Thinking of Barring Review of Child Support?

Cantlon v. Folk-Klein, 2016 BCSC 868 is an interesting decision because it discusses, among other things, barring review of a child support obligation until a future date.

The parties obtained a previous order which barred review of the payor’s child support obligation until 2019, despite any material change in circumstance. In 2016, the payor brought an application to vary child support and the payee relied on the provision barring review.

On application, the provision was found to improperly impede the court’s ability to assess the children’s best interests, which seems like the right result. The bar also seems manifestly unfair to the payor and one wonders why it was ordered in the first place.

The take away point is, if you are thinking about barring a review despite a material change, think twice.

Jeffrey L. Hartman

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Resulting Trusts & Credible Witnesses – A remedy for unmarried spouses’ property disputes

This article was written by Cristina P. Baer of Henderson Heinrichs LLP.

 

Unmarried people in domestic relationships are not afforded the same statutory property rights as are married spouses. The property consequences of the breakdown of common law relationships are instead governed by the common law- namely the principles of resulting trusts and remedial constructive trusts.

The recent case of Chechui v Nieman, 2016 ONSC 1905 dealt with resulting trust claims to a jointly owned home and a joint investment account, brought by the respondent. The applicant claimed half interest in both. While both assets were held jointly, Justice Hood found that equal ownership only applied to one – the home.

Equity presumes bargains, not gifts.  The applicant did not rebut the presumption that the respondent did not intend to gift half the value of the $800,000 transferred into an investment account jointly held by the parties. This investment came from the net proceeds the respondent received from the sale of the couple’s previous home, owned by him and his late mother. Importantly, citing Pecore v Pecore, 2007 SCC 17, the Court emphasized that the transferor’s actual intention is the only consideration in the analysis. In Kerr v. Baranow, 2011 SCC 10, the SCC declared that the “common intention resulting trust” was doctrinally unsound and that it should have no continuing role in the resolution of domestic property disputes. The SCC did not, however, preclude “traditional resulting trust principles” from having a role in the resolution of property disputes.

It followed in this case then, that  Justice Hood only analyzed the evidence that pointed to the transferor’s actual intention behind the investment account, rather than the irrelevant evidence) surrounding the common intention of both parties. So, no more confusing use of “common intention resulting trust” doctrine.

Ascertaining the transferor’s intention, on a balance of probabilities, was challenging for Justice Hood who made clear that he had difficulty in accepting the respondent’s evidence as credible and reliable.  In sum, he saw through the respondent’s evidence and found him to be more of an argumentative advocate than a forthcoming, balanced witness. He did not buy the respondent’s assertions that he signed the investment account documentation without understanding what it meant or without reading it because he trusted an investment advisor. However, just because he didn’t believe the respondent, the credibility of the evidence given by his investment advisor was, fortunately for the respondent, not harmed. Relying on this evidence only, the Court was satisfied that the main objective in setting up the investment account as it was, jointly, was to benefit the applicant as a beneficiary should something happen to the transferor respondent.  The intention to gift 50% of the investment account was not found and the presumption was not rebutted.

In contrast, a trust claim could not be made against the home held in joint tenancy. Again, third party evidence (the real estate agent, real estate lawyer, and the applicant) was relied upon to ascertain the intention of the respondent, rather than his own evidence.  The Court found that the presumption of resulting trust did not apply to the payment of a million dollar line of credit towards the house by the respondent. Citing Dale v Salvo, (2005) OJ No 3111 (SC), mortgage payments after purchase are irrelevant to resulting trust claims. However, even if it were to apply to the payment, the Court found that he had gifted this amount. The home was ordered to be sold and divided.

Chechui v Nieman is a useful case for illustrating when resulting trust claims can succeed, and when they cannot, as a remedy for property disputes between common law spouses.

Cristina P. Baer

 

 

 

Offers to Settle under Ontario Family Law

A major objective of the Ontario family law system is out of court settlement. Rule 18 of the Family Law Rules provides a code for offers to settle and Ontario family lawyers obviously must be familiar with those technical requirements.

The recent decision of Hoadley v. Hoadley, 2016 ONSC 3083 teaches Ontario family lawyers how to handle offers to settle that are non-compliant with Rule 18. In these circumstances, offers to settle are still valid and capable of acceptance under the rules of contract law (Smith v. Smith, [2007] O.J. No. 1947). Settlements are binding at contract law if there is agreement on all essential terms; in other words, if there is consensus ad idem (Chan v. Lam, 2002 CanLII 44912 (ON CA)). The court must make three inquiries (Swift v. Swift, 2010 ONSC 6049):

  1. Is there a consensus ad idem that is manifest to a reasonable observer?
  1. Is there consensus on all essential terms?
  1. Is the agreement conditional upon and subject to the execution of a formal offer?

Ontario family lawyers must be familiar with cases like Hoadley in order to understand not only how to effectuate settlement but also when a settlement occurs.

Jeffrey L. Hartman

Ontario Judge orders costs against the Province

Deficiencies in the funding of Ontario’s legal system are well known and widely written upon. Black v. Black, 2016 ONSC 1984 is an important addition to that discussion.

The facts of Black are straight forward. While Justice Thompson was away from the courtroom, a court staff member was assigned to another court room, causing a one hour delay upon Justice Thompson’s return. This cost $300 in legal fees to Ms. Black and $100 to Mr. Black. Justice Thompson ordered costs payable by Ontario without notice to the province.

Ontario succeeded on appeal as the costs award should not have been made without notice.

Black is one of those interesting cases in which the subject matter is irrelevant but the principle is vital. Ontario no doubt spent more than $400 in legal fees to overturn the award, but it could not afford to have this precedent on the books. As a matter of policy, it is difficult to support Ontario’s position as it caused the delay and saddled individual litigants with the burden. On the other hand, Ontario’s court system is plagued by delay (which has many causes) and it is against the public interest to allow litigants to take potshots against the province.

Mr. & Ms. Black took no position on the appeal, no doubt because fighting to uphold the award would, at best, result in a pyrrhic victory. Their submissions would have been interesting to consider. It would also be interesting to see what would have happened if Justice Thompson adjourned the matter to give Ontario notice and an opportunity to make submissions.

These and the numerous other hypotheticals raised by Black highlight its significance and indicate why Ontario moved to overturn the costs award.

Jeffrey L. Hartman 

Cost Awards in BC

“Costs” refers to the cost of litigating a dispute in court. In British Columbia, under rule 16-1 (7) of the Supreme Court Family Rules, the Supreme Court has authority to make one party pay the other party’s costs. The lion’s share of a costs award tends to be legal fees, but these awards also include disbursements such as expert reports.

The specter of costs is designed to encourage parties to take reasonable positions and settle their disputes out of court. Mr. Justice Greyell recently issued a decision, S.D.H. v. T.H. 2016 BCSC 780, which reminds us of the test for cost awards in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

Per rule 16-1 (7), costs must be awarded to the successful party unless the court orders otherwise. The issue thus turns on the meaning of “success”. Determination of “success” involves the four step analysis laid down by Mr. Justice Bouck in Fotheringham v. Fotheringham, 2001 BCSC 1321:

  1. Focus on the matters in dispute at trial which may or may not include issues explicitly mentioned in the pleadings;
  1. Assess the weight or importance of those matters to the parties;
  1. Conduct a global determination with respect to the matters in issue and determine which party substantially succeeded overall;
  1. If one party substantially succeeded, consider whether there are reasons to deprive the winning party of costs.

The Court of Appeal approved this test in Marquez v. Zapiola, 2014 BCCA 35.

BC family lawyers need to be aware of this test in order to effectively advise clients; while there are few things better than obtaining costs, there are few worse than being assessed for costs.

Jeffrey L. Hartman

Certificates of Pending Litigation in BC

Drein v. Puleoi, 2016 BCSC 593 is a civil case about cancelling a certificate of pending litigation (CPL). A CPL is a charge on title alerting potential buyers that the property is subject to a legal dispute. CPLs are used with great frequency in family law and thus it is helpful to review Drein v. Puleoi.

The Plaintiff sold ½ interest in her home to the Defendant. The parties lived in separate units for many years. The Defendants obtained an order for partition and sale of the property. The Plaintiff registered a CPL because she had sunk about $75,000.00 into the Defendants’ unit for bylaw compliance. She was amenable to removing the CPL if the disputed amount was paid into trust from the proceeds of sale to await the determination of the dispute. The Defendants brought an application to cancel the CPL.

The Defendants succeeded because the Plaintiff’s CPL existed to protect a monetary interest. Pursuant to section 215 (1) (a) of the Land Title Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 250, CPLs can only protect an interest in land. Mr. Justice Macintosh found that the Plaintiff’s CPL had the effect of providing a pre-trial enforcement of her monetary claim before she established her case. He noted that CPLs “are designed to preserve land claims pre-trial by preventing the land from passing to innocent third parties…thereby undermining the claim.”

Drein v. Puleoi is a must read for BC family lawyers because it is essential to have a sense of when and why to register a CPL.

Jeffrey L. Hartman

Cost Basics in Ontario

Motions for costs arise with extraordinary frequency in Ontario, so it is helpful to revisit some basic concepts as illustrated by Brock v. Sorger, 2016 ONSC 1498.

Costs serve three main purposes: to indemnify successful litigants, to encourage settlement, and to sanction unreasonable behaviour by litigants (Fong v. Chan (1999), 46 O.R. (3d) 330, at para 22).

Cost awards should reflect what the Court deems to be a fair and reasonable amount that should be paid by the unsuccessful party (Boucher v. Public Accountants Council for the Province of Ontario (2004), 71 O.R. (3d) 291 at para 24). The actual amount incurred by the successful litigant is of course relevant, but not determinative (Delellis v. Delellis, 2005 CanLII 36447 (Ont. S.C.).

Determining who was successful is not always a straight forward task. Some issues are, not surprisingly, more significant than others (Brennan v. Brennan, 2002 CanLII 2742, at para 3 (Ont. S.C.).

Rule 24(11) of the Family Law Rules establishes factors the court considers in determining costs, including: the importance, complexity, or difficulty of the issues; each parties’ behaviour; the lawyers’ rates; the lawyers’ preparation; expenses paid and so on.

Offers to settle impact cost determinations. Under Rule 18, if a party does as well or better than an offer they made, they are entitled to full recovery effective the date of the offer if it is not accepted by the other side.

In strategizing, counsel should plan very carefully to obtain the most favourable cost consequences for clients.