Ugly Divorce: Allegations of Pedophilia/Exhibitionism Haunt Actor Stephen Collins

DSC00280Stephen Collins is an accomplished actor who has performed on and off- Broadway, and in a variety of films and television productions over a lengthy Hollywood career. He is most famous for playing the father in the WB network’s “7th Heaven” for over 10 years.

After a first marriage lasting seven years, he married actress Faye Grant in 1985 and they have one child together. Ms. Grant has not seen the same career success as her husband.

Unfortunately, in 2012 their marriage broke down and Mr. Collins filed for divorce. According to Ms. Grant, about that same time they were in couples’ counselling and during a confidential counselling session Mr. Collins allegedly admitted he had sexually molested several young girls. A tape recording of this session was made by Ms. Grant without Mr. Collins knowledge and she saw to it that the tape was delivered to the police in New York.

After an apparent investigation no charges were filed agains Mr. Collins and that might have been the end of it, until gossip giant TMZ recently received a copy of the tape and released it on their website.

TMZ has stated that the tape came from Faye Grant although she has denied their claim. In the meantime, court documents filed by Ms. Grant have surfaced that are adding more fuel to the fire and Stephen Collins’ career resembles a funeral pyre, with the release of this startling information.

He was about to commence production on a movie but was immediately let go and has also resigned from the national board of the Screen Actors Guild.

The sad and sorry part is that the this tape and the accompanying allegations have nothing to do with the divorce that is before the court. Their child is an adult. The only issues are financial. Ms. Grant is seeking $13,000 a month in spousal support and division of their family community property, which reportedly amounts to $13 million.

Mr. Collins’ lawyer has said that Ms. Grant used the audiotape to extort additional monies from his client, beyond the amounts she would be entitled to by law. Of course, Grant’s attorney denies that, only allowing that she wanted him to provide a trust fund for their adult daughter and make a donation to a sexual abuse charity.

It can’t be a coincidence that the tape was released on the eve of their divorce trial this week, which has now been postponed because Faye Grant’s lawyer refuses to continue to act for her, citing a dispute regarding his legal fees and an “irremediable breakdown of the attorney-client relationship”.

If she is entitled to a substantial portion of their $13 million dollar
estate, her attorney’s excuse for dropping out of the case sounds suspicious. Could it be that her attorney realizes she has sabotaged her case by the release of the tape?

With no income coming to Mr. Collins, Ms. Grant must surely understand that any thoughts of significant spousal support are a pipe dream. And now she also has to respond to her husband’s lawsuit against her, where he is seeking $1 million dollars in damages for the harm she has caused to his career and his lost income.

At this stage, no alleged victims have surfaced and I suspect that is why the police investigation in 2012 came to a stand-still. Nonetheless, true or not, it will be a miracle if Stephen Collins can recover his reputation and professional status in Hollywood.

So ugly, and so unnecessary….Let the criminal justice system deal with this issue. It has no place in family court.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee lang

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Will Bankrupt Billionaire Escape His Spousal Support Obligations?

DSC00507 (2)American Samuel Wyly and his late brother Charles made their fortune as savvy entrepreneurs. They founded or grew a variety of successful businesses including arts and crafts stores Michael’s, University Computing Company, restaurant chain Bonanza Steakhouse, and Sterling Software. They also reputedly donated over $90 million dollars to charitable causes, including large donations to the Republican party.

Along the way some of their business activities attracted the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In 2006 they were under investigation for their alleged use of potentially illegal offshore tax shelters. Grand juries in New York and Texas were tasked with investigating whether the brothers had used funds in offshore trusts to purchase $30 million dollars of art, jewellery, furniture, and other personal items for themselves.

They denied any wrongdoing and advised investigators they would invoke the fifth amendment if they were subpoenaed to testify. They were never called, a bullet dodged.

However, an insider trading investigation in 2010 did not end as well. The allegations, later proved in court, were that Samuel Wyly used insider information to buy and sell securities for an undisclosed profit of $550 million. He apparently traded public stock in companies where he and his brother served as board members, through hidden entities in other jurisdictions.

A Manhattan federal jury in May 2014 found Mr. Wyly guilty and it is expected that Mr. Wyly will have to “disgorge” or pay back $300 million dollars. His assets were also frozen.

Last month Mr. Wyly filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Texas, an event that caused consternation for his ex-wife Victoria Lee Wyly, now Torie Steele, who after their 1991 divorce negotiated support payments of $500,000 per year. In his bankruptcy filings Mr. Wyly recorded monthly spending of $1 million. That has also been curtailed by bankruptcy officers.

Spousal and child support payments are not cancelled by a bankruptcy, however, a paying party’s change in income will be grounds for a variation of support. According to Ms. Steele’s lawyer, Samuel Wyly has already missed a monthly payment of just over $40,000.

There is, however, a complicating factor in respect of Ms. Steele’s support payments. To avoid the “risk and cost” of a contested spousal support hearing the parties agreed in 1993 that Mr. Wyly would act as an investment advisor for Ms. Steele, manage $5 million dollars of her funds, and guarantee her returns of $500,000 per year for her lifetime.

In 2007 Mr. Wyly went to court seeking to be released from this obligation. A judge upheld the arrangement saying Wyly “was agreeable to taking his chance with his acumen as an investor as opposed to
risk incurring any further spousal support obligations.”

The question for the bankruptcy court is whether Ms. Steele’s investment income arrangement constitutes spousal support and if it does not, where does that leave her?

I’ll be watching this case closely and report the outcome in due course.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Rocker Randy Bachman’s Divorce Just Got More Complicated

10950859361151CDPRock legend Randy Bachman thought he was “taking care of business” when he and his wife, Denise Beck Bachman opted out of their divorce trial and agreed to settle their financial issues amicably last January. A smart move….however, sometimes in family law, one party thinks they’ve got a deal, while the other disagrees.

That’s exactly what brought the Bachman’s into Supreme Court recently.

The couple married in 1982 and became step-parents of each other’s children from previous marriages. Randy had six children with his first wife, while Denise had one son. Together they brought their own child into the world and remained a couple until their separation in 2011.

Their alleged settlement provided Denise with 27.5% of his annual song royalties of $1.4 million a year, and $32,000 a month in spousal support. As part of Denise’s financial package she was to acquire one-half of a residence in London, England upon Randy’s death.

However, she later learned that the property had been transferred to a trust and she claimed the beneficiaries were Randy’s six children and not her.

Meanwhile, while Mr. Bachman argued that a full agreement had been reached, he did not pay Denise her $32,000 monthly support but instead had paid her $3,000 a month.

Denise advised Chief Justice Hinkson that no final agreement had been reached because her husband had not agreed to provide “security” for the payments she was to receive. Security can be in many forms including the granting of a mortgage, a sum of money held in trust, or a letter of credit.

The purpose of security is that if the payor refuses or cannot pay the sums owed, the security can be used to make the required payments.

Denise’s argument prevailed. The judge ordered that if security was an integral part of the agreement and it had not been agreed by the parties, then the agreement was not complete. CJ Hinkson also said it was not the Court’s responsibility to fill in the details of an otherwise incomplete agreement. The judge also ordered Mr. Bachman to pay his wife $32,000 a month pending a final settlement or judgment.

So, the Bachman’s are back where they started. They can either negotiate a new settlement of the financial issues or book a trial and have a judge decide the issues. Or if they were really smart they would hire a family law arbitrator to resolve all matters and thus avoid the cost, delay, and publicity of a trial.

The public unravelling of a rock and roll marriage would undoubtedly generate a media frenzy!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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

A Tough Pill to Swallow: Indefinite Spousal Support is Here to Stay

IMG_0277While several jurisdictions in the US, including New Jersey, Maine, and Massachusetts, have made efforts to rein in life-time spousal support, I predict that Canadian law makers will not jump on the bandwagon anytime soon. In fact, I believe Canadian spouses (read “women”) will hold their place as the “most likely to succeed” financially post-separation, particularly in relation to their American sisters.

Yes, it’s true that it hasn’t always been this way. In the early 1980’s a majority of the Supreme Court of Canada in Messier v. Delage held strong to the philosophy that the obligation of support between ex-spouses “should not continue indefinitely when the marriage bond is dissolved,” and decried the notion that “one spouse could continue to be a drag on the other indefinitely; acquire a lifetime pension as a result of the marriage; or luxuriate in idleness at the expense of the other.”

The support noose got even tighter in 1987 after a trio of cases made their way up to Canada’s highest court. In Pelech v. Pelech, Caron v. Caron and Richardson v. Richardson the Court determined that spouses who had signed agreements dealing with spousal support could not easily shake loose of them.

The test to challenge an agreement that denied a spouse spousal support, or an attempt to increase or extend the time period for support required the applicant spouse to show there had been a radical change in circumstances causally linked to the marriage.

The first part of the legal requirement, establishing that a change was radical, was relatively easy. If a wife agreed to take no support and later became disabled or unemployable it was not difficult to characterize the change in her ability to work as radical.

More stringent, however, was the additional requirement that the radical change be attributable to the marriage. So, for example, if a wife signed a separation agreement that gave her no spousal support because she was fully self-supporting, and she later became disabled from an illness that did not manifest itself until after the divorce, her financial need could not be linked to her marriage. No link, no support.

For women who found themselves in this situation, their only hope was family support, welfare, or a second marriage.

Meanwhile, the federal government overhauled the Divorce Act 1968 and replaced it with a new Divorce Act in 1985. The new model for support called for an analysis of the economic advantages and disadvantages suffered by both spouses from the marriage or from the breakdown of the marriage. The stage was now set for a groundbreaking Supreme Court of Canada decision.

In 1992 the support pendulum swung hard in the opposite direction with a case that involved a spousal support payment of a mere $100.00 per month. In Moge v. Moge the Supreme Court of Canada introduced a new way of thinking about spousal support, with a support rationale that was based on compensation to a spouse, instead of just a consideration of “means and needs”.

In this ground breaking decision the Court directed judges to explore the economic consequences of divorce with a greater focus on women’s work at home as mothers and wives and the aftermath of staying at home, while their husbands worked.

The Court recognized that women in this position typically had no job skills, limited opportunities for education, and no pensions, savings, or health benefits.

Fast forward to 2006 when the federal government introduced Canada’s Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, a further move to a more generous system of spousal support. The Guidelines provided a scheme to ensure that supported spouses received support that could be as high as 43% of their partner’s gross income. They also set a formula to determine how long support would be paid.

The upshot was that spouses who were married for 20 years or more typically received indefinite support that could be reviewed or varied if there was a material change in circumstances. Spouses in marriages under 20 years would receive support equivalent to the length of their marriage, also subject to variation if the supporting spouse could show a material change in circumstances.

While this analysis is a simplification of the Guidelines, there can be no doubt that the Spousal Support Guidelines benefitted women, and men were burdened with higher support payments, paid for a greater length of time.

In recent cases in British Columbia, men seeking to decrease their support have only been mildly successful, while most obtain no relief at all. Even men in their 60′s and 70′s who legitimately wish to retire, are often forced to keep working in order to pay support to their former wives. Yes, even if they have second wives and families.

In 2012 the Supreme Court of Canada reinforced their model of generosity in L.M.P.v. L.S. when they decided that spouses receiving support pursuant to an agreement were not necessarily bound by the terms of their agreement because recipient spouses may have been under intense emotional strain at the time they negotiated their agreements. In other words, even if the agreement called for the end of support, a court may well ignore the agreement.

As a result of this decision husbands in Canada can now wave good-bye to well-established principles of certainty and finality when they settle support issues.

Hearkening back to my original point, the Canadian trend in spousal support in no way resembles the burgeoning alimony reform sweeping through the United States. In fact, Canada continues to move in a direction that will eventually financially cripple husbands, particularly those that pay both child support and spousal support.

Yes, we need alimony reform, directed at spouses who are able to contribute to their own support, but choose not to, but we are unlikely to get it anytime soon.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Is Double-Dipping Fair?

GEO_edited-1A common complaint from ex-spouses who are obliged to pay spousal support is that all too often, the supported spouse gets a double-dip, and I don’t mean an ice cream cone.

Double-dipping occurs when a payor spouse pays support based on his employment income, but also pays support on his investment, rental or capital gains income arising from assets that were divided between the spouses, or for which the supported spouse received compensation through the receipt of cash or the retention of the family home.

Let me give you an example. If a husband retains a rental property valued at $100,000 and an investment portfolio worth $200,000 and in return the wife receives the former matrimonial home with a basement suite, valued at $300,000, it seems unfair for her husband to include these additional income sources as income for the purpose of paying spousal support. Yes, he may earn income on his share of the family property, but the wife also has that option.

As well, consider that the wife’s home has a basement suite she declines to rent and therefore eliminates an additional source of income for herself.

On top of all that, keep in mind that for Canadians, the matrimonial home is a tax-free asset, while the husband’s rental property will attract capital gains tax as will the investment portfolio.

Another common example of this practice is where a business is valued by capitalizing the business’ income stream and the wife is compensated for her interest, while the husband is ordered to pay support on that same income stream.

Do our courts care? Nope. But lawmakers in California thought it was an important issue when Bill SB 481 was tabled in the Senate with the goal of passing legislation that would give judges the discretion to consider the sources of income utilized for a support calculation to prevent unfair, blatant double-dipping.

Regrettably, this attempt to address double-dipping faltered,dying in the Senate in January 2012, with no pending legislation.

The treatment of this issue by North American courts is divergent to say the least. In Mississippi the courts have declared double-dipping a “glaring inequity” while in other jurisdictions there is passive tolerance with no apparent will to resolve the unfairness that can occur.

Of course, cynics will say that because double-dipping most frequently prejudices husbands, not wives, it will be a long time until our courts get around to fixing the problem.

California was on the right track with their double-dipping bill, a proposal that would at least encourage judges to consider whether paying spousal support on income derived from divided family assets is equitable. Certainly, the draft legislation only opened the door for an inquiry, nothing more.

Perhaps it will resurface in California and then catch on in other jurisdictions. Let’s hope so. Fair means fair for everyone.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Supreme Court Says “No” to Common Law Spouses in Quebec

The Supreme Court of Canada put an end today to the long running saga of Quebec’s most famous common law spouse when they confirmed that neither she nor any other common law spouse in Quebec is entitled to spousal support.

The story is classic. Wealthy, thirtyish businessman falls for 15-year-old Latino bombshell, has three children with her, and calls it quits after a seven-year extravaganza of “champagne wishes and caviar dreams”. The titillating tale unfolds in the Reasons for Judgment from the Quebec Superior Court in A. v. B. 2009 QCCS 3210.

In Quebec, unlike the rest of Canada, legal matters concerning persons, relationships and property are subject to a code of law based on French Napoleonic law.

The dilemma Ms. A faced is that the Quebec Civil Code did not make provision for spousal support after unmarried couples separate, while married spouses and spouses joined in a civil union have that benefit.

In every other province in Canada she would be entitled to apply for support and so, Ms. A. tried to persuade a judge that the Quebec Civil Code was discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedom because it treated married and unmarried couples differently.

The Court acknowledged that Quebec has the largest population of unmarried couples, rising from 8% to 35% between 1981 and 2006 and 60% of children born in Quebec are the offspring of unmarried parents. The Canadian average for common law unions is a mere 18%.

Ms. A. argued that the Civil Code should be changed to accommodate unmarried spouses by introducing a law that would provide equal treatment if a couple had cohabited for three years or had a child and lived together for at least one year. She audaciously sought $56,000 a month in spousal support, together with $5 million dollars.

The Quebec Court disagreed, holding that an amendment to the Code was not within their purview, rather it was up to legislators to change the law if they so desired.

The Court also found that the Civil Code was not discriminatory, emphasizing that the objective of Quebec’s support law is to preserve freedom of choice and respect the dignity and autonomy of common law relationships. Simply put, if a person desires the legal treatment afforded married couples, then that person should get married.

Quebec’s Court of Appeal saw it differently, finding that no support for common law spouses was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

In today’s decision, the Supreme Court of Canada issued diverse opinions dismissing Ms. A’s appeal, but confirming that Quebec’s law was either not discriminatory, or if it was, it was a reasonable intrusion, justified by the well-established regime of legal marriage and civil unions in Quebec.

While Ms. A’s loss today in the highest court will no doubt be disappointing, the good news is that her legal journey has been relatively comfortable as she resides in a $2.4 million dollar home and enjoys the benefits of her ex-boyfriend’s largesse, which reportedly includes $34,000 per month in child support, travel reimbursement, the provision of a driver, use of a Lexus automobile, and the payment of taxes, insurance and general maintenance and renovations of her home.

The term “gold digger” suddenly comes to mind…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang