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Separated and Blended Families at Holiday Time – Top 5 Tips

 brady bunch

Martha, Martha, Martha …. Separated and Blended Families at Holiday Time – Top 5 Tips

Holidays are about family time, which can come with its own special challenges. But for many blended Canadian families, or those with newly-separated or divorced parents, those challenges can be even greater.

Here are the top 5 tips for making the holiday season as smooth as possible:

1) Stick to the schedule.

Naturally the holiday season brings out the desire to maximize togetherness and carry on with family traditions. But If custody or access during the holidays has been determined by agreement or by court order, then it’s important to stick to it. There is no need to mar the holidays by sparking arguments or needless acrimony over how and with whom the children spend their time.

2) Keep up the communication.

Once the already-busy holiday season is in full swing, it’s easy for things to get lost in the shuffle. Good communication between parents and step-parents is nonetheless essential if children are to be transitioned smoothly from one parent’s home to the other. Particularly where there are important family events, visits and trips to be accommodated, it’s vital for parents to keep in contact to make sure there are no mix-ups.

3) Be flexible.

Blended families are made up of many different people whose interests may have to be considered: these include parents, step-parents, children, and often several sets of grandparents. Newly-separated and divorced parents may still be getting used to having limitations on their access and parenting rights. In addition to numerous (and sometimes conflicting) individual expectations, there may also be traditions that family members will insist upon upholding. Flexibility is key. It may be necessary to spread out the visits and gift-exchanges and traditional dinners over a week rather than cram them into a few days. What better way to optimize the goodwill, good cheer and love that abounds between family members and friends?

4) Acknowledge your child’s wishes and feelings.

Although negotiated custody and access agreements or court orders may preclude more concrete changes to scheduling, it is important to recognize that children may have their own wishes and feelings around what happens and who they spend time with during the holiday season. Wherever possible, try to take these into account when making your plans.

5) Create new traditions if possible.

If your family configuration has changed – either due to separation or divorce or because you and your children are now part of a blended family – it’s important to at least consider changing your family traditions, too. Not only is it often too difficult to maintain old traditions with so many competing demands on your children’s time, it is also a good way to signal positive change while still fostering existing bonds.

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 www.RussellAlexander.com.

Do You Have to Support Your Step-Children?

 

 Do You Have to Support Your Step-Children?

The dissolution of a marriage is complicated enough in the best of times, but in this era of “blended families,” the fallout from the end of a second (or subsequent) marriage can be even more complicated when there are step-children involved.   A common question is whether a spouse has any obligation to support any stepchildren that were brought into the relationship/family unit by the other parent.

The short answer is:  “it depends.”

The federal Divorce Act requires spouses to pay support for any “children of the marriage.”    That term is further expressly defined by the Act to include “any child for whom they both stand in the place of parents” as well as “any child of whom one is the parent and for whom the other stands in the place of a parent.” This means that a person who meets the test for “standing in the place of a parent” can be liable for support, even though he or she has no biological connection to the child.

Naturally, the question of whether a spouse meets this test vis-à-vis the other spouse’s child will depend on the facts.   Furthermore, those facts can give rise to some surprising results:  for example in Ontario, a spouse who has not cohabited with the parent of his or her step-children long enough to pay spousal support can still be liable for support for the step-children if found to “stand in the place of” their parent.

Over the years, Canadian courts have had to address some interesting scenarios involving child support for step-children.  For example:

  • In 1999 the Supreme Court of Canada in a case called Chartier v. Chartier determined that a spouse’s attempt to terminate the relationship with a step-child does not necessarily absolve him or her from paying child support, if the relevant test for “standing in the place of a parent” is otherwise met.
     
  • In Lambton v. Lambton, the husband was ordered to pay child support in the lump-sum amount of $20,000 in connection with his step-son, despite the fact that the husband had had no contact with the boy since his separation with the mother.   The court rationalized that if the husband and the boy’s mother had divorced, the husband would probably have made a contribution towards his post-secondary education.
     
  • In Brown v. Laurin, the two children had gone to live with their natural father; still, the step-father was ordered to pay child support in relation to their care.
  • In contrast, in Apthorp v. Shearing the husband’s obligation to support his 19-year old step-daughter was terminated when she went to live with her biological father for 18 months after the husband and the girls’ mother separated.   The girl had entirely rejected the husband; moreover an earlier court order had stipulated that the husband’s support obligation would end if the step-daughter stopped living with her mother.

As these cases illustrate, different factual circumstances can give rise to different outcomes.  It is therefore important to get quality legal advice in these kinds of cases.

For the full text of the cited decisions, see:

 Chartier v. Chartier, [1999] 1 S.C.R. 242  http://scc.lexum.org/en/1999/1999scr1-242/1999scr1-242.html

Brown v. Laurin, [2004] O.J. No. 5233 (S.C.J.) 

Lambton v. Lambton (2004), 2004 CarswellBC 2606 (B.C. S.C.); additional reasons at (2004), 2004 CarswellOnt 3062 (B.C. S.C.)

Apthorp v. Shearing, 1998 CanLII 14894 (ON SC), (1998) 42 R.F.L. (4th) 287 (S.C.J.)  http://canlii.ca/t/1wb6z

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  www.RussellAlexander.com.

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