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

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.

 

Custody Appeal: when can I introduce new evidence?

As noted in the Vancouver Sun in an article by Neal Hall last Friday, April 13, 2012, on April 5, 2012, the British Columbia Court of Appeal issued reasons for judgment in the case of Stav v. Stav.

What Happened in this Case?

In the case of Stav v. Stav, Mr. Stav was appealing an order made by the British Columbia Supreme Court in August 2011 allowing his former wife, Ms. Stav, permission to move to Israel with the three children of the marriage.

As summarized by Neal Hall:

A Vancouver man [Mr. Stav] has won his appeal in a child custody case, resulting in the court-ordered return of his three children from Israel, where they have been living with their mother…

A three-judge panel of the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in a recent judgment that the trial judge “misapprehended the economic circumstances of the parties.”  The trial judge had assumed the mother would earn about $7,000 a month in Israel, which would have enabled her to support the children even without her former husband’s assistance.  “New evidence disclosed that the income Ms. Stav earned in Israel was substantially less than contained in the offers of employment she testified to at trial and which the trial judge accepted,” the appeal court noted.

It was ordered that the children be returned to Vancouver to live with their father.

New Evidence vs. Fresh Evidence – why is this important?

Mr. Stav sought to adduce both new and fresh evidence (that had not been raised at trial) in support of his appeal. 

This case is interesting because it reviews the test for admissibility of evidence on appeal, that has not been raised at trial, and it also highlights the differnce between “new” evidence and “fresh” evidence:

  • “fresh evidence is evidence that existed at the time of the trial, but for various reasons could not be put before the court” (for example, a document  existed at the time of trial but the opposing party was hiding it and it could not be discovered through dilligent efforts); whereas,
  • new evidence is evidence that has become available since trial (for example, a new event has happened after the date of trial, which is relevant to the matter decided at trial).

It is important to note the difference between these types of evidence because the test for having them admitted before the cout of appeal is different!

  • The test for admission of fresh evidence, requires the applicant to demonstrate that the evidence was not discoverable by reasonable diligence before the end of the trial; that the evidence is credible; that it would be practically conclusive of an issue before the court; and that, if believed, the evidence would have affected the result of the trial; whereas
  • New evidence is admissible in the interest of justice – and admissible in cases where the refusal to admit the new evidence would lead to a long term injustice – generally new evidence should not be admitted except in exceptional circumstances;

It is important to note that family law proceedings take a “slightly more elastic” approach to the admissibility of fresh evidence, in particular where the best interests of the child are concerned.

How does this impact my case?

Introducing new or fresh evidence at appeal can be difficult.  It is much easier to get all of your evidence before the court at trial.  Search dilligently for all relevant and material evidence that could help your case at trial and make sure that it is presented to the court in a format that is admissible.  A basic guide for preparing for trial in the Supreme Court of British Columbia can be found online.  

New evidence, by definition, does not exist at the time of the trial. 

When you are giving evidence at trial, it is important to keep in mind the concept of new evidence – trial is not the “end game”.

"Obviously I would make millions as a professional windsurfer even if I did not win the lottery!"

You should not give evidence, in a trial, of future circumstances that are totally unrealistic, to help your case.

By way of hypothetical example, if I want to move to Maui to become a professional windsurfer, with my children, and I plan to support the move by winning the lottery (a very slim chance of this really happening), it would be a very poor decision for me to give evidence at trial such as:  

“If I am allowed to move to Maui with the children, I am likely going to make millions of dollars next year, I have a plan for this to happen, and the children and I will want for nothing!”. 

If a move was permitted by the courts, my husband would likely make a subsequent court applicaiton to have the children returned (either on appeal or in a new hearing) giving evidence that I am actually not making millions of dollars and the move was not a financially responsible decision.

Does this make sense? Do not unrealistically overstate your case or future situation to try and “win” your mobility trial.

Parenting: Can we Travel to Disneyland?

An Alberta couple recently spent several months fighting about if the mother could take the child of the relationship to Disneyland.

How hard is it to get the the "happiest place on earth"?

In the case of Vervoorst v. Parker, Ms. Vervoorst requested, in October 2011, that Mr. Parker sign a travel consent so she could travel with the parties’ five year old child to Disneyland, in April 2012.  The parties had a number of disputes about the travel consent and, this led to a court application and a written decision of Justice Lee.   Justice Lee ordered that the mother could take the child to Disneyland and dispensed with the requirement for the father to sign a written consent.

Question: After separation, do I need the consent of the other parent to travel with my child outside of Canada?

I get asked this question quite often.  Generally, the answer is yes, you do need the consent of the other parent to travel outside of Canada with a minor child.

I know of some people who “take a chance” and cross international boarders without written travel consents of the other parent.  This is not a good idea.  The last thing you want, for example, is to be trying to drive across the US boarder on a long weekend and be stopped. 

Do you remember the episode of 90210 where Dylan and Brenda go to Baja and she gets stopped at the boarder?  The other parent is probably going  to be equally annoyed as Jim and Cindy Walsh if they have to come and bail you out at the boarder…skip to minute 7 of the video.

Question: What kind of consent do I need? What form should the consent take?

If you are travelling outside of Canada with minor children, it is best to have written consent in the form suggested by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

Travel consents are quite easy to prepare – you can likely prepare one yourself and then go to have your lawyer review it and provide you with any legal advice and recommendations necessary.  

You can find the link to an interactive consent form on the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website.

The website also provides some general guidelines about travelling with a child:

Since every situation is unique, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer for advice on what your child will require, particularly if your parenting arrangement has special terms governing international travel.

Carrying a consent letter cannot guarantee entry, as permission to enter another country is entirely the decision of that country. A consent letter may be required by foreign authorities, in addition to other country-specific entry requirements. You should contact the representatives of the country or countries to be visited by the child to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information regarding specific entry requirements.

We strongly recommend that you have the consent letter certified, stamped or sealed by an official who has the authority to administer an oath or solemn declaration, e.g., a commissioner for oaths, notary public or lawyer, so that the validity of the letter will not be questioned. Note that regulations concerning the administration of oaths fall under provincial/territorial law and are not determined by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. Furthermore, it is up to each official/individual who witnesses such a letter to decide what proof he/she needs to see to be able to witness/sign the letter. An official should only witness/sign a letter of consent if he/she is convinced that the individual requesting the letter is who he/she claims to be and that adequate proof has been provided.

We also recommend that you contact the transportation company (airline, train, bus, etc.) in order to observe any additional policies they might have in place.

There is also more information available about children and travel on the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website.

Question: What are some tips for approaching the other parent to get consent?

Generally, the easiest and cheapest way to proceed is to make reasonable agreements between parents about international travel arrangements.  An example of this would be:

  1. Inform the other parent, in writing (for example a friendly e-mail) about your travel plans, including: the specific dates you are proposing to travel, where you are going, and who you are going with and how they will be able to contact the child while you are travelling – ideally this would be well before the proposed travel (ideally 6 months to allow for flexibility);
  2. Obtain the other parents agreement to your travel plans and make adjustments if necessary (for example, we have grandma’s 100 Birthday celebration that week – could you go on vacation the next week?).  Ideally you would get the other parent to consent to the travel itinerary before you book your trip;
  3. Once you have obtained agreement for your travel plans, discuss with your lawyer what consents and special arrangements are necessary (for example, a trip to China will have different requirement than one to Disneyland and the requirements if you have sole custody might be different than if you have joint custody);
  4. Send the other parent the required consents and request, politely, that they sign them and return the originally executed documents to you within a reasonable time (for example two weeks); and
  5. Once the travel consent is signed, provide a copy to the other parent for their records.

Generally, being reasonable, ensuring that you have proper lead time, and respecting the other parents requests for travel dates will help you stay out of court on the matter of travel consents.

Question: What if the other parent unreasonably refuses to consent?

In certain situations, the Court may make an order dispensing with the requirement for written consent to travel (either for one trip or for all travel outside of Canada), for example in one case, the court made an order for both parents to travel outside of Canada with notice to the other parent, but not specific written consent:

In addition, the plaintiff has raised the issue of Kevin’s passport. The plaintiff requested that the defendant sign Kevin’s passport but on the last day of trial he had not done so. While the defendant asserted at trial that he has done so and will remain in contact with the plaintiff so that he is available to sign for its renewal in the future, the defendant’s communication and cooperation with the plaintiff to date has been sporadic. As a result, I will also make an order that the plaintiff will be at liberty to apply for Kevin’s passport without the defendant’s consent for the purposes of s. 7(2) of the Canadian Passport Order, SI/ 81-86Slater v. Slater,2002 BCSC 552 (CanLII), 2002 BCSC 552.  The plaintiff is required to notify the defendant that she is making such an application. Furthermore, she does not require the defendant’s written consent to travel abroad with Kevin, however, the plaintiff is required to give the defendant 48 hours’ notice of any intended travel with Kevin.

With respect to the defendant, he may also travel with Kevin without the written consent of the plaintiff, however he must provide 30 days’ notice along with travel and contact information 48 hours in advance of departure and is required to return Kevin’s passport to the plaintiff forthwith upon their return.

 

Divorce: whose fault? who cares?

A recent court decision in the United Kingdom commented on the fault-based divorce regime currently  in place (there are calls to bring an end to the fault based divorce system in the United Kingdom).  As reported in the Daily Mail:

Senior judges yesterday renewed calls for no-fault divorces, as they attacked current laws as vastly outdated.

At present, couples can be legally parted within six months if one party is shown to be at fault.

The most common grounds are unreasonable behaviour, which can include committing adultery or devoting too much time to one’s career.

Leading family court judge Sir Nicholas Wall said: ‘I am a strong believer in marriage. But I see no good arguments against no-fault divorce.’

In the United Kingdom you can get a divorce if your marriage has broken down irretrievably.  As summarized in a blog by Family Law in Partnership LLP:

 In order to prove that the marrigae has broken down irretrievably you have to prove that one of the following facts is true:

  • adultery by your spouse
  • unreasonable behaviour by your spouse
  • desertion by your spouse for a period of at least two years
  • two years’ separation, if you both agree to the divorce
  • five years’ separation, if there is no agreement to the divorce

The fault based system in the United Kingdom does not usually extend to impact the division of property, calculation of support or determination of custody (NOTE – I welcome comments from UK lawyers for clarification of this law or greater detail!).

But what about in Canada?

In Canada we have a “no fault” divorce system.

Under Section 8 of the Divorce Act, there are three grounds upon which you can apply for a divorce:

  • Your spouse committed adultery;
  • Your spouse was cruel to you; or
  • You and your spouse have been living “separate and apart” for a year.

Although there are two fault based options in Canada (adultery and cruelty) all you have to do to get a divorce in Canada is live separate and apart from your spouse for one year (you can even live “separate and apart” in the same house!).  Neither of the spouses has to do anything “wrong” in Canada to have a divorce finalized.

Most divorces, from my experience, proceed on the grounds of living separate and apart for a year.  It is often inconvenient to have an affidavit of adultery sworn by the person who committed the adultery.  Without an affidavit sworn by the adulterous spouse, admitting to the adultery, “the standard of proof in divorce actions is the same as in other civil actions, that is, the court must be satisfied on that the adultery has been committed, based on a preponderance of probability…” as stated in Adolph v. Adolph (1964), 51 W.W.R. 42.

For example, finding your spouses’ underwear somewhere they should not be is generally not going to be sufficient evidence to satisfy the court that a divorce should be granted  (in British Columbia, Addison could probably not get a divorce granted on giving evidence of what she found in her husband’s pocket) – she would need more evidence than JUST the underwear:

The “no fault” system in Canada means,  not only that neither spouse has to be “at fault” to process the divorce, it also means that if a spouse behaved poorly (for example they had a Tiger Woods “esque” series of relationships) it is not to prejudice them in the rest of the divorce proceedings (for example in determining custody, access, support or property division).

Spousal misconduct is specifically addressed in the Divorce Act. For example, the provisions of the Divorce Act state in Section 15.2(5):

In making an order under subsection (1) or an interim order under subsection (2), the court shall not take into consideration any misconduct of a spouse in relation to the marriage.

The Supreme Court of Canada Decision Leskun v. Leskun considered the conduct (infidelity) of a husband and how it impacted a wife’s ability to become self sufficient.  While the court found that “misconduct, as such, is off the table as a relevant consideration”, it also acknoweldged that there is a fine line between misconduct and the resulting impact of the misconduct:

There is, of course, a distinction between the emotional consequences of misconduct and the misconduct itself.  The consequences are not rendered irrelevant because of their genesis in the other spouse’s misconduct.  If, for example, spousal abuse triggered a depression so serious as to make a claimant spouse unemployable, the consequences of the misconduct would be highly relevant (as here) to the factors which must be considered in determining the right to support, its duration and its amount.  The policy of the 1985 Act however, is to focus on the consequences of the spousal misconduct not the attribution of fault.

The matter of conduct is a slipery slope.  For example, while you generally cannot be blamed for having an affair, your poor conduct or failure to tell the truth could be viewed by the court as indicative of your overall credibility.