Appealing a Master’s Decision in BC Family Court

McDonald v. McDonald, 2015 BCSC 1285, http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/15/12/2015BCSC1285.htm, is a lesson to lawyers thinking of appealing a master’s decision. In this case, wife appealed a decision denying her application for interim spousal support.

Ralph’s Auto Supply (BC) Ltd v. Ken Ransford Holding Ltd, 2011 BCSC 999, sets out the standards of review for a master’s decision:

  1. Review of a purely interlocutory decision of a master is a true appeal and the decision must not be interfered with unless it is clearly wrong.
  2. A question of law, a final order or a ruling that raises questions vital to the final issue in the case are reviewed via a rehearing on the merits based on the record before the master; even where discretion is involved, the appellate judge may substitute his or her own view for that of the master.

De Grandis v. De Grandis (1990), 48 B.C.L.R. (2d) 53 (S.C.) settles the issue that an appeal of master’s decision to grant or deny interim spousal support should not be interfered with unless it is clearly wrong. Such decisions are interim and do not fetter the trial judge’s discretion later on.

While an application for interim support is certainly not unusual, the facts before the master were. The applicant disputed the validity of a separation agreement, an issue requiring trial. Further, the applicant had already collected funds under the agreement and interim support could lead to double recovery. Lastly, the applicant delayed bringing her application for support and the delay may bar her entitlement.

Citing Robles v. Kuhn, 2009 BCSC 1163 for the principle that interim support should only be ordered where a prima facie case for entitlement exists, the Court denied the appeal on the basis that the applicant failed to establish anything clearly wrong with the master’s decision. Costs were awarded to the respondent.

Lawyers must be very careful in appealing masters’ decisions and, as a practice note, should require clear and written instructions from clients before doing so.

Jeffrey L. Hartman

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