Family Law Practice Points from the Ontario Court of Appeal

GEO CASUALIn a case from Ontario, Perri v. Perri 2017 ONCA 1001, the Court of Appeal considered the husband’s arguments that an order for lump sum spousal support for his wife constituted an error in law. The parties had been married for 22 years and had 2 children.

The appeal court noted that the parties had agreed that lump sum support was preferable to monthly payments as their post-marital relationship was marked by animosity.

While the Court dismissed the husband’s appeal, finding that compensatory factors were in play, it did correct two legal errors. The first was the lower court’s order that the wife be designated as the sole irrevocable beneficiary of the husband’s life insurance policy. The error was that there was no indication of an end date with respect to the beneficiary designation. The appeal court inserted the following language to that order:

“until the lump sum spousal support is paid and as security for lump sum spousal
support.”

The second legal error was as a result of the Brampton court registry insisting that counsel include a paragraph in the order that the husband was under a continuing obligation to provide annual updated financial information to his wife. The appeal court confirmed that such disclosure was not required where the order for support was lump sum.

Two practice points arise from this case:

1. The first is that a life insurance designation in a support order is intended to provide security to a receipient spouse or parent in the event of the untimely death of a payor. It is not intended to be a transfer of wealth upon a payor’s death.

2. The second is that while court registry staff are typically very knowledgable and helpful, they are not infallible. The notion of an ongoing disclosure requirement initiated by clerks, where no such order was made, is a stark example of why counsel should remember that it is their responsibility to enter an order that mirrors the court’s judgment or the court clerk’s notes.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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Wife Returns $1 Million Dollar Cheque to Husband and Seeks Monthly Support

GeorgiaLeeLang057When couples separate one of the first legal issues to consider is whether one spouse should pay the other interim spousal support. Interim spousal support is support intended to ensure that the lower income, or non-income earning spouse has sufficient income to support her or himself until matters are finalized, either though settlement or at trial.

In an unusual case out of Ontario, Bridge v. Laurence, 2017 ONSC 7417, Mr. Laurence presented his separated spouse with a cheque for $1 million dollars, after their 30-year marriage ended.

The parties had been in mediation and he asserted that he and his wife had concluded an agreement whereby she would receive 49.9% of the shares of his very successful company, which included 18% of shares she already owned. He then declared a dividend in her favour of $1 million dollars. He would also receive a similar dividend. Earlier the parties had each received nearly $1 million dollars in the division of other family property. On this basis he concluded that his wife would not require interim support as she would have sufficient funds to support herself.

Ms. Bridge initially advised the mediator that she agreed “generally” to her husband’s proposal, but shortly thereafter changed her mind, after she consulted her lawyer. She sent the cheque back to her husband and said that since she only owned 18% of the company, she was entitled to a dividend of $360,000 and no more, since she was not willing to give up spousal support.

Mr. Laurence, however, refused to provide her with a cheque for $360,000 leading to a stalemate that required court intervention.

The Court was not amused by either husband or wife, mildly scolding them for failing to collaborate to ensure efficient and cost-effective litigation, with consequential “litigation gridlock”. Mr. Laurence was also criticized for filing material “without limit”, demanding irrelevant disclosure from his wife, and “stubbornly refusing” to reciprocate in the disclosure department. In a final shot, the Court noted that Ms. Bridge had refused payment, but foolishly expended over $200,000 on legal fees:

“The parties seem determined to pay their lawyers to fight about almost every aspect of issues that should have been resolvable well before now.”

Ms. Bridge earned a law degree but had retrained and worked as a school teacher earning $111,000 per year. In the two preceding years her husband’s company earned $1 million dollars in annual income. The Court held that:

“Need is relative. Interim spousal support is intended to preserve the accustomed lifestyle of the support recipient pending the trial. Both parties live frugally despite their wealth. As a consequence, the evidence does not show that the applicant has accumulated significant debt since separation. Nor has she been required to significantly liquidate her assets. On the other hand, during the same period, the respondent has continued to accumulate wealth.”

Ultimately, the Court ordered Mr. Laurence to pay a dividend of $360,000 to his wife and to pay himself a $1 million dollar dividend, if he so chose. The remaining dividend of $640,000 would be held in escrow pending the trial or settlement of the family dispute. In addition, Ms. Bridge would receive $300,000 in lump sum interim spousal support, payable in 90 days, an amount easily payable by Mr. Laurence from his dividend cheque or other funds.

Ms. Bridge’s claim for $12,544 a month in interim spousal support and $350,891.00 in retroactive support was dismissed.

This is yet another case where money, energy, and time is wasted which could be better spent working with a tax specialist/accountant to craft a division of corporate property beneficial to both parties, accompanied by a determination of the income status of each party after the pie is divided. Only then can there be a proper analysis of the need or not, for spousal support.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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