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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.