Politicians Wake Up: Canadians Overwhelmingly Support Shared Parenting

GeorgiaLeeLang057In a poll conducted by leading Canadian pollsters, Nanos Research, the results revealed that 70% of Canadians support shared parenting. Thirteen per cent opposed shared parenting and 17% were undecided.

Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,000 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between August 30th and September 1st, 2017 as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online. The margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 Canadians is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

You may ask “how can a poll of 1,000 people reflect the views of 35 million Canadians?”

Writer Eric Grenier wrote a piece on polling in the Globe and Mail in 2014 and answered that question:

“It might be hard to believe, but it is mathematically possible. A smaller sample will, of course, have a harder time reflecting the population accurately. But a poll of 1,000 people is generally considered the standard size. Larger polls have smaller margins of error, but the return on that extra effort is smaller is well. Doubling the sample size does not cut the margin of error in half, for example.”

Canada’s largest private broadcaster depends on Nanos Research as the official pollster of record for CTV News. Similarly, world-renowned Bloomberg News Service uses Nanos to conduct Bloomberg’s weekly Canadian consumer sentiment tracking, known as the Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index.

Now, if certain lawyers, judges, and politicians would read the scholarly literature and understand that shared parenting is best for children, Canadian families who have suffered from divorce, would be far happier and healthier.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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No-Show Father Ordered to Pay Over a Half a Million Dollars in Child Support Arrears

GeorgiaLeeLang025In this British Columbia Supreme Court case, the parents of two children separated in 2001 and in 2003 entered into a separation agreement. The agreement stated that the father’s income was $90,000 per year and that he would pay $1,128.00 in monthly child support, together with some additional costs for transportation, as the children lived primarily with their mother on Denman Island. Later, the amount payable was increased to $1,600.00 per month to include the cost of certain extraordinary expenses.

At the time the mother signed the agreement she was not aware that the law provided for a review of child support each year and an adjustment, either upward or downward, depending on any change in the father’s income. The payment of $1,600.00 continued until February 2015 when the father arbitrarily, and without notice, reduced his payment to $800.00 per month, on account of the eldest child attaining the age of 19.

That was his first mistake…As a result of this unilateral action the mother retained counsel who informed her of the children’s rights to receive child support commensurate with their father’s income, as determined on an annual basis. Mother filed an application to vary child support in April of 2016 and in June of 2016 she became aware of the father’s income for 2013, 2014 and 2015, amounts of $477,000; $465,000; and $156,000 respectively.

With respect to the father’s sudden drop in income in 2015, it is noteworthy that by the time he filed his 2015 tax return in 2016 he would have been aware of his ex-wife’s claim for increased child support. Family law lawyers call this phenomenon “RAIDS”: recently acquired income deficit syndrome.

Before filing her application, the mother asked her ex-husband to reinstate the $1,600.00 a month payments, but he ignored her. That was his second mistake.

Later she learned that his income had been as high as $773,000 in 2010; $548,000 in 2011; and $444,000 in 2012. All this time she scrimped and saved what she could of her measly teacher’s aide earnings of $28,470 per annum in an effort to provide the bare minimum for her children, who, contrary to the law, were not receiving the benefit of their father’s increased income levels. Meanwhile, the mother had gone into debt to provide for her children.

Although the father was served personally with the mother’s application and was sent multiple letters advising him of the scheduled court date, he made his third mistake. He was a no-show at the hearing, so the court proceeded in his absence.

The court reviewed the applicable law, which generally provides that a court may go back three years with respect to a retroactive increase in support. However, in the absence of any argument to the contrary, Madam Justice Young found that the father was guilty of “blameworthy conduct”and that a large retroactive support award would not place a financial hardship on him. He was ordered to pay support based on his annual income from 2002 to 2017, an amount that totalled $522,408.24. He was also ordered to pay it immediately and to pay costs to his former spouse.

Would the retroactive order have been significantly different if he had attended the court hearing? That is difficult to ascertain, however, the usual evidence provided by a payor with respect to his conduct and his financial circumstances may have led to a smaller award and could also have given him more time to pay the amount ordered.

Court of Appeal Orders New Trial for Father Because of Expert’s Fraud on the Court

DSC01152_2 (2)_2In a groundbreaking decision last summer after a 147 day trial, Mr. Justice Paul Walker of the British Columbia Supreme Court found that B.C.’s child protection authorities had negligently permitted a father to sexually abuse his children while the youngsters were in the custody of the Ministry. The Court found that the government’s failure to protect the children was “egregious, negligent, and a breach of duty” and government social workers showed a “reckless disregard to their obligation to protect children.”

The evidence before Mr. Justice Walker included expert evidence from Californian Dr. Claire Reeves who had been an expert witness at the 90 day family law trial that preceded the action against the Ministry by several years. Dr. Reeves’ expert opinion played a significant role in the original finding that this father had sexually abused his children.

The parties agreed that her expert evidence from the family law trial would be admitted in the trial alleging negligence against the Ministry. Throughout the lengthy proceedings the father adamantly denied abusing his children, an assertion supported by several expert witnesses, but to no avail, as the court found he had abused them and he was barred from seeing them.

The father, who acted for himself, missed the deadline to file an appeal, however, three years later the Court of Appeal permitted him to proceed with an appeal, based on new evidence that appeared to establish that Dr. Reeves’ evidence was fraudulent. The credentials she touted, including a Doctorate in Clinical Counselling, Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology, Bachelor of Science in Family Mediation, and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, were “purchased” from so-called “diploma mills”.

Her assertion that she had testified as an expert on child sexual abuse on numerous occasions in a variety of courts also appeared to be untruthful. The substance of her trial opinion was based on a theory of child abuse that had long been discredited, even by the expert who originally proffered the “child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome”.

This week, in a 411 paragraph decision, the Court of Appeal (JP v. British Columbia 2017 BCCA 308) held that Dr. Reeves’ fraud impacted the integrity of the entire judicial process, leading to a gross miscarriage of justice. The trial findings that the father was guilty of sexual abuse of his children were thrown out and a new trial ordered. The scathing denouncement of BC’s child protection authorities was also dismissed, the appeal court finding that the alleged misfeasance was the product of procedural unfairness.

What is startling about this case is that the Rules of Court and related case law clearly set out the requirements for the admission of expert evidence, rules and law that were flagrantly ignored by the litigants and the trial judge.

The waste of court time and the related costs in this case are staggering, as the trial occupied months of court time. In my view this case screamed out for the appointment of an “amicus curiae” or “friend of the court”, a lawyer who does not represent the parties, but assists the court with information that bears on the case. The admissibility of evidence issues, other procedural flaws, and the duration of the proceedings should have been red flags for the court.

For the parents of the children in this case, more trial dates are expected. What remains to be seen is whether the mother will file a second negligence lawsuit against the Ministry, which will ultimately depend on the findings in the new family law trial.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

BC Dentist Declared Vexatious Litigant in Family Law Case

B9316548187Z-1.1_20150314202542_000_GFTA6A1QO.1-0Hundreds of family law decisions are handed down every month in courts across Canada, but there are always a few family law cases that stand out and gain notoriety for unusual facts, belligerent litigants, or wisecracking judges.

The conduct of a Vernon, British Columbia dentist, Dr. Andrew Hokhold, brings his family law case within that group of cases that gain attention due to the misguided obstinence and retaliatory litigation strategy employed by him in his quest to defeat his wife, Laurie Gerbrandt in their high-conflict divorce case. (Hokhold v. Gerbrandt 2017 BCSC 1249)

The couple lived together for five years and had two children, ages 6 and 9. At their 2012 trial the court ordered joint guardianship of the children, and granted sole custody to Ms. Gerbrandt, but denied her request to move with the children from Vernon to Swift Current Saskatchewan. Dr. Hokhold was found to earn $610,000 annually and ordered to pay $7,900 in monthly child support and $9,000 in spousal support.

Needless to say, the doctor balked at the large payments required of him and in 2014 was found in contempt of court for failure to pay the amounts ordered. Although he successfully appealed the contempt finding, by April of 2017 his support arrears was $448,000.00.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hokhold, who acted for himself, abandoned his appeal of the support orders and turned his attention to corollary tactics, alleging that his former spouse had defamed him, and conspired with Canada Revenue Agency against him. He also commenced two civil actions against Ms. Gerbrandt and her mother, purporting to act as his children’s “litigation guardians”, a status that was never legitimate in the face of his wife’s sole custody order. He alleged that Ms. Gerbrandt and her mother had acted in breach of trust in respect of gold coins held for the children, proceedings that involved multiple court applications and hearings, adjournments, and filings. Dr. Hokhold eventually conceded that he had no authority to sue on behalf of his children and his claims were dismissed.

But he was not done. He then launched four separate appeals of orders related to his gold coin litigation, including an appeal from his unsuccessful application to remove a certain judge from presiding over his cases. By this time, his ex-wife was fed up and she brought an application to have her ex declared a “vexatious” litigant, unable to file further court actions without express permission from a judge.

When the date finally arrived to hear the “vexatious” litigant arguments, he sabotaged the proceedings by seeking an adjournment and filing and delivering thousands of pages of new material to his former wife’s counsel the evening before. Later, he sought a further adjournment by admitting himself to Vernon Jubilee Hospital, where he was promptly released without any prescriptions and drove himself home.

During his opportunity to defend himself against the “vexatious” litigant claims he opted to criticize his 2012 trial judge alleging fraud and fabrication and noted that he had already reported him to the Canadian Judicial Council and the RCMP.

In support of her “vexatious” litigant application Ms. Gerbrandt advised the Court that Dr. Hokhold had filed 98 affidavits, some exceeding 2,500 pages. He had also filed multiple requests to reappear before the Court and on one occasion in 2016 sought 64 separate orders. He also sued counsel for the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program after they began collection proceedings against him and brought actions in defamation, breach of trust, and multiple adjournment applications.

Dr. Hokhold was declared a vexatious litigant, both in the Court of Appeal and the British Columbia Supreme Court based on his predilection for bringing court actions and appeals that either could not succeed or were brought for an improper purpose, including the harassment and oppression of other parties by multifarious proceedings that did not assert legitimate rights and by failing to pay the costs related to his unsuccessful applications.

Madam Justice Newbury in the Court of Appeal said:

“It is these factors, together with his filings in this court, that lead me to conclude that Dr. Hokhold has been using the judicial process in a manner calculated to divert attention from the real issues outstanding between the parties – his annual income, the amount of support he should pay, and his rights and obligations as a parent. Even Dr. Hokhold admits that he is “tired” as a result of the litigation, and there are more than a few judges who feel the same.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

5 of the Dirtiest Divorce Tricks

Some divorcing spouses treat each other deplorably. In these sad cases, it is actually hard to believe they were once in love. Candor and kindness are replaced by artifice and cruelty. Divorce lawyers are well aware of the grab bag of dirty tricks spouses inflict on each other. My top five dirtiest divorce tricks are:

1. Conflicting Out All the Top Divorce Lawyers

An age-old practice for a spouse who expects a long, drawn out divorce battle is to ensure their estranged partner can’t retain a top divorce lawyer. It goes like this – husband or wife makes appointments with the top lawyers in the area. At each meeting they reveal enough about their situation that the top lawyer, who they have no real intention of retaining, cannot act for their spouse. If each top lawyer charges them $500.00 for a one hour consultation, they only spend a few thousand dollars to ensure they have defanged their spouse by preventing him or her from hiring a “gun” equivalent to their top-tier counsel. Yes, this happens in the world of high net worth divorce.

2. Firing Your Lawyer Just Before Trial

Another effective divorce trick is to fire your lawyer weeks before your divorce trial is set to commence. How does this work? It’s easy. Let’s say you are the wife of a wealthy husband. Since you obtained a court order ejecting your husband from the family home, you now reside in luxury with peace and quiet; you are receiving thousands of dollars a month in tax-free child and spousal support; and your life consists of tennis lessons, lunch with the girls at the Club and evening soirees. Meanwhile your husband is doing what he always does: travelling around the world doing business deals to support your mutual lifestyles. He doesn’t even see the kids much, so there’s no hassles at all.

Why would you spoil all this by taking a chance that a judge may eliminate some part of your lavish lifestyle or impose an access schedule for the children to see their father that may interfere with your plans?

3. Transferring Your Assets Off-Shore

While you may live a life of champagne and caviar, it is unlikely you can maintain that level of opulence if your spouse has arranged to stash all his liquid assets off-shore in trusts set up in any number of tax havens such as the Bahamas, the Isle of Man, Turks and Caicos or Panama.

In many jurisdictions a Court may make an order that off-shore assets be divided between the spouses, but just wait until you see how difficult it is for you to convince the foreign jurisdiction they must obey the order of a North American Court. All I can say is good luck!

4. Arranging Multiple Mortgages on Your Real Estate

It is not uncommon to see marriages where the “little lady” has no idea of what she and her husband are really worth. Imagine a spouse’s disappointment when their lawyer informs them that the family home and their summer cottage are mortgaged to the hilt and have little or no equity. Their once middle-class standard of living evaporates as Mrs. now looks for a basement suite to house her and her two children.

Another real estate divorce trick is to build a lavish home on leased land that is situated on property that is in the agricultural land reserve, so that while it may have cost $3 million to build, it has no real market value since nobody in their right mind would purchase this property. Yes, this is a true story.

5. Building a House of Cards

For a time life is grand, but inevitably problems arise in your marriage. In an effort to please your spouse you try you to spend your way back to the marriage you once had. Little does your spouse know that the trips to Europe, Hawaii and the Super Bowl were leveraged, courtesy of American Express or Visa.

The marriage does not survive and you discover your net worth is much less than you expected as you have tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt all used for the family. Let’s just hope the Sistine Chapel was worth it.

Perhaps you think that with the explosion of mediation and collaborative divorce, these tricks have lost their luster? Think again. For spouses who need revenge more than they need closure, they are alive and well.

17 Years in Prison for Divorce Fraud

BarristerCalifornia 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

Even Divorce Lawyers Can’t Afford to Hire a Divorce Lawyer

It should come as no surprise to anyone that most Canadians cannot afford a lawyer. In fact, lawyers often joke that if they had to pay a lawyer, they too couldn’t afford it. Nowhere is this dilemma more obvious than in family courts.

It is now commonplace to see self-represented litigants dueling with lawyers in most of our family courts in Canada. In British Columbia a parent or spouse can apply for custody and child and spousal support in the Provincial Court, which is purposely “user-friendly”. The Provincial Family Courts across Canada have successfully implemented reforms including plain-language court documents that are readily decipherable by lay litigants. The judges in Provincial Court are accustomed to hearing cases without lawyers and graciously assist those who act for themselves.

However, to obtain a divorce or property division, the only venue is each province’s Supreme Court, sometimes called “Queen’s Bench”, a most inhospitable environment for in-person litigants.

In a 2011 survey of Ontario divorce lawyers, conducted by Professor Nick Bala of Queen’s University Law School, he found that 48% of 167 responding lawyers indicated they were seeing many cases with at least one lay litigant and more cases where at some point in the litigation, neither party had counsel.

As family law becomes increasingly more complicated, despite the Canadian government’s sensible introduction of both Child Support Guidelines in 1997 and Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines in 2006, there are minefields enough for lawyers, never mind those who are forced to act as their own lawyer.

Will a lay litigant understand that in calculating their income for the payment of child support they must consider and understand complex nuances such as the possibility of the exclusion of non-recurring income; the need to include all of their capital gains income in their calculation and not just the portion they see on page two of their tax return; and their ability to deduct business expenses, union or professional dues and carrying costs? I doubt it. Not all lawyers have figured it out yet!

But affordability is not the only reason litigants refuse to retain counsel. There is another group of litigants who believe they can handle their divorce case just as well as a lawyer can. This smaller segment often become serial litigators who, because it costs them nothing, bring multiple frivolous applications, although some would say that lawyers do the same thing! Often when offered pro bono counsel, they decline.

Problems abound for all involved in the family justice system in the wake of the impact of lay litigants. Judges who must ensure that justice is both done, and seen to be done, are at the centre of the dilemma. If they provide too much help for an in-person litigant, that litigant’s spouse will see it as an unfair advantage and often, the court Rules that govern court procedures are less stringently enforced when it comes to litigants with no lawyer.

As well, litigants that pay for their own lawyer often become disenchanted with their counsel when they see their lawyer “helping” their estranged spouse who has no counsel. Lawyers are bound to treat participants in the justice system with courtesy and respect, traits that are frequently misconceived as their lawyer being “too friendly” with their opponent. Fee-paying litigants resent their lawyer telling their spouse what the law is or how the court process works.

For lawyers the problems are multiplied. They must walk a fine line in dealing with an unrepresented spouse and must ensure that all communication with an in-person litigant is documented in writing, with no exceptions. Of course, their clients are even more unhappy since it is their clients who pay the bills for the extra time and effort required to work with a lay litigant.

Lay litigants have also been known to send abusive communication to their spouse’s lawyer and from time to time, report their spouse’s lawyer to the Law Society, a complaint which can cost a lawyer hours of wasted time to respond to the often ill-founded allegations.

Is there a cure? They say that recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it. Certainly, the issue can no longer be avoided. It has taken centre stage as a result of lawyers, judges, court administrators, law professors, lawmakers, and the Canadian public decrying the slow demise of Canada’s family justice system.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang