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

Divorce: how do I pop the question?

Have you seen Issac’s lip-dub marriage proposal?

To date, over 13 million people have seen this choreographed lip-dub marriage proposal.

In response, the people at Second City have come up with the first ever live lip-dub divorce proposal.

What do you think of the lip-dub divorce proposal?

Generally, you should not broach the topic of divorce through a lip-dub divorce proposal (unless your spouse has a really, really, really great sense of humor).

So how do you broach the topic of divorce (if you do not think the YouTube musical theater approach is appropriate)?

In Harriet Lerner, Ph.D’s book “The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate” she provides some guidance:

To say, “If these things don’t change, I’m not sure I can stay in this relationship, ” is to voice the ultimate bottom line. People threaten to divorce or break up in the heat of anger, which isn’t helpful or fair. Nor should you bring up divorce as an attempt to punish, scare, shape up, or shake up the other person. And surely you shouldn’t feel compelled to mention divorce simply because it passes through your head now and then. Many married folks entertain fantasies about divorce yet are far from acting on it.

That said, talking about divorce is important if you’re thinking seriously about it — even ambivalently. If you’re going back and forth about it in your mind, you need to consider sharing your struggle with your partner. If you do eventually terminate the marriage, a partner will be better able to handle a loss that can be anticipated and planned for. Everyone has the right to know just how high the stakes are if they choose to continue to behave as usual. You owe your partner honesty about a matter that so deeply affects both of you.

The book gives some food for thought about how to deal with difficult conversations, and also a few important caveats:

Obviously , we should never mention divorce (or anything else for that matter) if there is any possibility that a partner will become violent or out of control. In such a case, we first need to seek appropriate help and ensure our physical safety. Nor is it wise to begin a serious talk about divorce if we suspect that a partner might do something sneaky with money that would jeopardize a fair and equitable financial settlement. In such a case, it’s wise to first consult an attorney. Finally, if you’ve already made up your mind to leave, it’s not fair to involve your partner in conversations that imply you’re still willing to work on the marriage.

In terms of serving a partner with a Notice of Family Claim (a.k.a. divorce papers) the same goes – it is generally best to broach the subject of the court action prior to serving your spouse with the documents (unless the above caveats apply).

Divorce: how much are the Vancouver Canucks worth?

The answer is – we may never find out.

As reported by Neal Hall in the Vancouver Sun:

Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini has filed an application in court to keep the team’s financial information private during his divorce case.

A little background…

Francesco Aquilini is involved in divorce proceedings with his wife, Taliah Aquilini, in a Supreme Court of British Columbia file opened on February 22, 2012.

The Aquilini family has substantial assets, including an ownership interest in the Vancouver Canucks.  The team was valued at $300 million dollars by Forbes (calculated in November 2011).

Of course a valuation in Forbes is not adequate information to rely upon in dividing family assets upon marital breakdown.

What documents and information can I get about family assets in my divorce proceedings?

In divorce proceedings, a spouse is entitled to substantial financial disclosure – far more financial information than an estimate of value from Forbes.

A spouse is entitled to a Financial Statement, in Form F8 – which is a sworn statement setting out the income, assets and liabilities of the the other spouse, along with supporting documentation (such as tax returns and property assessments).

A spouse can also employ the Supreme Court Family Rules to gain more in depth access to information regarding both family assets, and other assets of the spouse.

Some of the methods to get financial information in a divorce proceeding include (but are not limited to):

  • Examinations for discovery;
  • Demands for production of documents (including demanding documents directly from the corporation/ business in which the spouse has an interest);
  • Examination and inspection of documents;
  • Discovery by interrogatories;
  • Examination of witnesses; and
  • Expert reports on financial issues.
You wrote in a previous blog that divorce files are only accessible to specific people…why does Francesco Aquilini need a further court order?

Divorce files are generally only accessible by the spouses and their respective legal counsel.

However, court proceedings are usually opened to the public, and court decisions are also made public.

Pursuant to Rule 5-1 of the Supreme Court Family Rules, the Supreme Court of British Columbia can make an order sealing financial information, if:

 the court considers that public disclosure of any information filed under this rule would be a hardship on the person in respect of whom the information is filed

Court documents, filed in the above noted application, set out:

One very prominent business owned by the Aquilini family is the Vancouver Canucks. Serious harm would flow to that business if its financial information were made publicly available.

The application brought by Mr. Aquilini should be heard in the Supreme Court of British Columbia (Vancouver Registry) on Tuesday, June 12, 2012, according to NBC Sports.

NOTE – If you need to find a courtroom or hearing time, daily lists can be found on Court Services Online.

Disclosure: rehab and medical records

Can my spouse get access to my medical charts in a family law proceeding? What about a counselor’s file or records from rehab?

The answer is maybe.

In the recent court decision of K.A.P. v. K.A.M.P. Justice Tindale of the Supreme Court of British Columbia considered a husband’s application for production of the following documents relating to his wife:

  • records from the Paradise Valley Wellness Centre (which is the treatment centre the wife attended);
  • clinical records from the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia; and
  • disclosure of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police file involving the Wife and an incident where she was arrested for impaired driving, dangerous driving and driving over .08.

The wife consented to provide the police disclosure.

In regard to the disclosure of  medical and treatment records, the court considered the arguments of both the husband and wife.

In support of his argument for production of the documents, the husband relied on a previous court decision in which confidential records in the hands of a third party were ordered produced as they were clearly relevant on an issue between the parties and the court concluded that “the interest of the children and the interest of justice outweigh her interest in privacy”.

The wife argued that “the test for the production of documents is whether or not the documents can prove or disprove a material fact.”  The wife argued that as the husband had previously agreed to joint custody and joint guardianship (with knowledge of her “problems”) there was nothing to be gained by disclosure of confidential documents.

The court ruled in favor of the husband, and in favor of disclosing the documents, giving the following reasons:

  1. “In my view, given the long-standing difficulties that the respondent has had with depression and substance abuse and the fact the respondent wants to be relieved of the necessity of having a nanny living in her residence, it is clearly relevant, necessary and material to have as much information available to make this determination”; and
  2. “I also conclude that the interests of the children outweigh any privacy interest the respondent might have.”

Note to family law litigants: your medical history could be considered producible in court proceedings.

Court Services Online: the Real Housewives of Vancouver

"The Real Housewives"

I recently saw a commercial for an episode of the Real Housewives of Vancouver and one line caught my attention: Jody was going to serve Mary with legal papers?

I did not pay too much attention to when the episode was airing.  Instead, I was interested in who was suing who, and why.

I went to Court Services Online to see what, if any, lawsuits had been filed against Mary.

Court Services Online is a very useful tool.  It allows you to e-search parties by name to check if there are any lawsuits.

You can complete these searches for free!  In many cases, if you pay an additional charge (usually $6.00) you can view the court file.

So, I searched Mary Zilba, to see if there were any lawsuits filed by the cast of the Real Housewives of Vancouver.
 
The results came back, there were two lawsuits with Mary Zilba as a party:
 
  1. A family law proceeding from 2011 (note – you generally cannot get access to family law proceeding documents online); and
  2. A small claims proceeding from 1998.
There were no recent lawsuits, and no lawsuits filed by a cast member of the Real Housewives of Vancouver.
 
Out of interest, I searched the names of the rest of the “Real Housewives”.
 
Here are some of the results:
 

What are some more practical uses of Court Services Online?

"Use the "Search Civil" feature to search for civil lawsuits"

Example of situations where this may be useful:

  • Has your blind date from E-Harmony been involved in a messy lawsuit/lawsuits?
  • Who is the person claiming that your grandfather’s estate owes her money? Are they litigious? Would they likely sue the estate?
  •  Has your spouse’s business been involved in lawsuits that have not been disclosed to you?

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.