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Divorce Act Changes:  Cutting Out the “Winners” and “Losers”

Divorce Act Changes:  Cutting Out the “Winners” and “Losers”

In a recent Blog we talked about an Ontario Court of Appeal case called M. v. F.,  where Justice Benotto made some observations about the “win/lose” mentality of provincial child custody laws.  Specifically, she noted that:

“For over twenty years, multi-disciplinary professionals have been urging the courts to move away from the highly charged terminology of “custody” and “access.” These words denote that there are winners and losers when it comes to children. They promote an adversarial approach to parenting and do little to benefit the child. The danger of this “winner/loser syndrome” in child custody battles has long been recognized.”

That call-to-arms by Justice Benotto has finally been heeded by the federal government, in the form of upcoming changes to the Divorce Act. Those amendments, which are found in Bill C-78 but are not yet in force, have an unwieldy title:  “An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act”.

Although these Bill C-78 amendments implement a broad and ambitious range of changes to existing Family legislation, one of the more important ones is to replace the terms “custody” and “access” in the Divorce Act with more neutral terms like “parenting orders” and “contact orders”, respectively.  These newer concepts also give courts an embedded opportunity to give specific directions as to the care of children.

That revised Divorce Act wording also acknowledges the fact that family law academics – and judges like Justice Benotto in the M. v. F. case – have long encouraged this tweak to the terminology.  It eliminates the “winner/loser syndrome” she spoke of, as well as the unproductive mindset that the current custody regime fosters.  By allowing courts to grant orders for “parenting” and “contact” instead, the level of parental conflict will be reduced, and by extension the best interests of children will be promoted.

As yet, there is no specific date announced for the implementation of the Divorce Act changes, but they are expected to be rolled out at some point in 2019.

Is this a promising development in the legislation around custody? Will it work in helping to reduce parental conflict, as hoped?  What are your thoughts?

For a copy of the legislative amendments to the Divorce Act, see here.

M v. F., 2015 

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

10 Things You Should Know About Ontario Child Support in 2019

One of our most popular articles 10 Things You Should Know About Child Support was published nearly ten years ago in 2010. We challenged ourselves to provide deeper information for each topic. Family law can be a very tricky terrain to navigate. Understanding one’s responsibilities with respect to child support raises a lot of questions for parents and guardians, which we hope to outline and answer here.

father and child hands

  1. What is Child Support?

All dependent children have a legal right to be financially supported by their parents. When parents live together with their children, they support the children together. Parents who do not live together often have an arrangement in which a child lives most of the time with one parent. That parent is said to have custody of the child.

This arrangement can be written in a separation agreement or court order (sometimes called legal custody), or may occur without a written agreement or court order (sometimes called “de facto” custody). Either way, the parent with custody has the main responsibility for the day-to-day care of the child and has most of the ordinary expenses of raising the child. The other parent should help with those expenses by paying money to the parent with custody. This is called child support.

Learn more about Child Support:

Common Questions About Child Support in Ontario

Child Support in Ontario: An Introduction to Child Custody

Introduction to Ontario Child Custody: How do Decisions Get Made

Child Support 101: The Details of Ontario Child Support

 

  1. Parents and Guardians

Parent or guardian can be the birth mother or father, an adoptive parent, or step-parent, who has been married to someone with children, or who has lived as a couple with someone with children, and who has shown an intention to treat those children as members of his or her own family.

Learn more about Parents and Family Law:

Ontario Custody and Access: Who is Entitled to the Child?

Ontario Child Custody: Who is Considered a Parent?

When a Non-Parent Wants Custody of a Child

 

  1. Who Pays Child Support

Child Support is the legal responsibility of parents or guardians to provide financial support for all dependent children. When there is an arrangement in which a child lives primarily with one of the parents or guardians they are assumed to have “custody” of that child and bear the day-to-day expenses of raising them; however, they may be entitled to receive child support from the other parent. This entitlement to child support may continue even if the custodial parent remarries or starts to live with someone else.

The amount of child support is usually set according to the Child Support Guidelines. More than one parent can have a legal duty to pay child support for the same child. For example, if a parent with custody of a child separates from their marriage or common-law spouse who is not the child’s birth parent, both the child’s other birth parent and the step-parent may have a legal duty to pay child support.

Learn more about the legal responsibility to pay child support:

Who Pays Child Support in Ontario?

Top Four Questions About the Children of Common-Law Relationships

Can an Ontario Support Agreement or Order be changed?

Business Owners Beware: Court Can Force Your Hand to Compel Appropriate Child Support

Can a Parent Replace Child Support…with Gifts?

 

  1. When to Apply for Child Support

Applying for child support is usually done right after separation or when applying for a divorce but can be applied for at any time thereafter. It is usually best to deal with these matters as early as possible and when sorting out the custody of the children. In the beginning, parents and guardians may feel they don’t want or need the support but as time goes on and the expense of raising children increases the need may arise at which time they can apply, even after divorce or settlement of matters arising from the separation have been dealt with. Under some circumstances the court has awarded custody and support while the parents or guardians are living separately under one roof but the court usually doesn’t make an order until one of the parents or guardians have physically moved out.

If the social and emotional relationship between the step-parent and child have disbanded for a lengthy period of time, it is less likely that the court would order the step-parent to pay child support.

Learn more about application:

• Video: When Can a Parent Apply for Child Support?

• Video: When do the Child Support Guidelines Apply?

 

  1. When Does Child Support End?

Child support must be paid if a child is still a dependant and they are under 18 years of age.  However, the following circumstances and criteria can terminate responsibility of child support:

  • the child has married;
  • they are 16 or older and have voluntarily left parental control;

There are situations where even if the child has turned 18 years of age they are still considered a dependant. For instance, any situation where the child is unable to support themselves due to any of the following:

  • they have a disability or illness;
  • they are attending school full-time;

In a situation where the child is 18 years of age or older and is living away from home because they are attending school, child support may have to be paid if the child’s primary residence is with the parent with custody. This circumstance usually requires child support to be paid until the child is 22 or receives a post-secondary degree or diploma.

In some of these situations, a judge can order the child support to continue past this point. If the judge decides child support must be paid past the age of 18, they will take into consideration how much the child has in earnings or income before determining the amount of child support to be paid.

Learn more about criteria for child support:

Does the Age of the Child Affect Child Support in Ontario?

What Happens if Kids Skip School?

How Long Does Child Support Continue in Ontario?

 

  1. What is a Child Support Agreement?

How the child support is paid and how much is paid, is determined with a Support Agreement. There are three different ways parents can obtain a Support Agreement such as:

  • In a situation where the parents can work together to form a Support Agreement, it is encouraged that they look at the Child Support Guidelines to find out the amount a judge would likely order. The paying parent will have to give complete and true information about their income. It is suggested that one parent should have a lawyer put the agreement in writing and that the other parent get a different lawyer to review it, before signing it. This way, both parents will know the agreement says what they intended it to say, while also protecting their rights and their children’s rights.
  • If the parents need help working out a Support Agreement then they can see a mediator who will help them come to an agreement they both can accept. The mediator is an unbiased party that does not offer legal advice. In this situation it is still recommended that the agreement is reviewed by both parent’s independent lawyers before signing, and filing with the court.
  • If the parents cannot agree on a Support Agreement then both parents should hire their own lawyer. The lawyers can then attempt to negotiate support terms that both parents can agree upon. If no agreement can be reached then they will go to court and ask a judge to determine support. The judge will then make a court order that states how much child support is required to be paid.

Learn more about paying for child support:

• Video: Ontario Child Support: How do you arrange for Support to be paid?

• Video: How Base Child Support is calculated

• Video: How are Child Payments Taxed?

 

  1. Access When Child Support is Not Paid

Even if child support is not paid, a parent should not keep the child from seeing their other parent. It is assumed that it is generally good for a child to have a relationship with both parents. Keeping the child from seeing their other parent is considered punishing the child and the law will not punish the child due to their parent failing to pay child support.

Parents who do not have custody are usually given “access” to the children so that they can spend time together and maintain their relationship. The only way access can be refused or limited, is if the parent’s behaviour is likely to cause harm to the child, or harm the child in anyway. The courts will not refuse access because the parent fails to pay child support, and the parent with custody should not refuse access for this reason either. There are ways to obtain child support from a non-paying parent without refusing access.

Learn more about Child Support and Access:

Can parents be kept from seeing their children if they do not pay their child support?

Child Support and Access Rights in Ontario

 

  1. Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

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.

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. 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.

Learn more about child support enforcement:

• Video: Enforcement of Child Support in Ontario

The Role and Power of FRO

 

  1. How Can FRO Collect Child Support?

The FRO (Family Responsibility Office) 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
  • cancelling 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.

Learn more about the FRO:

Top 5 Facts About the FRO

Top 5 Tips for Dealing with the Family Responsibility Office

 

  1. How to Reduce Child Support

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.

FRO can be contacted by calling 1-800-267-7263 or you can also visit their website.

Learn more about reducing child support:

Varying Child Support – How long is Too Long to Wait

Could Trucker Dad Avoid Child Support Due to Dizziness?


Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers has been providing answers and solutions to child support questions for over twenty years. If you need assistance determining whether you should be receiving child support for your child or collecting your support from the other parent, or if you believe that you should no longer be paying child support, we are here to help.

Top 5 Latin Terms You Should Know Before Going to Court


Latin terms are often used in the Court of law sans English translation or explanation. If the party to the ligation is not familiar with these terms, he/she may not fully understand what is going on in their own legal matter. These are the Top 5 Latin Terms You Should Know before attending your family law case in Court.

1. In loco parentis

“In the place of a parent”

This phrase is used to refer to a person or entity assuming the normal parental responsibilities for a minor child. It is often used in situations where there is a transfer of legal guardianship, or to refer to schools or other institutions that act in the place of the parents on a day-to-day basis.

 

2. Lex loci

“In the law of the place”

The term refers to the law of that particular country, state, or locality where the matter under litigation took place. It usually arises in connection with legal disputes that span multiple jurisdictions, for example where children have been removed from Canada by one parent and the issue arises as to which jurisdiction’s laws govern the situation (an area of law called “conflict of laws”).

 

3. Non est factum

“It is not my deed”

This term is more commonly used in contract law, but it can be applied in the context of separation agreements that have been reached between spouses or common law partners. It refers to an assertion by one signatory to a contract that the agreement is invalid on the basis that he or she signed unintentionally and without fully understanding its implications.

 

4. Parens Patriae

“Parent of the nation”

This term refers to the power of the State to act as parent to a child, in situations where the legal parents are unable or unwilling to do so. For example, when children are removed from their parents’ care in order to be cared for under the auspices of the Children’s Aid Society, such a step is achieved and authorized through the exercise of the Ontario government’s parens patriae authority.

 

5. Res judicata

“A matter judged”

A matter that is res judicata is one that has been adjudicated to the point of conclusion, meaning no further appeals or legal actions by the involved parties is permitted. For example, if divorcing parties have brought their claims for equalization of net family property to one court, and have had the matter heard and adjudged, then they cannot afterwards go judge-shopping to a different court for a different or better outcome on that particular aspect of their separation. Once their issues have all been heard (and leaving aside those legal matters that are eligible for applications to vary), the matter becomes res judicata.

 

Honorary Mention…

Inter vivos

“Between the living”

This term is used to refer to a gift or other non-sale transfer between living parties. For example, a gift by living parents to their children is called a gift inter vivos; this is distinct from a transfer made by Will, which takes effect upon the testator’s death.


This blog is an updated version of the original article published in 2012.

If you like this blog, you’ll probably like our instagram.

At Russell Alexander Collaborative 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

We Are Now Seeking an Associate Family Lawyer

Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers is growing and we are seeking an Associate Family Lawyer to join our team! We practice exclusively in all areas of family law at multiple office locations in Ontario. We provide the opportunity to work remotely up to three days a week.

Job Type: Full-time

Salary: $150,000.00 – $200,000.00

Required skills and knowledge:
• Qualified to practice law in Ontario;
• Minimum of 3 years experience in Family Law and litigation;
• Interest and/or Certification in Collaborative Practice;
• Ability to work independently and in a team-environment;
• Strong and effective analytical and problem-solving skills, and excellent writing skills;
• Ability to engage in effective oral advocacy;
• Excellent organizational and time management skills, including attention to detail, and an ability to multi-task;
• High level of professionalism and initiative.

Responsibilities:
• Drafting legal documents, including but not limited to, pleadings, motions, affidavits, financial statements and conference briefs;
• Upkeep on all current client files, as well as bringing in new clients
• Delegating work to law clerks, and working closely with law clerks on files;
• Attending court.

Applications will be kept confidential. Please submit resume and cover letter to reception@russellalexander.com

Long-Overdue Divorce Act Amendments Are Likely On the Horizon

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Long-Overdue Divorce Act Amendments Are Likely On the Horizon

Canadian law has not seen a substantive change to the federal Divorce Act in more than 30 years.  But with the mid-2018 introduction of Bill C-78 (which has the unwieldy title of “An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act”) that long-overdue revision and update is in sight.

Bill C-78, which is expected to be passed into law in 2019, is touted as having a long list of legal substantive and procedural objectives, including:

  • Simplifying certain processes, including those related to family support obligations;
  • Creating duties for parties and legal advisers to encourage the use of family dispute resolution processes (including negotiation, mediation, and collaborative law);
  • Introducing measures to assist the courts in addressing family violence; and
  • Establishing a framework for the relocation of a child.

Importantly, the Bill also proposes to give clarity to what is considered the “best interests of the child”, by establishing a non-exhaustive list of criteria.  It also strengthens the court’s ability to focus on a child’s best interest when crafting its orders, by mandating that the court consider the child’s own views and preferences in the context of his or her age and maturity (unless those views cannot be ascertained in the circumstances).  This is in keeping with existing court rulings on the point, and essentially imports the established principles into a more modern version of the statute.

Bill C-78 also injects two important concepts into the existing legislation:

  • That part of fostering the “best interests of the child” requires a court to consider each parent’s willingness to support the development and maintenance of the child’s relationship with the other parent; and
  • That grandparents, or other persons who play an important part in a child’s life, may be eligible to obtain a court order formally entitling them to have contact with the child.

Finally, the Bill updates terminology throughout the existing Divorce Act, so that references to “custody” and “access” are replaced with terminology related to “parenting” and “decision-making responsibility” instead.

In a nutshell, the changes proposed under Bill C-78 are designed to clarify and promote some well-established family law principles (especially those relating to children), and to make the family justice system more accessible and efficient.  Further updates on these pending changes will follow in future Blogs, as the Bill gets closer to being passed.

At Russell Alexander Collaborative 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

 

Collaborative Law Practice – Coming to More Ontario Law Firms Near You

Collaborative Law Practice – Coming to More Ontario Law Firms Near You

As the name of my firm says, here at Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers we practice what is known as “Collaborative Family Law”, which is a voluntary, contract-based Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process for those seeking to negotiate a resolution of their Family Law dispute, rather than having one imposed on them by a court or an arbitrator. In many ways, it’s similar to mediation, except that it usually does not involve the participation of a neutral third party to help the couple reach a resolution.

Although use of the Collaborative Law process is perhaps not as widespread in Ontario as in other North American jurisdictions, the release on October 27, 2016 of the Ontario Collaborative Law Federation’s “Draft Accreditation Standards” paves the way for an even broader presence in the province. These Accreditation Standards aim to bring consistency, professionalism and heightened standards of competence to practitioners of Collaborative Law (like my firm).

The Ontario Collaborative Law Federation currently represents 18 groups of specially-trained professionals across the province, and imposes rigorous standards for membership. (For example, in the case of Collaborative Legal Professionals, it requires the completion of at least 40 hours of collaborative training, including interest-based negotiation skills training and Collaborative Family Law skills training).

Moreover, all Collaborative lawyers are already licensed and regulated members of the legal profession, and in their role as advocates for their clients, are already duty-bound to adhere to certain professional standards imposed by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

But once approved, the Draft Accreditation Standards will provide an additional layer of obligation and competence for all professionals who participate in the Collaborative Law process.

Accreditation is voluntary, but those who will choose to obtain this designation will have to adhere to the Accreditation Standards’ mandatory requirements (once they are approved); however, those who opt not to apply for accreditation are not prohibited from engaging in Collaborative Law provided they adhere to the same requirements.

In other words, once they are in final form, the Accreditation Standards will effectively govern both those who choose to seek accreditation, and those who do not.

This will be a welcome addition to the Collaborative Law field, and by extension a good development for Family Law litigants in Ontario. In the U.S., since the year 2010 there is already a Uniform Collaborative Law Rules and Act, which among other things standardizes the most important features of Collaborative Law participation agreements between the parties, and requires Collaborative lawyers to take certain steps and make certain inquiries of their clients.

In Canada, the use of Collaborative Law has perhaps been somewhat piecemeal in nature, but it’s growing. The Alberta Family Law Act (in section 5), the British Columbia Family Law Act (in section 8), and Saskatchewan Family Property Act (in section 44.1), each require lawyers who act on behalf of a spouse to inform him or her of the Collaborative Law service that might help resolve their matters. The legislative counterpart in Ontario (i.e. the Family Law Act) does not contain such a requirement, but it’s likely on the horizon soon.

At Russell Alexander Collaborative 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

Ontario Child Custody, Who is Considered a Parent? – video


Wednesday’s Video Clip: Ontario Child Custody and Who is Considered a Parent?

When it relates to family law, a parent can be the birth mother or father, an adoptive parent, or a step-parent.

In this video we review who is considered a parent for the purpose of child support, along with the role of step parents.

Husband Continues to Live in Home After Split – Should He Pay Occupation Rent to the Wife?

transfer

Husband Continues to Live in Home After Split – Should He Pay Occupation Rent to the Wife?

The couple, who had married in 1973, separated almost 40 years later. During the marriage the husband had worked at a local mill and mine, while the wife had a traditional role and stayed home to raise their children.

They owned the matrimonial home jointly, and the husband continued to live in it after they split.

The wife applied to the court for an order that the matrimonial home should be listed for sale; she also asked the court to order the husband to pay her occupation rent, pending the eventual sale.

After considering the various factors, the court granted part of her request forcing the home to be listed – even though the home was located in a small mill town where the mill had closed, there was still a market for real estate in the area and the home was to be listed at a mutually-agreed price after consulting with a realtor.

However, the court declined to order the husband to pay occupation rent. Pointing out that its ability to make such an order was fully at its discretion, the court still had to balance the various relevant factors to determine whether ordering occupation rent was reasonable in all the circumstances. It concluded that at this stage, such an order would be premature.

This was because the current arrangement allowed the husband to live in the house inexpensively, so it did not make sense to force him out of the home in the winter when there was no one available to look after it. Instead, the court ordered that the house did not have to be put on the market until April, and the proceeds could be put into trust until the court made another order.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Charron v. Charron (2014), 2014 ONSC 496, 2014 CarswellOnt 694, J. deP. Wright J. (Ont. S.C.J.) [Ontario]  http://canlii.ca/t/g2s0h

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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