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Posts from the ‘Support’ Category

Father Says Kid’s Karate is OK, but MMA is Not; Court Rules on Special Expenses

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Father Says Kid’s Karate is OK, but MMA is Not; Court Rules on Special Expenses

As readers of my Blog will know, under the rules relating to child support in Ontario, parents are obliged to financially support their children, and this duty comes to the forefront when the parents are separated or divorced.

However, there are actually two distinct aspects of that mandatory child support:  1) The one for basic support that is set out in the Child Support Guidelines (CSGs); and 2) the “special or extraordinary expenses” that are allowed for in s. 7 of those same Guidelines.

“Special or extraordinary expenses” are defined to include items such as:

  • Child care expenses incurred as a result of the custodial parent’s employment, illness, disability or education or training for employment
  • The portion of the medical and dental insurance premiums attributable to the child
  • Certain health-related expenses
  • Extraordinary expenses for primary or secondary school education or for any other educational programs that meet the child’s particular needs
  • Expenses for post-secondary education
  • Extraordinary expenses for extracurricular activities

If one parent refuses to agree to pay for a particular special expense, the other parent may have to apply to the court to have a judge make a determination, the legal test being whether it is both “reasonable” and “necessary” in the circumstances.

This was the situation in the very recent case of Newstead v. Hachey, where the court considered whether the child’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) training – which the mother had unilaterally enrolled him in – was justifiably a section 7 special expense.   Although the child was also enrolled in Karate, the father thought the MMA training was inappropriate because of its violent focus.  He continued to help pay for it under protest, but asked the court to decide.  The court explained:

While the husband is not happy with certain expenses being incurred by the wife for the children without his consultation or approval, he has not balked at paying.  … He did not agree with the wife’s decision to put [the son] into Mixed Martial Arts.  His view is that while Karate provided a benefit to the child, MMA is different as the only objective of the sport is to hurt or subdue the opponent.  He is afraid that sends the wrong message to [the son], who has had behavioral issues which times included aggression.  Still, despite his protests, the husband is not refusing to contribute to these expenses.

The court pointed out that section 7 of the Guidelines does require the parents to consult or agree to the MMA lessons, but it was a factor the court could take into account in assessing reasonableness:

Section 7 does not specifically require prior consultation for allowable expenses; the test rather is that the expense must be reasonable and necessary.  Section 7(1) of the CSGs says “the court may … provide for an amount”.  The relief, as such, is discretionary.  It follows that a failure or refusal by a claiming parent to discuss the expense with the other parent in advance could bear on the court’s exercise of its discretion in determining whether the expense is reasonable or, for that matter, whether it is necessary.

In the end, the court essentially allowed for the MMA expense to be shared in the overall support calculations, but admonished the wife that she could have those kinds of costs denied in the future simply because she failed to consult with the father beforehand.  The court said:

I encourage the parties and in particular the wife to have these discussions in advance, and simply caution both parties that how they approach future expenditures could impact whether they would be allowed by the court if contested.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Newstead v. Hachey

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

Changes to Divorce Act Recommended

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Changes to Divorce Act Recommended

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA), which is the largest professional, nation-wide association for lawyers in Canada, has recently recommended updates to the federal Divorce Act. Put forward by the CBA’s Family Law Section, these suggested changes are aimed at reflecting new realities related to modern-day parenting.
The proposed changes relate to three topics:

• Relocation – Although the test for a court ordering a child to be relocated hinges on the “best interests” of that child, courts are given little guidance on how to apply that test in specific cases. The proposed legislative changes would improve clarity and consistency.

• Child Support in shared parenting situations – The suggested amendments call for the legislation to include a formula for determining child support in shared parenting situations. Currently, the proper approach for courts to apply is complex.

• Updating Divorce Act terminology – The CBA’s proposed changes would see both the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the Divorce Act get updated so that terms such as “custody”, “access” and “best interests of the child” are modernized and replaced with more progressive terms. In particular, the clarity and meaning of the latter term would benefit from incorporating specified factors such as the impact of the child’s cultural, linguistic or spiritual upbringing, as well as the question of whether there is domestic violence in his or her home life.
If for no other reason, from a sheer temporal standpoint this kind of “freshening up” of the Divorce Act is long overdue, since it’s provisions have not been significantly amended for 30 years.

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 You are Divorced in a Foreign Country, Can a Canadian Court Make Orders Too?

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If You are Divorced in a Foreign Country, Can a Canadian Court Make Orders Too?

The facts in Cheng v. Liu are a little unusual, but the core question was this:

If a couple’s divorce is validly granted outside of Canada by a foreign court, does this preclude a Canadian court from later making any corollary orders – such as rulings on issues of support or custody – arising from that same divorce?

The husband, an engineer, was a Canadian citizen who lived in Canada.  The wife lived in China and had never been to Canada.  They got married in China in 2006 and had a daughter who lived with the wife in China her entire life.  They separated about a year after getting married, in around late 2007 or early 2008.

The wife then covered all the legal bases:  She applied in China for a divorce, and custody of their child.  She also applied in Canadian, under the federal Divorce Act, to ask for a divorce, as well as spousal support, child support, and custody.  Finally, also in Canada under the Ontario Family Law Act, she asked for equalization of net family property.

Meanwhile, the Chinese court granted the wife her divorce and awarded her sole custody of the child.  The wife’s other Ontario-based claims were still pending.

The husband, faced with all of these competing actions requiring his response, asked the Ontario court to suspend (or “stay”) the proceedings so that the entire matter could be determined in China.  This led to several rulings and some procedural wrangling, and ultimately a hearing before the Ontario Court of Appeal for its determination.

Against this complicated background the Ontario Court of Appeal had a simple question to consider:  In light of the Chinese divorce order, could a Canadian court make additional orders relating to child support, spousal support, and equalization of property?

The Court’s conclusion was mixed:  The divorce-related issues were closed for consideration, but the child support issues were still up for an Ontario Family court to rule on.

On the first point – and based on longstanding precedent that considered the provisions of the federal Divorce Act – the law states that once the foreign Chinese court had made a valid divorce order, this removes the authority of the Ontario court to hear and determine corollary matters.  So on the remaining divorce-related issues, the Ontario court had no authority.

However, the situation under the provincial Family Law Act was different:  the Ontario court could still rule on questions relating to child support, since the foreign court in China had not already done so in its divorce order.   The Family Law Act allowed child support claims to be made even after a divorce, and the foreign divorce order had no impact on that.  Indeed, the whole purpose for the Ontario legislation was to ensure that parents provide financial support for their dependent children.  Allowing the Ontario court to continuing to make orders under the Family Law Act even though the Divorce Act provisions had been trumped was actually a harmonious outcome to ensure child support would be covered.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Cheng v. Liu

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

 

Thinking of Doing Some Cyber-Sleuthing? Think Again

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Thinking of Doing Some Cyber-Sleuthing? Think Again

I wrote a recent Blog about the admissibility of surreptitiously-recorded telephone conversations in Family law proceedings.  I have also written several times on how courts approach the admission of Facebook evidence.

Particularly in nasty divorce and custody disputes, it is likely that courts will have to grapple with these kinds of issues regularly, given how easy its become for spouses to try to secretly gather evidence against each other, using a Smartphone, keystroke logger, spyware, etc.

But for the average embattled spouse locked in bitter litigation, how effective is this as an evidence-gathering mechanism for use in Family court?

The answer:  Not very.

Under Canadian law, secretly-gathered computer data, emails, internet history, video, audio and similar evidence is generally not admissible in routine Family law hearings, except in unusual circumstances and only after a court has held a separate mini-hearing, called a voir dire, on the specific issue.  Overall, the odds are not very good that such evidence will be admitted.

Case in point:  In a called T. (T.) v. J.(T.) the court considered a situation where the husband had hacked into his wife’s private email, using the password she had allowed him to have when the marriage was in happier times.   The emails disclosed what was, in the court’s words, “an arguably disturbing exchange between [the wife] and her lawyer, which could be interpreted as evidencing some potential risk or threat to his safety.”  Still, the court found the husband’s email hacking was not only unjustified, it was a clear violation of the wife’s privacy rights.  The court also concluded that the email evidence irrelevant and inadmissible.

Similarly, in a decision in U. (A.J.) v. U. (G.S.) the court considered whether to admit evidence that the husband had collected through the use of spyware he had illegally installed on his former wife’s laptop.  The evidence showed the wife’s activities on internet chat rooms, and established that she had engaged in extra-marital sex.  The court examined the issue in the context of the couple’s dispute over custody and access issues, ultimately concluding that the affair and the online activity was out-of-character for the wife, and was not reflective of her ability to parent the children of the marriage.  The court added that it would be “a rare case” that illegally-obtained evidence should be admitted, and only after the trial judge holds a hearing to determine its admissibility.  The burden was always on the party seeking to enter such evidence to establish “a compelling reason to do so.”

For the full text of the decisions, see:

(A.J.) v. U. (G.S.)

(T.) v. J. (T.)

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

Can You Go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support?

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

Can Grandparents be Sued for Child Support?

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Can Grandparents be Sued for Child Support?

As was reported in the news media recently, two Ontario grandparents have been sued for child support for their granddaughter.

Their upcoming court hearing will determine whether they are obliged to pay $760 a month to the mother of their 10-year-old granddaughter, as well as $47,000 that has accrued since 2013 when their son (who is the father of the girl), died in an accident.

The grandparents resist the mother’s claim for child support, pointing out that – while they may love and care for her as grandparents do – they have no legal obligation to financially support the young girl.

The case is unusual from a legal standpoint, because the grandparents in that case do not have custody of the child, nor do they even live with her. (They do enjoy access time with her every other weekend; the mother will be asking the court to suspend this access if they do not pay the support requested).

In the few previous Canadian cases where support obligations have been imposed on grandparents, there are extenuating circumstances that make the outcome much more understandable and arguably reasonable.

For example, in an Alberta case called Snow v. Snow, the grandparents had taken in their granddaughter when she was 6 years old, after their daughter moved to California and left the girl with them.  When the grandparents separated from each other a few years later, the girl remained with the grandmother who applied for child support from the grandfather.  She claimed he was “in loco parentis”, which is the legal terms that means “standing in the place of a parent”.  The grandfather, in turn, applied for support contributions from the biological parents.

The court ultimately found that the grandfather was indeed in loco parentis:  he had assumed a parental relationship with the child for over 10 years, and had acknowledged treating her like his own daughter.

He was ordered to pay retroactive support of almost $40,000, but was not obliged to pay ongoing child support.    (And for the record, the biological parents of the girl were also ordered to pay both ongoing and retroactive support, with all payments being made directly to the grandmother, who still had custody of the child).

In the Snow case, the grandparents’ obligation to pay child support was driven by the fact that the court found them to be legally standing in the shoes of the child’s parents.  Returning to the Ontario case that is about to be heard, the situation appears to be somewhat different: The child is in the custody of and is being cared for by her biological mother, who is essentially seeking to have the grandparents ordered to make a financial contribution to the cost of the child’s care.

I will be curious to see the outcome of the Ontario case. What are your thoughts?  Should grandparents be forced to pay child support in this kind of circumstance?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Snow v. Snow

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