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

Welcome Krystle Gill!

Cassels Murray is very pleased to announce that Krystle Gill joined our firm on April 1, 2015.

Krystle Gill Cassels Murray

Krystle has strong negotiation skills and experience, as well as trial experience at both the Provincial and Supreme Court levels in British Columbia.

Krystle graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2009 where she was a Director of the Law Students’ Society and President of the International Law Students’ Society. She has been a member of the Executive Committee for the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch for 3 years, the Chair of the Women Lawyers’ Forum – Vancouver Island, and has a strong connection to the legal community through her local involvement with the Victoria Bar Association.

We are fortunate to have Krystle as part of our team. Krystle will be practicing in the areas of family and estates law.

Incomes over $350,000.00: Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines

I receive a weekly e-mail from Supreme Court Advocacy (a boutique law firm in Ottawa focusing on Supreme Court of Canada advocacy and agency).

The newsletter from Supreme Court Advocacy is a great resource and provides an up to date summary of activity at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Earlier in March, this newsletter provided a very good summary of the case of Hathaway v. Hathaway (2014 BCCA 310).

In this case, Mr. Hathaway (a high income earner) had been ordered, by the British Columbia Supreme Court, to pay child support of $12,814.00 per month and spousal support of $24,124.00 per month. At the trial level Mr. Hathaway’s income was determined to be one million dollars a year by the Honourable Mr. Justice Abrioux.

Mr. Hathaway appealed this decision and the British Columbia Court of Appeal denied his appeal.

Mr. Hathaway, at the Court of Appeal, contended that the trial judge erred in three respects (failing to consider Section 11 (which sets a ceiling for incomes over $350,000.00 per annum) and Section 12 (relating to property division) of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, failing to consider the provisions of the Federal Child Support Guidelines regarding incomes over $150,000.00 (Section 4), and the principles relating to reapportioning family assets). Mr. Hathaway’s appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal and leave to the Supreme Court of Canada was also dismissed.

The case of Hathaway highlights the importance of considering/arguing Section 4 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines and Section 11 of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines at a trial level. A failure to do so will limit the ability to make such arguments or considerations at an appeal level (as per paragraph 34 of the Court of Appeal Decision).

The upshot of this case, from my perspective, is:

  • Reading the Child Support Guidelines and the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines is a free and useful exercise if support issues are at play in your family law matter (regardless of your income);
  • If you are dealing with a case where incomes are over $150,000.00 per annum pay special attention to Section 4 of the Child Support Guidelines;
  • If you are dealing with a case where incomes are over $350,000.00 per annum pay special attention to Section 11 of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines;
  • It is helpful to get advice from an accountant in a case where you are working to determine an appropriate guideline income for support purposes (I encourage my clients to consult with an accountant regarding determination of income for support purposes regardless if they are paying or receiving support – it is very helpful); and
  • This is a first world problem to have…
    Guideline income

  • The Cost of Divorce in Canada 2015: five tips to reduce your costs

    My very smart friend from law school, Anna Lund (LLB, LLM, PHD Candidate) tweeted an interesting article by Penelope Graham: “The Cost of Love in Canada 2015: $50,339.21”.

    The article breaks down the cost of a romance in Canada: one year of dating, one year of engagement, a wedding and a honeymoon = $50,339.21.

    This statistic is much higher than I expected. Naturally, the first thing I thought about is: what is the cost of divorce in Canada?

    There are many expenses related to divorce and separation in Canada. Just some examples of the costs include: court fees, legal fees, fees to obtain documents, expert reports, specialists (such as a child specialist), counselling fees… and more recently the fees related to a divorce party (yes apparently there is Wikipedia page about this!).

    Given the reported cost of an average romance, I can safely say that, in my experience, the cost of an average divorce is LESS expensive than the dating/marriage phase (although generally much less enjoyable!).

    That being said, family law legal matters are still expenses (often prohibitively so).

    From my practice, these are some tips you can do on your own to help reduce your costs in a separation/divorce situation:

  • Do the heavy lifting on the front end. Consider a cohabitation agreement, document things in writing (i.e. who is contributing what funds to family assets, how are family finances going to be dealt with and who is responsible for what if the relationship breaks down – in a form that is legally binding);
  • Gather information on your own. Of course, it is important that the information you obtain is from reliable and free sources (for example: JP Boyd’s family law blog, CanLII, Supreme Court of British Columbia’s website, Provincial Court of British Columbia website, Legal Services Society website). There is lots of information on the internet about separation and divorce and certainly not all of it is good. If you can get accurate and reliable information you will be in a better position to consider your options and ask your legal counsel strategic questions. I often tell my clients that if they cannot fall asleep because they are worrying about their family law case reading the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines or the Child Support Guidelines is a pretty sure bet for sleep within a half hour. Being prepared and informed will empower you to feel better about your decisions and also reduce the cost of legal fees;
  • Consider some alternatives to court. (mediation, arbitration, collaborative family law). If both you and your former spouse can be reasonable and have appropriate professionals to help you deal with the contentious issues you can hopefully avoid a contested litigation;
  • Pick your battles. Don’t argue about things that are not cost effective. For example, is it worth paying a lawyer their hourly ($200.00 – $500.00+) rate to argue about kitchen utensils and Ikea furniture which is worth less than the cost of the lawyer’s time?;
  • Take advantage of free resources and options. For example, the Parenting After Separation Course, family justice counsellors, and the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program; and
  • Organize your documents. There are many necessary documents that will need to be exchanged in a family law proceeding. You can obtain and organize these on your own without the cost of your lawyer – your lawyer can review them once they are organized in a more efficient and cost effective way. I recall once when I first started practicing a lovely client brought three grocery bags of crumpled and coffee stained documents into my office for organization! I suggested that it would be much more cost effective for the client to organize them at home or to have my assistant help out for a few hours at a much lower rate. You can start filling out your financial statement before you visit with your lawyer. You can also order tax documents from the Canada Revenue Agency online and your own marriage certificate.

    Of course sometimes the divorce process is so stressful it is not realistic to take on additional work beyond getting through the day to day, parenting children and a busy work schedule – if that is the case, ask your legal counsel if there is a paralegal or assistant who can help you with some of these tasks at a lower hourly rate.

    The cost effectiveness of hiring lawyers to divide stuffies is a losing proposition...

    The cost effectiveness of hiring lawyers to divide stuffies is a losing proposition…

  • High Conflict Parenting: Must Read Case

    Each weekend I like to review the recently reported decisions from British Columbia and Alberta. They are available online at the Supreme Court of British Columbia website and the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench website (via CanLII).

    This Saturday (while I was getting my hair done) I came across a “must-read” decision of the Honourable Madam Justice D. L. Pentelechuck from the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench: A.J.U. and G.S.U. (2015 ABQB 6) (“AJU”) (NOTE/CAUTION: People do laugh at me when I come into the salon with a stack of recent court decisions and highlighters).

    The AJU decision “offers an opportunity to consider the role that Court-appointed Parenting Experts play in the determination of the best interest of children, and the evidentiary standard to which the parties should be held in a custody dispute.” (paragraph 3).

    In the AJU case, Justice Pentelechuck considers a situation where the father sought sole custody of the parties’ two daughters and the court appointed parenting specialist supported his claim in an assessment report which recommended that the father have sole custody of the children. At first blush this might seem like a strong case for the father – his position is supported by an expert.

    From my perspective, this case is an illustration of the importance of critical and objective review of the evidence and allegations put forward in parenting disputes. In this case, while the father initially may appear to have a strong case (supported by an expert report), throughout the trial, counsel for the mother, Renee R. Cochard Q.C., illustrated – both by objective evidence and cross examination of the parenting expert and father – that the report was flawed and the criticisms of the father towards the mother’s parenting time were without merit. This written decision highlights the importance of (both counsel and the parties) carefully reviewing the evidence and allegations forwarded in parenting disputes. Ms. Cochard’s successful cross examination of the Parenting Expert diminished the persuasive value of the expert report that was before the court.

    By way of example the father “takes issue with [the mother’s] purchase of a trampoline, and also objects to the girls’ participation in horseback riding, and tubing down the Pembina River with their mother.”
    The Justice did not find validity to this concern and noted that “The Trampoline in question is an 18” high “Dora the Explorer” trampoline” (paragraph 55) and “None of these complains, individually or collectively, have merit” (paragraph 57).

    Further, in regard to the report of the Parenting Expert, the court noted: “First, the basis for her recommendations were seriously undermined during cross-examination” (Paragraph 96). For example, the Parenting Expert noted in her report that the children appeared to be getting sunburnt during the time she observed them, however, during cross examination the parenting expert “admits she did not confirm whether or not the girls actually suffered sunburn on that particular day” (Paragraph 97). Another example of the erosion of the validity of the expert report at trial was that the expert alleged that the mother did not follow-through on educational matters. However, cross examination exposed that the expert “did not see the educational centre [the mother] had in the basement.”

    This case is a good read if you are going through a high conflict parenting dispute and there are expert reports and/or evidentiary issues. The court provides a review of expert evidence (starting at paragraph 132), hearsay evidence (starting at paragraph 135), illegally obtained evidence (starting at paragraph 151), and lay opinion evidence (starting at paragraph 170). Counsel, self-represented litigants and parties to parenting disputes will benefit from reading this case.

    Dogs

    Ex Parte Orders… This has nothing to do with partying with your ex…

    Except, perhaps, in the case that you are trying to get an injunction to prevent your ex from talking about your potentially embarrassing behavior – like in the case of Party Av. Party B in which Party A successfully obtained an ex parte order preventing his former partner from disclosing the details of their affair, as follows:

    The appellant is a married businessman. The respondent is an unmarried businesswoman. The two engaged in an affair which was ultimately terminated at the instance of the appellant. During the course of the affair, the parties engaged in activities, the details of which the appellant would prefer to keep undisclosed.

    After the affair ended, the respondent made public disclosure of many aspects of the parties’ activities. The appellant commenced an action against the respondent alleging breach of confidence and breach of the Privacy Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 373, by the respondent. He sought an ex parte order to restrain the respondent from further disclosure, and on May 9, 2011, his application was heard, in camera, and an order was granted against the respondent by a justice of the Supreme Court (the “First Justice”) including the following terms:

    1. This Order orders you, among other things, to cease and desist from publishing or disclosing the Private Information as defined below

    2. You are at liberty to apply to this Court to set aside or vary this Order upon giving two (2) clear day’s notice to the Plaintiff’s solicitor of your intention to do so.

    3. If you disobey this Order you may be guilty of contempt of Court and may be sent to prison, or fined, or both.

    THIS COURT ORDERS that:

    4. The Defendant, by herself or by her employee, agents, or otherwise, and any other person with knowledge of the terms of this Order, be and is hereby restrained from disseminating, publishing, or otherwise disclosing any private information about the Plaintiff, his sexual practices, or anything that would connect him to having had a sexual relationship with the Defendant (the “Private Information”), until the trial or other disposition of this proceeding or until further Order of this Honourable Court…

    Ex Parte (Latin meaning “from (by or for) one party”) are orders obtained on the application of just one party in a court case, without notification to the other party/parties.

    In British Columbia, we have dropped the Latin and now call them “orders without notice” in the rules of court.

    Applications without notice should only be brought in extraordinary and emergent circumstances and the party bringing the application must explain to the court why it is not possible to provide notice to the other party. The duration of the order is generally to be made for a period sufficient to give the other party notice of the order and schedule a full hearing.

    The party bringing the application without notice must also make full disclosure of all of the relevant and material facts relating to the order they are seeking (both for and against their case). Failing to make such frank disclosure may result in the order being set aside or an order of special costs being awarded against the person obtaining the order (for example in this case). Further, failure to make full and frank disclosure can tarnish your credibility in future proceedings before the court. For example, in one case, the court stated:

    This evidence of the father lacks believability in this regard as does his justification for obtaining the second ex parte order.

    In the Supreme Court of British Columbia orders without notice can be brought pursuant to Supreme Court Family Rule 12-4(3).

    Supreme Court Family Rule 10-9(8) provides that an order without notice can be varied or set aside on the application of the other party to the litigation.

    In the Provincial Court of British Columbia an order without notice can be made under Rule 20(3) of the Provincial Court (Family) Rules. There are other rules in the Provincial Court Family Rules that give Judges discretion in extraordinary circumstances: Rule 5(8) allows for Provincial Court Judges to make court orders without following regular Registry procedures and Rule 12(2) provides for a Provincial Court Judge to dispense with service requirements.

    In family law cases orders without notice are often made for three purposes: 1) personal protection and protection of children (including preventing children from being relocated without consent); 2) protection of property; and 3) exclusive use of property.

    A review of 2013 decisions in British Columbia shows that recent ex parte orders without notice have also been granted for a number of other reasons, for example:

  • spousal support (paragraph 20 – order made in 2008);
  • custody and access (paragraph 3); and
  • access to records (paragraph 14 – order made earlier than 2009).

    Divorce Cartoon

  • Family Court: go and watch

    Almost every client I have who has not been to court before – and is considering bringing a court application or starting a court action – wants to know what is going to happen during their time in the courthouse.

    When I am asked the question “what is court going to be like” my usual answer, after giving a general explanation of the court process, is: “go and check it out to see first hand…admission is free”. The public can watch proceedings in the British Columbia Supreme Court and British Columbia Provincial Court on most weekdays.

    In British Columbia there are certain proceedings that are closed that are closed to the public (i.e. you cannot watch them without permission from the court). For example, you will not be able to watch Judicial Case Conferences and cases that have publicity bans. The majority of cases, however, are open to the public.

    If you would like to go and watch court, to get an idea of what it is all about, you can find the Court Registry in your region online.

    If there is a specific case you want to watch, a specific Justice, Judge or Master you would like to see or a specific type of proceeding that you would like to learn about, you can find the court room and time by looking at the Hearing Lists online.

    Often the most useful proceedings to watch, if you are involved in a family law case, are family law chambers. During family law chambers you will usually be able to see a number of different types of issues being dealt with (for example child support, spousal support and parenting time) in one morning. You will also get the opportunity to see a number of different lawyers arguing different cases.


    Avoid not knowing what is going on… go and spend a morning at court