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Tick, Tock: What’s the Legal Deadline for Trying to Set Aside a Separation Agreement?

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Tick, Tock: What’s the Legal Deadline for Trying to Set Aside a Separation Agreement?

In a recent case called F.K. v. E.A. the court was asked to rule on a novel question: If a spouse wants a court order setting aside his or her signed separation agreement as invalid, what is the deadline for applying? And when does it begin to run?

The couple began their relationship in 2000, and the husband proposed in 2004. The wedding itself was hastily-planned over a period of less then 30 days, and took place in June of 2005. Against that background, the couple entered into what they called a “Prenuptial Agreement” based on a template that the wife found on the internet. It was witnessed by a mutual friend. In it, the couple agreed that each of them:

1) Waived the right to claim spousal support from each other, and

2) Would remain separate as to property, and not be subject to an equalization of Net Family Property.

The Agreement also purported to confirm in writing two events that did NOT actually happen, namely:

1) That the parties had provided fair and reasonable financial disclosure to each other before signing, and

2) That both of them retained their own lawyer and received independent legal advice.

The wife later explained that they did not bother “going through the motions” to fulfil these two duties because the Agreement was wholly uncontentious: Both before and after the wedding they had conducted themselves with financial independence; the Agreement merely confirmed and documented that agreed status.

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Unfortunately, the spouses split in October of 2012, after 7 years of marriage. The wife gave the husband $1,600 to help with first and last months’ rent, but made it clear he could expect nothing further from her.

He then went to a lawyer to discuss his legal options, and explained the lack of legal advice and financial disclosure in particular. Although his lawyer advised that the Agreement was “not worth the paper it was written on”, the husband took no concrete steps at that time.

A full five years later, in 2017, he applied to the court to have the Agreement set aside. In addition to its other shortcomings impacting validity, he claimed it was signed after the wife issued an ultimatum; this left him feeling rushed and in a state of duress, he said.

The wife countered by stating the husband was simply out of time to have the Agreement set aside. She said this type of claim was subject to a two-year limitation period set by provincial legislation, and that the husband had failed to take any steps with the court within that deadline. She asked the court to grant her summary judgment.

The court addressed the various legal arguments. First, it concluded that husband’s bid to set the Agreement aside was indeed tantamount to a legal “claim”, and was theoretically subject to the general two-year deadline. The more pressing question, however, was precisely when the clock on that two-year period began to run.

In law, this “discoverability” threshold was the point at which the husband knew or ought to have known that:

1) He had suffered some loss, and

2) A legal proceeding was the appropriate method for trying to redress it.

In this case, that point was back in 2012, when the husband first attended his lawyer’s office post-separation.

At that point, he knew there was some potential legal issue with the validity of the Agreement and the circumstances in which it was signed, based on the advice from his lawyer. He also knew he could expect “nothing further” from the wife after separation, beyond the $1,600 in rent money, and that all other financial issues were off-the-table. So he knew in 2012 that he was facing a potential loss, and he knew that a legal claim would be the only way to potentially recover it.

Since it was now 7 years past that discoverability point, the husband was too late to bring his claim to set the Agreement aside.

As a last-ditch argument, the husband had also asked for special forbearance in the circumstances: The law should not be applied to him, since his case was the first time in all the Ontario jurisprudence where a claim to set aside a marriage contract was being foreclosed by the two-year deadline.

But the court rejected this argument too. The husband’s error or ignorance about the limitation period did not stop it from running, it said. All citizens are presumed to know the “law of the land”, and it applied equally to his situation even if the husband’s thwarted claim was the “test case”.

Since the husband was out of time to bring his claim, there was no genuine issue for trial. The court granted the wife’s application for summary judgment.

For the full text of the decision, see:

F.K. v. E.A., 2019 ONSC 3707 (CanLII),

How To: Make a Valid Separation Agreement

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

Family Law Now Podcast – Episode 1: Top 10 Things You Should Know About Child Support

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Episode Info
On this episode, hosted by Russell Alexander with special guest Michelle Mulchan, two family lawyers discuss everything from the basics to the complexities of child support. Tune in to Family Law Now to learn more!

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Wednesday’s Video Clip: Litigation vs Collaborative Practice

Wednesday’s Video Clip: Litigation vs Collaborative Practice

What is the difference between a litigation file and a collaborative practice file?

Usually the clients find the result much more satisfactory from a cp file, as appose to having a result imposed upon them by the court in a litigation file.

What is litigation?

Litigation is a typical traditional court file. There are two lawyers involved. The parties usually take an adversarial position that involves positional bargaining. This usually involves a contested court proceeding. This results in a negotiated agreement.

What if the parties of a litigation file cannot come to an agreement?

If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the court imposes a result on both parties.

What is collaborative practice?

In a collaborative practice file, we focus on goals and interests of both parties. Again, both parties have lawyers. It is considered a respectful and peaceful process where communication should be appropriate at all times. The parties will have communication guidelines.

A collaborative practice file is likely to involve a full team. This often includes a neutral family professional and a neutral financial professional. Other professionals can also join the team as needed including business valuators and/or corporate or tax specialists.

Not only do the parties agree not to go to court, but the lawyers must agree that they’re not going to go to court; They also agree not to take advantage of each other’s mistakes.

An important part in the collaborative process is that there will be full and complete disclosure. Fairness is subjective. The goal is to come up with an acceptable result for both parties that satisfies goals and interests.

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.

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

What is the Resolution Evolution – the Path to Peace?

What is the Resolution Evolution – the Path to Peace?

The Resolution Evolution – the Path to Peace is an OCLF/OAFM Conference and your opportunity to take advantage of world-class training close to home, to meet and network with other collaborative professionals, and to socialize with our professional colleagues.

The conference will run May 2, 3 & 4, 2019 at the Brookstreet Hotel, Ottawa, Ontario.

To register or learn more, click here.

Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers’ First Annual Holiday Toy Drive

Poster for Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers' Toy Drive

 

Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers are pleased to announce the start of their First Annual Holiday Toy Drive. This year the drive will be supporting Bethesda House located in the Durham Region and A Place Called Home located in The City of Kawartha Lakes.

New, unwrapped gift donations can be made in the Brooklin office for the Bethesda House. They have informed us of the lack of gifts for children 13-17 years of age. Some gift suggestions for them include:

  • Sports equipment
  • Art supplies
  • Games
  • Movie passes and gift cards
  • Purses and backpacks
  • Make-up, lotion, perfume
  • Hats and scarves

The Lindsay office is accepting new, unwrapped gifts to be donated for A Place Called Home. There is no recommended age for donations for this organization.

If you wish to donate to the toy drive this year, it will be running from November 1, 2018 through to December 7, 2018. You may drop by with your donation in the Brooklin or Lindsay office any time between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on Monday to Friday. For further details, feel free to give our office a call at 905-655-6335.

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

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