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What Does A Lawyer Do?

Street Answers: What Does A Lawyer Do?

Let’s ask a lawyer! It sounds like an easy question, do you know the answer?

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

New! Expanded EI Parental Leave

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New! Expanded EI Parental Leave

The Canadian federal government has announced recently that it is changing the rules relating to parental leave under the Employment Insurance program.  After the birth of a child, a parent can now spread up to 12 months of his or her EI benefits over an 18-month period. The total value of the benefits to which a parent is entitled does not change, so the benefits for that 18-month period are paid at a lower rate.

In other words, from a dollar standpoint this means that a parent who would normally receive $543 per week over 12 months can now receive $326 per week over 18 months.

The changes take effect on or after December 3, 2017 for federally-regulated employees (e.g. employees in banking, transportation, telecommunications, the federal public service, etc.); the corresponding amendments that apply to provincial workers are not yet in force, so employees in that sector may have to wait until they are eligible to actually have the extra time off work.  (The Ontario government has committed to bringing in analogous amendments, however).

The intent is to give families more flexibility around arranging for family responsibilities, and these changes are being implemented in tandem with changes to family caregiver and maternity benefits.

See also the CBC News report on these changes.

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

 

 

Court Upholds Separation Agreement as Being “In Substantial Compliance” with the Law

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Court Upholds Separation Agreement as Being “In Substantial Compliance” with the Law

Do you have a two-decades-old separation agreement that you are trying to have overturned?  Then the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Smith v. Smith might be of interest to you.

The facts were these:  Before getting married, and just as they were about to move in together, the husband and wife signed a cohabitation agreement, in which the wife gave up any claim to spousal support.   The husband had previously had a prior relationship end badly, and was eager not to have history repeat itself.

When they split 18 years (and two kids) later, the wife claimed spousal support nonetheless, but the trial judge upheld the terms of the separation agreement and dismissed her claim.

She brought an appeal, claiming that the trial judge had erred.  She wanted the agreement to release her spousal support overturned, since she claimed it did not conform to the provisions of the federal Divorce Act – whether viewed from the time it was signed, or now.

The Appeal Court took a closer look at the situation, including the wife’s assertion that the trial judge had overlooked certain facts, such as:

  • The alleged power imbalance between her and the husband;
  • The lack of any discussion about spousal support; and
  • The fact that she had no independent legal advice when she signed the agreement (though she admitted having the chance to obtain it at the time).

The Appeal Court rejected these arguments.  It pointed out that when tasked with reviewing a separation agreement purporting to release spousal support, a court’s job involved two steps:  to first consider the circumstances at the time it was reached, and then to look at the substance to see whether it complied at the time with the federal Divorce Act.

During the first step, the court pointed to specific findings of fact that the trial judge had made, namely:

  • The wife knew the husband wanted a cohabitation agreement, and they had discussed it before she received the draft prepared by his lawyer.
  • She skimmed the agreement, read some parts, and did not read others.
  • She had a full six weeks to obtain independent legal advice, but – by her own admission – chose not to do so.
  • At the time she signed the agreement, she though it was fair. There was no fraud, coercion, or duress.

As for the second step, the Court found the agreement to be in “substantial compliance” with the Divorce Act. More importantly, in light of all the circumstances including the economic disadvantages suffered by each spouse because of their 18-year marriage, the wife would not be entitled to spousal support even if the separation agreement did not exist.

The Court affirmed the trial judge’s conclusions, dismissed the appeal, and confirmed the validity of the agreement.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Smith v. Smith

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

Religious School’s Barring Child of Same-Sex Couple Not a Breach of Human Rights

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Religious School’s Barring Child of Same-Sex Couple Not a Breach of Human Rights

In a perhaps-surprising decision of an adjudicator of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, a Christian evangelical school that refused to admit the adopted son of a married same-sex couple was held not to have breached the anti-discrimination provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”).

The private school had justified barring the child from its preschool program on the basis that it had a long-established biblical stance against same-sex marriage, and that to allow the child to attend would clash with the school’s teaching and values.

Faced with the school’s rejection of their application, the couple brought a complaint under the Code for discrimination based on sex, creed, marital status and family status.

The adjudicator ruled that the school’s decision fell within a narrow “special interest” exception found in s. 18 of the Code.   That exception essentially permitted the school to discriminate in providing services where “membership or participation in a religious … organization that is primarily engaged in serving the interests of persons identified by a prohibited ground of discrimination is restricted to persons who are similarly identified.”  In other words, the school was not in breach of the Code if it could prove that it was effectively restricting participation in the school’s program to only those who were part of the religious group that it was designed to serve, even if that restriction was otherwise discriminatory.

The adjudicator concluded that the evangelical school fell within the definition of a “special interest” organization, and had not breached the Code-enforced right to equal treatment of services.  As the adjudicator stated:

The school has a well-defined and specific set of creedal beliefs, mission statement and mandate. The respondent [school’s] evidence was clear that the school requires all parents to share these values if they are considering the school for their family.

The adjudicator added that the parents chose to apply to the school precisely because of the opportunity to immerse the child in a Christian religious educational environment. The adjudicator added:

While I empathize with the parents’ feelings of unfairness that their child would not be admitted, the respondent [school] made no secret of its beliefs and was upfront that it may not be the right fit for every family.

Does this ruling come as a surprise?  What are your thoughts?

For the full-text of the decision, see:

H.S. v. The Private Academy

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• suspending their driver’s licences

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

• canceling their passports.

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

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

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at  RussellAlexander.com

Untangling Financial Information – By Guesswork and Extrapolation

Untangling Financial Information – By Guesswork and Extrapolation

Although it’s a relatively short little ruling, the decision in Yahya v. Omar gives a glimpse of the type of judicial guesswork that goes into determining a separated couple’s income and earning capacity for the purposes of determining their respective spousal and child support obligations to each other.

The parents lived together common-law for over 15 years, and had three children together.  The judge who ruled on an earlier motion for interim financial relief had held that the father’s income was about $56,000, even though this was a higher figure than he reported on Line 150 of his income tax return.  The judge made a temporary order for the father to pay child and spousal support accordingly.

The parents appeared in succession before four more judges who made orders dealing with various issues, including how the proceeds of the sale of their condominium were to be dealt with, how payment of child support was to be made out of those proceeds, and various other orders. In each case the financial disclosure provided by the parties was less than fulsome.

The father then brought a new motion for an order that the initial child support order was improperly made, because it should be based on his actual income, rather than what the original judge had declared. He claimed that at the time of separation he operated a taxi cab business, and for the past few years his income had been in the range of about $40,000 gross, and under $15,000 net per year.  The father said that although that information had been available to the initial motion judge – and the judge acknowledged that the support might change depending on further disclosure – the judge had improperly relied on the income on his financial statement, which showed about $51,500.

Moreover, the father stated that he had actually been unwell and unable to work for a few months, and that he had surrendered his taxi and was now driving for UBER.   Based on pro rata extrapolation, the father said his income would about $30,000 per year.  He asked that his child support be reduced accordingly.

In contrast, the mother claimed that the father’s income should be set at least $43,000, but ideally it should be set at $90,000 based on both the lifestyle he was apparently living.

In addition to refuting the mother’s figures, the father claimed that she should be looking for work in order to contribute to her own support. But the mother refuted this, claiming that she had a health condition that prevented her from working.  Her only backing for this diagnosis was a one-line letter from a doctor.

The court considered these submissions by both parties.  Starting with the father’s income, it found that the family’s lifestyle certainly showed they were living well beyond the amounts shown in his recent income tax returns, but this did not mean his income should be set at $90,000.  In fact, the court noted the father was “living with various family members and friends”, although he gave no additional financial details around those arrangements.

With no further clarity as to his income, the court concluded that the initial temporary order would have to stand until trial, unless the father could provide further disclosure that warranted a change to it.

As for the mother’s claim to be unable to work:  The court firstly returned the doctor’s letter to the mother, because it had not been properly tendered in evidence, then added that she needed to provide proper disclosure if she wanted to support her claim and settle the outstanding financial issues.  Respecting the level of proof needed for her ostensible medical diagnosis, the court diplomatically added:

If it consists of a single sentence from a family doctor, it will not suffice in which case she should consider investigating employment.

To the extent that it could with the information available, the court made several orders to resolve some of the issues relating to the treatment of the proceeds of sale, and certain arrangements respecting the payment of support.  It added that the next step “must be an informed and productive settlement conference,” which the court emphasized would require each party to file financial statements, as well as net family property statements.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Yahya v. Omar

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

Wednesday’s Video Clip: The Difference Between Separation and Divorce in Ontario

Wednesday’s Video Clip: The Difference Between Separation and Divorce in Ontario

A separation occurs when one or both spouses decide to live apart with the intention of not living together again. Once you are separated, you may need to discuss custody, access and child support with your spouse. You may also need to work out issues dealing with spousal support and property. You can resolve these issues in different ways:

• You can negotiate a separation agreement. A separation agreement is a legal document signed by both spouses which details the arrangements on which you have agreed. In some jurisdictions, independent legal advice is required to make the document legally binding.

• You can make an application to the court to set up custody, access, support and property arrangements under the provincial or territorial laws that apply to you.

• You can come to an informal agreement with your spouse. However, if one party decides not to honour the agreement, you will have no legal protection.

To legally end your marriage, you need a divorce, which is an order signed by a judge under the federal law called the Divorce Act.

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

 

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers

Our fees are based on the following elements:

(a) The time spent on your behalf, and the service which is performed;

(b) The complexities of the issues, and your potential emotional and monetary exposure;

(c) The results accomplished, and the extent to which the expertise of this firm contributed to a successful outcome;

(d) The degree and type of resistance encountered; and,

(e) The extent to which any work needs to be performed on an emergency basis.

None of these elements are capable of a precise arithmetic assessment, and no such assessment is attempted, except in a general way with respect to the time spent. A standard hourly rate, is applied to convert the time into a monetary figure. Any amount that exceeds the number of hours multiplied by the standard rates is the result of the weighing of the other elements mentioned.

We charge standard hourly rates for the work done by our law clerks and lawyers for the time spent on your case. Records are kept (in our computer time-keeping system) by us to the nearest one tenth of an hour, for all activity on your case, including conferences, telephone calls, e-mail, preparing correspondence and memoranda, drafting documents, research and travel time. Each hour billed to you is based on actual work done on your particular case.

Our absence from the office on your behalf is charged at the usual hourly rate. Travel time includes attending at court, settlement conferences, meetings, or consultations on your behalf. We will minimize travel expenses and courthouse time, if any, whenever possible. However, as you will be charged for our traveling time (in addition to the counsel fee), it may be worthwhile to consider whether a local lawyer is desirable for you if your litigation is taking place in another community.

If your appointment is for a consultation only, in order for you to receive advice on a limited number of issues, or, for example, for a second opinion, you will be billed a flat rate consultation fee, payable prior to the consultation. The consultation is not meant to deal with your whole legal problem. These rates are reduced rates, and apply only if the fee is paid at the time of the consultation. The rates are calculated on the basis of the average amount of time spent by our lawyers on consultations in the most recent year.

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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