A fresh perspective on divorce, spousal support, child support, parenting after separation and everything family law

Divorce: poetry not appreciated…what about other forms of correspondence?

Twas the night before Christmas, in the Matrimonial Part…

A lawyer has recently gotten in some hot water for writing correspondence to opposing counsel, in the form of a Christmas poem.

In an e-mail to another lawyer, in a seemingly never ending divorce case, Mr. A. Todd Merolla of Atlanta, Georgia, wrote a 15 stanza poem parodying “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

By way of example, two of the stanzas read:

 The Honorable One now passed, who will take the torch?

To rule on pending motions, some two years on the porch.

Justice delayed is Justice denied,

Will Article 78 inspire someone’s pride?

 

Win, lose, or draw, it’s not for a judge to care,

Simply rule and move on, why is that such a dare?

This 2003 case be a 59 month marriage, 9 year divorce,

$1.5 MM “temporary” maintenance to date, can Plaintiff get more? Why, of course!

Despite the creativity of the piece, it did not go over well with the recipient.  As reported by Staci Zaretsky, of Above the Law:

Talk about good tidings for Christmas. But Merolla’s adversary, Kenneth Weinstein (who may or may not have had a heart that was two sizes too small), just wasn’t in the mood for a holiday-themed ribbing. Weinstein found the poem to be “outrageously offensive, utterly unprofessional [and] threatening.”

What is appropriate correspondence for legal counsel in British Columbia?

The Professional Conduct Handbook  sets out a lawyer’s responsibility to other lawyers including (but not limited to) the following provisions:

  • A lawyer’s conduct toward other lawyers should be characterized by courtesy and good faith.  Any ill feeling that may exist between clients or lawyers, particularly during litigation, should never be allowed to influence lawyers in their conduct and demeanour toward each other or the parties. Personal remarks or references between lawyers should be scrupulously avoided, as should quarrels between lawyers which cause delay and promote unseemly wrangling;
  • A lawyer must respond promptly to correspondence from other lawyers;
  • A lawyer should avoid all sharp practice and should take no paltry advantage when an opponent has made a slip or overlooked some technical matter. A lawyer should accede to reasonable requests which do not prejudice the rights of the client or the interests of justice;

In short, lawyers in British Columbia should not be sending, what I call “snot-o-grams”, to other lawyers, no matter how creatively drafted the correspondence is.

Instructing your lawyer to write a discourteous letter to your spouse/former spouse’s lawyer is asking them to act against their obligations set out in the Professional Conduct Handbook – and should be avoided.

Custody: dispute over dog costs $60,000.00 +

A puggle named Knuckles is the focus of a custody dispute that cost one of the parties, Mr. Craig Dershowitz, over $60,000.00 in legal fees. 

The Vancouver Sun reports that:

“A New York City man [Dershowitz] has spent more than $60,000 in lawyers’ fees trying to win custody of his dog after his ex-girlfriend took the pooch to California.”

There is no question that Knuckles is adorable:

Puggle

"$60,000.00 worth of cute?"

 Derschowitz’s website provides insight into the background leading up to this custody battle:

I needed a place to stay and while I found a new place, I asked her to take care of him. When I finally settled, I agreed to share custody. Knuckles was, in many ways, my everything and I knew she cared about him and needed his support too.

I tried my hardest to be fair and flexible. Every exchange took place either at her house or close by – meaning I would do the 5 hour drive both ways just to be with my boy. It didn’t matter. I got to be with Knux and that was all I cared about.

At one switch point, she asked me to promise, promise, promise I would bring him back and not “steal him away forever.” I was dumbfounded by what she meant but I agreed. Little did I know what she was planning.

Next thing I know, a week before I thought we were meeting, she was on the road to California with my baby boy.

 Mr. Dershowitz has also started fundraising on his website to raise money for ongoing legal fees – for a contribution of $250.00 you can “play fetch with Knuckles.”  (NOTE – there are websites soliciting donations in child custody cases.  I do not recommend this course of action).

As I posted earlier this year, the Provinicial Court of British Columbia has declined to make custody or access orders in regard to dogs.

 

Divorce: alienation of affection

I recently got a call from a wife who wanted to bring an alienation of affection lawsuit against her husband’s mistress.

Having done research on this topic a few years ago, I had to flip through my old files to refresh myself on the Canadian cases dealing with this cause of action (alienation of affection lawsuits do not come up very often).

What is alienation of affection?

Alienation of affection is, in non-legal terms, when someone ‘steals’ your partner away from you.

A situation that could give rise to such a claim, for example,  is when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie fell in love on the set of Mr. and Ms. Smith, while he was still married to Jennifer Aniston.

In legal terms, the tort of “alienation of affection” law “evolved from common law under which women were classed as property of their husbands.  As property, they were something that could be “stolen.”

Can you bring an alienation of affection lawsuit in Canada?

The Ontario Court of appeal considered the law of alienation of affection in 1960 in the case of Kungl v. Schiefer.  The case was subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1962.  In that case, Canada’s highest court confirmed that there were no damages to be awarded for alienation of affection.

The Supreme Court of Canada reconsidered their decision in case of Frame v. Smith In that case, the Court upheld that there was no separate cause of action for alienation of affection and that such domestic matters lie outside of the scope of the law altogether.

What about in other places?

In some jurisdictions, you can successfully bring an alienation of affection lawsuit.  In North Carolina, for example, courts have awarded 5.8 million dollars in damages to a wife who sued her best friend (who also turned out to be her husband’s mistress).  

Divorce: google my divorce

Often when people are faced with a question the first place they go is google for a quick, easy and accurate answer.

For example…if I am looking for a great all you can eat sushi restaurant in Vancouver, a movie time, or a good month of year to travel to Hawaii…I would google it.

So can family law questions be answered as easily through google?

The answer is generally no… you should not google your divorce questions for answers – the information that comes up is often inaccurate, not relevant to your jurisdiction, and/or just not good advice!

For example, if I google “separation” one of the first results that comes up is a website about the procedure for getting a legal separation in Canada.  The problem is, the information this website gives is not correct – it does not explain the fact that there is no “legal separation” you can file for British Columbia/Canada.

Another example, if I googled “how do I win my divorce”, a number of advice websites come up.  One website, states:

Do not assume your husband will be fair, divorce is war and you must be prepared for battle…

This might not be the best mindset to get into when you are preparing for a divorce.

It is important to be fully informed, confident and empowered…the best way to do this, to prepare for battle (or an amicable parting of ways), is not to make assumptions about how [poorly] your spouse will act, it is to inform yourself about the law and become aware of your rights and what a reasonable outcome is.

Luckily, in British Columbia and Canada, there are lots of easy to use, accurate and free websites on the internet that can help you understand your family law matters.

Resources you can refer to for reliable information, include:

General Family Law Information:

Child Support Information:
Spousal Support Information:
Procedural Information:

Remember, consulting with a website is not a substitute for legal advice from a lawyer who practices in the area of family law – but it does give you an idea of what issues you should be looking for and what you can expect.