How Family Law Court Costs Escalate…

_DSC4851One of the main reasons the middle class is abandoning family courts in droves is because of the bank-draining costs of litigation. While it may appear straight forward to bring a claim for parenting or child support, there are a myriad of legal skirmishes that accompany these claims, that are difficult to predict, and hence, make it impossible to estimate the amount of legal fees for any particular court case.

Typical preliminary court applications that may unpredictably drive up court costs include a challenge to a court’s jurisdiction to even hear and adjudicate a particular case, or a motion to remove a party’s lawyer based on an alleged conflict of interest, before a case gets started.

A wealthy Malaysian couple provide an excellent example of jurisdictional litigation. Dr. Khoo Kay Penn, the multi-millionaire majority shareholder of Welsh textile and fashion company, Laura Ashley, and owner of ten upscale hotels, married former beauty queen Pauline Chai in 1970, a union that produced five children.

The couple have multiple homes located in England, Canada, Australia and Kuala Lumpur. Shortly before the parties separated, they began living primarily in their United Kingdom home, worth a staggering $30,000,000, where they raise alpacas and llamas on a 1,000 acre country estate that has two man-made lakes.

Six months after separation Ms. Chai, age 68, filed a divorce petition in England. British law provides that a party may bring divorce proceedings in England if they have resided in the country for six months, a requirement satisfied by Ms. Chai.

It cannot be a coincidence that England is reputed to be the divorce capital of Europe and a venue that is highly sought after by women seeking a generous property division.

Dr. Khoo Kay Penn, age 74, resisted his wife’s British claims arguing that a court in Malaysia was the proper court to deal with their divorce as they were citizens of Malaysian, not Britain.

Their preliminary battle to determine which court has jurisdiction has already cost them approximately $2 million dollars, an amount one judge of the British court described as “eye-watering”. Mr. Justice Holman also questioned why the couple, who allegedly pay no tax in the United Kingdom, have “squeezed out” more important cases, while paying only a fraction of what it costs to staff and run a tax-payer funded court room.

At a recent ten-day hearing, Dr. Khoo Kay Penn argued that his wife was “forum-shopping” and her status in England was based on a visitor’s visa. However, Ms. Chai emerged the victor, after compiling a mountain of evidence including the fact that her collection of 1,000 pairs of shoes was housed in her English home and not in Malaysia or Australia.

Mr. Justice Bodey accepted that Ms. Chai intended to remain in the United Kingdom and would pay the required $1 million dollar fee to obtain permanent legal status in England. He doubted that Ms. Chai had a 1,000 pair of shoes, but on that point, I certainly believe her!

So on to the real dispute? Not so fast…Dr. Khoon Kay Penn will undoubtedly appeal the jurisdictional decision, and who knows how many other pre-trial battles will yet emerge.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Nevada Media Tells Tale of Vancouver Same-Sex Divorce Debacle

GEO CASUAL Television station KLAS Las Vegas featured a story last evening that told of a “divorce debacle” in our British Columbia Supreme Court.

Earlier this year I was retained by a woman in Nevada who, like many others, took advantage of Canada’s same-sex marriage laws. Vivian and her same-sex partner were married in Whistler, British Columbia in 2004, returning to their home state of Nevada, where both were accomplished professional women.

Along the way, Vivian’s partner adopted two children to whom Vivian played an equal mothering role during their marriage. Regrettably, their relationship broke down and Vivian quickly realized that she had no “legal” status with regards to her partner’s children, a most discomforting reality considering the equal role she had played in the children’s lives.

At the time of the separation of Vivian and her partner, same-sex marriage was not legal in Nevada and neither was there any legal provision for same-sex divorce.(Note:same-sex marriage is now legal in Nevada)

In August of 2013 the Canadian government became aware that many same-sex couples who married in Canada could not be divorced in their home countries, and so, a law was quickly passed that enabled same-sex couples to apply for a divorce in Canada in cases where both parties consented, or where a judge of the home country made an order that one of the parties was unreasonably withholding their consent.

Several months later Vivian was shocked when she received a copy of a divorce order made by a Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Vancouver. She had not been notified that a divorce proceeding had been initiated and completed in Vancouver.

The pronouncement of a divorce was significant with respect to Vivian’s chances of maintaining a parental role with the children and as well, sadly, her ex-partner was terminally ill, which had serious ramifications with respect to estate matters.

Would Vivian become a widow or was she a divorcee, with no legal rights?

It was about this time that Vivian retained me to assist her to determine how her partner was able to obtain a divorce order in Vancouver with no notice to her.

The divorce file in the Vancouver courthouse told the story. Vivian’s ex had filed the proper paperwork, which included a court order from the Las Vegas Justice Court, pronounced by Judge Melanie Andress-Tobiasson. This order declared that Vivian had unreasonably withheld her consent to a divorce. The problem was that Vivian was never informed, notified, or served with any divorce application.

Instead her ex-partner, who happened to be a lawyer in Las Vegas, appeared before Judge Andress-Tobiasson with no application, no motion, no paperwork of any kind, and obtained the order she sought. More significantly, the judge had no jurisdiction over family law cases!

Vivian contacted the Chief Justice of the Nevada Court who immediately voided the Nevada order and also ensured the order was declared void back to the time the Vancouver court made the divorce order.

Nonetheless, the divorce order is still in effect until a hearing can be set down in Vancouver to expose the unethical process and persuade the judge who made the divorce order to rescind it.

In the meantime, Vivian’s ex-partner died, and Vivian is now in court in Las Vegas battling for access to the two children, who are in the primary care of her ex’s new partner.

Judge Gloria O’Malley, presiding over the custody hearing, referred to the divorce debacle saying:

“The order was problematic in numerous respects…The Court is not comfortable with the process used to obtain the ex parte order from Justice Court…there was no due process to Vivian. She didn’t have an opportunity to be heard. She didn’t have an opportunity to present her position”.

Judge Andress-Tobiasson is being sued personally in federal court by Vivian for civil rights violations. As for “judicial immunity”, because the judge had no jurisdiction to make the order, arguably she cannot avail herself of the immunity protection.

It is also likely that judicial discipline proceedings may follow.

Vivian believes that “a huge favour was called in. It’s classic cronyism, corruption, and a back-room deal”. I agree with her, and thought this kind of justice only occurred in countries like Russia and Zimbabwe!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Airhead Reality Star Chastised by Divorce Court Judge

GEO CASUALNothing irks me more than women who have no  obvious intelligence or talent,  other than to parade around in their underwear on the set of a reality TV show. Case in point? Bethany Frankel.

She started her television career as one of two finalists on Martha Stewart’s short-lived TV show “The Apprentice”, a spin-off from Donald Trump’s hit show. She then appeared on the Real Housewives of New York City, a reality TV franchise I have never watched, with the exception of the Real Housewives of Vancouver with its irrepressible star, Jody Claman.

To her credit, Ms. Frankel created a beverage company called “Skinnygirl Cocktails”, and later sold it for millions of dollars. I tasted the mojito version once and pronounced it light but adequate.

She’s been married twice: the first marriage lasting a year and the second lasting two years. It was while she was in divorce court this week that her silly behaviour came to the attention of the judge.

Bethany had  earlier posted a photo of herself on instagram where she posed in her four-year-old daughter’s pink  Hello Kitty pyjamas, very proud of the fact that she could fit into them! The photo went viral.

Justice Ellen Gesmer admonished Ms. Frankel, by telling her lawyer “no more pyjamas!”. When her counsel explained  to the judge that it was simply a joke, she replied “It’s not a joke, her child is not a joke.”

With today’s inane celebrity culture, Ms. Frankel has managed to accumulate $55 million dollars in assets, property that her estranged spouse, Jason Hoppy, is hoping to share with her.

Happily for this little family, the parties have agreed to share custody of Brynn, now the fight is just over money, of which Ms. Frankel has lots!

Ever Hear of “Divorce Trolling”? Me Neither.

10950859361151CDPApparently “divorce trolling” has gotten so bad in the State of Michigan that a new law has been proposed to outlaw the practice, a bill sponsored by Michigan Republican Senator Rick Jones.

You ask “what is divorce trolling?” Good question. According to Senator Jones:

“When a woman is a victim of domestic violence and decides to file for divorce from her abusive husband, she should not have to worry about a trolling attorney tipping off her husband before she has time to protect herself and the children by taking actions like moving into a shelter house or getting a personal protection order.”

The proposed law will make it unlawful for a person to intentionally contact an individual that the person knows to be a party to a divorce action filed with a court, or an immediate family member of that individual with a direct solicitation to provide  a legal service until the expiration of 14 days after the date the proof of service is filed with the Court.

A first violation of this law is punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, but if you get caught a second time or more, you’re looking at possible imprisonment and a fine of not more than $5,000.

I can only guess that divorce lawyers in Michigan are desperately in search of clients. Here in Vancouver it takes weeks to get an appointment with a top lawyer and even then, they may not want your case.

The good senator, a former sheriff, wants to make sure that women and children who flee a violent relationship aren’t further bugged by lawyers during this emotional time. Hard to believe that legislators in Michigan have nothing better to do than enact unenforceable laws.

I can picture it now…a sleazy lawyer lounging in  a criminal courtroom, jotting down names of domestic violence victims so he/she can run to a telephone to offer legal services to their spouse? Ya think?

Guest Post: Spousal Support: Heads She Wins, Tails He Loses

I have been a fan of Ontario lawyer/writer KAREN SELICK (karenselick.com) for many years and appreciate her “tell-it-like-it-is” approach to some of Canada’s absurd laws. Karen wrote the piece below on spousal support seventeen years ago in the November, 1997 issue of “Canadian Lawyer”, when the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines were nothing more than a law professor’s dream. Enjoy!

“The law of spousal support has become so repugnant to me lately that I often ponder giving up the practice of family law altogether.  It’s almost impossible to feel good about what you’re doing.  If you act for wives, you have to inform them about the kinds of claims they can make—including claims which I consider to be unjust or downright ridiculous.  If you act for husbands, you have to be prepared to be on the losing side most of the time. 

It seems that no matter what course a couple’s married life took, the wife can always find some reason to claim spousal support.   If she  worked outside the home and supported her husband while he became a brain surgeon, her claim is for “compensatory support.”  If she did just the opposite, sitting around eating bonbons while the brain surgeon supported her, her claim is for  “developing a pattern of economic dependency.”

I’ve even seen cases where the wife has claimed both grounds in the same action, oblivious to the possibility that the bonbon-eating lifestyle she enjoyed in the later years of marriage has already more than compensated her for whatever work she did in the early years, or to the idea that if she was such a great provider in the early years, there was nothing stopping her from maintaining her lucrative career throughout the marriage. 

In fact, the only common thread running through most support orders is this: males pay.

I remember reading once about the peculiar notion held by some eastern philosophy that if you rescue a person from impending death, you become responsible for him for the rest of his life.  Canadian courts seem to apply a similar prescript to support cases.  Once a man has kindly provided a woman with a higher standard of living than she could reasonably have hoped to achieve on her own, he’s stuck with providing it for years to come—maybe even the rest of her life–regardless of how she has behaved toward him or the reason they separated. 

The Divorce Act enshrines this principle.  It tells judges to alleviate any economic disadvantage arising from either “the marriage or its breakdown.”   That “or” is a powerful word.  Suppose the marriage gave the wife an advantage rather than a disadvantage: a more affluent, leisured lifestyle than she would have earned on her own. Then, obviously, the termination of the marriage constitutes a disadvantage. 

If a man genuinely caused his wife some disadvantage during the marriage, he pays for that reason.  But if instead he bestowed an advantage upon her, he pays for having stopped.  Heads she wins, tails he loses.

Another objectionable thread woven through both the legislation and the case law is the notion that if a woman can’t support herself after separation, the courts should make her ex-husband support her rather than see her go on welfare.  Maybe the legislators and judges who came up with this idea thought it would placate opponents of welfare. If so, they’ve misunderstood the nature of the objection to welfare. 

Welfare is objectionable because it is coercive and one-sided.  It’s not like charity, which is voluntary.  It’s not like a contract, from which both parties benefit.  No, welfare simply forces some people to hand over money to others whose predicament they didn’t cause and who have provided no value in exchange. 

The same could frequently be said about spousal support.  Take, for instance, the recent Ontario case, B. v. B.   The trial judge accepted the husband’s evidence that this was a marriage “made in Hell.”  The wife, whose IQ was only 68, didn’t work outside the home, but also didn’t do housework.  She watched a lot of television, while the husband assumed responsibility for cooking and cleaning, in addition to being the sole breadwinner.  They argued a lot, and she was occasionally violent towards him. 

The trial judge awarded her only time-limited support, saying “…this husband started to pay for this marriage about three months after it occurred, and then he paid for the next 15 years, and I am not prepared to make him pay for the rest of his life.” 

On appeal, the Divisional Court removed the time limit on the wife’s support, stating explicitly that the burden of the wife’s support should fall on family members, not on taxpayers.  Why?  What principle of justice or morality warrants making Mr. B. pay, as opposed to some unrelated taxpayer? Neither of them caused the wife’s need for support. Neither of them ever received any benefit from her existence.

In fact, we’ve thrown out just about every principle there ever was—from the notion of contract to the notion of fault—that made matrimonial law rational, comprehensible, predictable, controllable or just.  While some people may feel that no-fault support has been a liberating event, it’s clear that for others, it has meant nothing but grief and involuntary servitude. 

It’s about time we re-examined the unfashionable idea of marital conduct to see whether justice can ever again form part of matrimonial law.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Divorce Fraud Leads to 17 years in Prison

GEO#1California businessman Steven Zinnel, age 50, thought he could get away with cheating his wife, his two teenage children, and the bankruptcy court, but he was wrong….boy was he wrong!

Zinnel and his wife, of Gold River, separated in 1999. By 2001 their uncoupling got even more ugly when he told his wife she would get nothing, no assets or support because he was filing for bankruptcy.

Zinnel systematically funnelled millions of dollars into the names of other persons and true to his word, filed for voluntary bankruptcy in 2005. He also laundered money through shell corporations in order to conceal his true income.

Shockingly, he did all this with the assistance of lawyer, Derian Eidson, age 50, who used her trust account, her personal account and a corporation she owned to return the funds to Zinnel after his discharge from bankruptcy.

But he didn’t stop there…Zinnel went on to initiate an FBI investigation of his ex-wife, displaying a hatred that knew no bounds and that eventually led to his own demise.

In the course of the investigation, authorities uncovered Mr. Zinnel’s bankruptcy and divorce fraud. Before U.S. District Court Judge Troy Nunley he was sentenced to 17 years and eight months in prison, fined $500,000, and ordered to disgorge the sum of $2.8 million to the state.

Judge Nunley in bankruptcy court and the 3rd District Court of Appeal in respect of his divorce matter condemned Zinnel for his narcissistic arrogance, and found that while he was articulate and charismatic he used those traits for his own selfish purposes.

Yorba Linda lawyer Ms. Eidson, was disbarred and sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison for money laundering. She was also fined $200,000. Her undoing began when she commenced an intimate relationship with Zinnel and became a victim of her own greed.

As for Mr. Zinnel, his phone call to his son when first imprisoned shows that he still doesn’t get it…he told his son that he was “railroaded” and blamed his ex- wife!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Happy Ending for Local Child Abduction Case

DSC00275_1Not all abduction cases end in the disappointment of “no return” or even death, like little Amber Lucius. Early last month I became involved in a child abduction case that spanned the globe from Portugal to Vancouver to Corner Brook Newfoundland.

The parents of a nine-year-old girl named Lauren moved from their long-time home of Vancouver to Portugal three years ago. They settled in and Lauren’s mom who was a Canadian citizen applied for and was granted Portuguese citizenship as did Lauren, who was born in Canada. Their new life began, Lauren was registered in school and by all accounts, her parents enjoyed their new home, particularly Lauren’s father who was a dual citizen and had family and business interests in Portugal.

Unfortunately, the marriage began to falter but the parties remained together in the family home. Lauren’s father became concerned that his wife would leave Portugal with Lauren. He was so concerned that he obtained a “travel ban” which is a non-judicial warning to immigration that a child cannot be removed from the country without a court order or the consent of both parents. Lauren’s mom knew that her spouse would never agree, so she planned a clandestine middle-of-the-night departure, circumventing Portuguese authorities by driving to Seville Spain and catching a plane to Newfoundland where the parties had a summer cottage and where her family resided.

Lauren’s mom knew that her midnight dash was contrary to the law, having received advice from several lawyers and other officials, but she ignored them all. Lauren’s father immediately left Portugal and arrived in Vancouver, ready to do whatever was required to bring his daughter back to Portugal for the start of school on September 11. In the meantime, Lauren’s mother had already obtained an ex parte order from a Newfoundland court giving her interim custody of Lauren. My quarrel with ex parte orders is well-know to regular readers of Lawdiva. They are a blatant breach of due process and ought not to be granted unless there is clear evidence of impending danger to the leaving parent or the child.

We rapidly prepared an application pursuant to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, an intricate process that entails the compilation of many relevant documents. Of course, all of the documents required translation as they were in Portugese. Back in Portugal a criminal action was commenced since child abduction is a criminal offence. The next step was to locate a lawyer in Newfoundland who was able, on short notice, to get into court there to argue for the return of Lauren. An experienced QC jumped on board to secure Lauren’s return.

An interesting part of this case was that Lauren’s father and mother shared a computer which gave Lauren’s father access to all his wife’s emails, many of which were extremely damaging to her case. After obtaining advice from a lawyer specializing in privacy law, the decision was made to include the emails in the Hague application. Lauren’s return was paramount and any evidence that assisted had to be utilized.

A Newfoundland judge presided over a four-day hearing last week that focused exclusively on the question of which court had jurisdiction to deal with custody of Lauren: Portugal or Newfoundland? The law is very clear that the court where the child “habitually resides” has sole jurisdiction to make custody decisions. Naturally, Lauren’s mother attempted to argue that Newfoundland was Lauren’s habitual residence, a position that was doomed to fail, given the extensive evidence of Lauren’s life in Portugal.

Thankfully, the Newfoundland court found that Portugal was the jurisdiction to determine Lauren’s custody and an order was made that her father return with her to Portugal immediately, just in time for the first day of school.

If Lauren’s mother is determined to bring Lauren to Canada, she must now convince a Portuguese judge that her position is in Lauren’s best interests. The battle is won, but the war is not over.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang