. Either spouse can unilaterally end that relationship without the consent of the other. There are many cases where one spouse knows there will be no reconciliation, but the other may not know. At the same time, the court must be careful to look for some objective evidence upon which to find a date of separation, rather than simply accepting the after-the-fact statements of the party who has decided the relationship is over.

Applying this test to the specific facts in Cammarato, the court found that the relationship had ended a full five years before the couple stopped living together. The court described the marital scene:

By 2005, they ceased to have a sexual or otherwise intimate relationship. Communication between them was largely by notes to one another. They had no social life to speak of. [The husband] had no friends and as a couple they had no mutual friends. Moreover, he objected to and interfered with [the wife’s] association with her own friends and even with her two sons. They had a joint bank account but only [the wife] was putting money into this account after 2006. [The wife’s] description of their relationship is corroborated in some respects by [her doctor’s] notes and the records of the police interventions.

In these circumstances, the court found the marriage was over long before the spouses moved out and went their separate ways. It set the separation date accordingly, for valuing the spouses’ respective assets for equalization.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Cammaroto v Cammaroto, 2015 ONSC 3968 (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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