18 August 2016

Family Maintenance Enforcement Program

I am often asked about how helpful the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program is in assisting parties with enforcement of their court orders or separation agreements.  The answer is, FMEP can be extremely helpful, but only if your agreement or court order is specific enough. 

Some basic facts about FMEP can be found here :

  1. FMEP is a free service of the BC Ministry of Justice helping families and children entitled to support under a maintenance order or agreement.
  2. Anyone with a maintenance order or agreement can enroll in FMEP.
  3. There are various ways to send or receive maintenance payments and also actions can be taken if payments are not made. 

One of the biggest problems that keep people coming back unnecessarily to lawyers, and spending more money than they often are trying to collect, is poorly worded court orders or agreements for sharing of children’s expenses or “section 7 expenses”.  Section 7 expenses are discretionary by nature, meaning that, a court “may on either spouse’s request, provide for an amount to cover all or any portion of the following expenses……”   The online version of the Guidelines found here  can help you understand whether the expenses you want to share are extraordinary or whether they are covered by the child support you currently receive or pay. 

The key is to have your court order or separation agreement worded in such a way that avoids challenges and arguments down the road when you are trying to get payment for little’s Susie’s ballet class or little Jonny’s summer camp fees that weren’t mentioned in the Separation Agreement.  These expenses change over time as your children grow, so you may need to amend your agreement, but if you start out with clarity, it is much easier to make changes.  The FMEP website gives clear instructions about how your agreement should be worded, so FMEP can collect payments on your behalf and take enforcement action if required.  The agreement needs to clearly state the type of expense, the name of the child to whom the expense relates, the exact amount one parent is to pay the other for the expense, the date payments are to start and the frequency of payments.  If your agreement contains a vague statement that “parent one will pay to parent two his or her proportionate share of the agreed upon extraordinary expenses” FMEP cannot collect payment on your behalf if you send them receipts for little Susie’s ballet class because your agreement is not specific enough. 

Yes, it does take time to be precise in agreements, and when you are on the home stretch in that last lawyer meeting, these are often the details that get missed and I hear people say, “oh we can work that out ourselves”.  That is all fine and good when you are getting along, but when it comes to sharing of larger expenses like university tuition, which you may not have anticipated at separation because your children are young, you do not want to be in a position of having difficulties because of a poorly worded agreement.

What should you do?  Read through the child support guidelines to determine if the expenses you are trying to share are indeed “extraordinary” and then draft a clearly worded agreement about how these costs will be shared between you and the other parent.  Have a look at the FMEP website where you will find the answers to many of your questions about enrolment and enforcement. 

And finally, talk to a lawyer before you sign anything. 

25 July 2016

Excluded Property 2016: Where are we now?

It has been an interesting year for family law lawyers giving advice to clients about division of property and how to ensure they can keep the assets they are bringing into the relationship in the event of separation.  Since blended families are more and more common, parties are entering into relationships and asking the question together, "How can we plan our relationship so we each keep our property separate so we can leave it to our own children?"  This is a good question and one I am asked almost on a daily basis.  My answer to that question has consistently been that parties should enter into Cohabitation Agreements or Marriage Agreements (also called Pre-Nuptial Agreements)  in order to clarify their intentions early on in the relationship; when things are going well it's much easier to talk about these types of things.  A Marriage Agreement can be a simple document in which each person sets out what they own and owe, what they earn, and what their intentions are regarding division of property and payment of support to each other in the unlikely event that their relationship should end.  This just makes good sense, and it avoids a lot of ugly arguments and payment of legal fees if you end up separating in the future.

Some basic facts about property division in British Columbia.
  1. The Family Law Act ("FLA") came into effect March 18, 2013 providing a new regime for property division in BC, defining family property and excluded property, in the hopes that parties would  more easily be able to resolve disputes without having to use lawyers and go to court. Section 84 defines family property as all real and personal property owned by either spouse on the date of separation and Section 85 defines Excluded Property  to include property acquired by a spouse before the relationship began, inheritances, gifts to  a spouse and so on.  Any growth in value of Excluded Property is captured back in Section 84(2)(g) as Family Property and presumptively divided between the parties on separation.  Put simply, if you owned a house worth $500,000 when you got together with your spouse, and when you separated your house was worth $600,000, if you didn't have a marriage agreement stating otherwise, according to the FLA you get to keep your initial $500,000 but you share the growth of $100,000 with your spouse.  Any inheritances are yours to keep, but again, the growth in value between the date you received the inheritance and the date you separate, are divided with your spouse.  The intention of the FLA was to keep things simpler and allow parties to keep what was theirs going into the relationship and to divide what they grow together.    All sounds good so far.  Right?
  2. The Family Law Act also made it more difficult to divide Excluded Property by raising the bar to one of Significant Unfairness so that under the FLA, equal division occurs unless it would be significantly unfair to do so.  This section of the FLA has been interpreted by the courts as a "caution against departure from the default of equal division in an attempt to achieve perfect fairness."  In L.G. v. R.G. 2013 BCSC 983 the court said that "only when equal division brings consequences sufficiently weighty to render an equal division unjust or unreasonable should a judge depart from the default equal division."  An analysis of the cases that consider this issue leaves us to advise our clients that the issue of significant unfairness needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis, which for me, always brings me back to my initial advice to clients:  do a Cohabitation Agreement or Marriage Agreement if you want to avoid problems in the future.
  3. Under the new FLA, parties who are not married are able to rely on the property division regime once they have been living together in a marriage-like relationship for two years, and are therefore considered "spouses" for the purpose of the Act.  What does this mean for the average person?  If you are living together and you intend to keep living together, you need to think about having an agreement prepared so you and your 'spouse' can write down what you each own and owe, and what your intentions are if you separate.  If you are together for five years, you are considered spouses from the date you started living together, not starting at the two year mark, and it doesn't matter if you have been living together for over two years, you can still do an agreement now.  Talk to your spouse, gather all of your financial documents together and go and see a Family Law Lawyer  to talk about your options.  These are not comfortable conversations to have with your beloved, but they can save a lot of heartache if your relationship doesn't go the way you planned.
Family Law Lawyers have been watching the Court roll out some interesting and sometimes conflicting decisions about property division since the new FLA.  Some of the prominent cases are described here, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.  First, we had Asselin v. Roy 2013 BCSC 1681, a decision of Mr. Justice Harvey, that told us if you could trace your excluded property (with documents and other evidence), then you could keep it as your separate property.  Then we had Remmem v. Remmem 2014 BCSC 1552, a decision of Mr. Justice Butler, in which the husband was allowed to keep the value of his excluded property, even though it had been sold and the funds used towards the purchase of the parties new house.  From this case we were reassured that our clients could comfortably use their excluded property, or funds derived from their excluded property to purchase property jointly with their spouse, and they would not automatically lose their exclusion.   A line of cases followed Remmem, including P.G. v. D.G. 2015 BCSC 1454, which basically said, "once property is excluded it is always excluded".

Then came Wells v. Campbell 2015 BCSC 3, a decision of Mr. Justice Masuhara which contradicted the Remmem  and P.G. decisions and found that the husband had lost the ability to claim his exclusion by putting property into joint names with his wife.  In the fall of 2015, Mr. Justice Walker's decision, following the trial in V.J.F. v. S.K.W. aka S.K.F. 2015 BCSC 593, followed the line of reasoning in the Wells v. Campbell case and the husband lost his exclusion of $2,000,000 by purchasing a property with his inheritance and putting it into the sole name of his wife.

In April of 2016, The Court of Appeal handed down the decision in V.J.F. v. S.K.W. 2016 BCCA 186, and provided clarification regarding the state of the law when it comes to excluded property.  The Court found that the husband, in putting the $2,000,000 inheritance into a house and putting it into the sole name of his wife, had gifted that property to his wife and could not then later claim that property as his excluded property.  The husband's evidence at trial was that the purpose of his 'gift' was to protect the property from creditors, but the Court said he could not have it both ways, meaning he couldn't give it to her for one reason and then get it back for another.  The 'gift' of the $2,000,000 property to the wife was found to be Family Property, not Excluded Property as claimed by the husband, and it was subject to equal division between the parties.

What does this mean for you?  It means you should have an Agreement with your spouse about how you want to hold and manage your property during your relationship and in the unlikely event that you separate.  It means that if you had excluded property, and you sold it and used it to buy property jointly with your spouse, you risk losing your claim to that excluded property.  The safest way to keep excluded property excluded, is to keep it separate.  Plain and simple.  But, that isn't always possible, particularly when we live here in Vancouver and people want to have nice homes so they sell their previously owned home and in a state of bliss they go with their new spouse and buy a new bigger house for the family, putting all of their 'eggs' into one literal and legal basket.  The facts of the V.J.F case were a little unique in that the husband placed the entire $2,000,000 home into the wife's sole name and not into joint names, so we are still waiting for the Court of Appeal to give us a decision where the facts are more along the lines of the P.G. case where funds and property were co-mingled.

So, stay tuned, and talk to a lawyer if you have any doubt about whether your property is being held and managed in a way that is consistent with your intentions.

Karen Redmond
Redmond Law

01 June 2016

Adoption Update

It looks like I've found someone - a group really - who is interested in and well-suited to taking this blog over. I hope to make the transition by the beginning of September at the latest. More news to follow.

Update: 8 July 2016

In the very near future, Collaborative Divorce Vancouver will assume control of this blog. CDV is wonderful group of family law lawyers, family therapists and financial specialists who bring are trained in both collaborative settlement processes and mediation and focus on resolving their clients' legal disputes without going to court. I took my collaborative training in BC and was a member of CDV before I left for Alberta, and I am very pleased to have CDV take over my blog.

CDV has kindly agreed to keep all of my old posts, going back to 2008, live and online, and that all new content they post will be available for all to copy, save, reuse and repurpose on the same Creative Commons non-commercial, share-alike licence I've used for the past several years.

Although I'm giving up this blog, for the reasons I described in my post of 27 March 2016, I'm satisfied that it's in good hands and will continue to provide the same sort of insights and analysis readers are used to. I'll be following this blog after it changes hands, and I'm looking forward to the fantastic new content.

My sincere thanks to CDV and to all of my readers over these last eight years. Without your interest, I would never have kept the blog going as long as I did. Thank you.

 - John-Paul Boyd

02 May 2016

Unbundled Family Law Services Project: Help MediateBC with an Important Initiative

MediateBC is in the middle of its Family Unbundled Legal Services Project, an initiative aimed at encouraging more family law lawyers to offer short legal services to support families involved in mediation. Among other things, the project is looking to find out more about how lawyers provide short legal services and how those services are used.

MediateBC is looking for more information from British Columbia family law lawyers as well as from people who have been involved in a family law dispute anywhere in Canada, and invites you to complete a survey that you can find on their website. One survey is provided for family law lawyers, another for families. 

Please help MediateBC gather the data they need for this important initiative and take the time to complete their survey.

31 March 2016

Save the Date! New Course on Difficult Family Law Issues Coming to Vancouver

A new one-day course on difficult family law issues, "A Rock & A Hard Place: Complex Issues in Family Law Practice" is coming to the Pan Pacific in Vancouver, British Columbia in April. The course is being put on by the Trial Lawyers Association of BC and is being chaired by lawyers Magal Huberman and Zara Suleman.

Here's how the promo material from TLABC describes the course:
Family law practice can be challenging. Sometimes (or often) we can have files that have no easy answers. TLABC's 2016 Family Law Seminar A Rock & A Hard Place: Complex Issues in Family Law Practice is designed to address some of the more advanced issues in family law. With problems to solve that are as diverse as our clients, we benefit from the enriching perspectives of the judiciary, family counsel, criminal lawyers, Crown counsel, community advocates, police and the Ministry of Justice.
Faculty include:
  • Megan Ellis, QC and Bill Story, noted Vancouver family law lawyers;
  • The Honourable Judge Patricia Bond, from the Surrey Registry of the BC Provincial Court;
  • Professor Margaret Jackson from Simon Fraser;
  • Vicky Law from Battered Women's Support Services;
  • Dr. Susan Gamache, a marriage and family therapist based in Vancouver;
  • Jack Hittrich, a noted Surrey family law lawyer; and,
  • Penelope Lipsack from the BC Ministry of Justice.
Topics include:
  • family violence and projections orders;
  • using counselling and collaborative tools in litigation; 
  • interjurisdictional issues in custody matters; and,
  • allegations of child alienation.
Here are the details...
22 April 2016
Pan Pacific Hotel, Vancouver
$111.60 to $471.60, varying depending on membership status with TLABC and year of call; additional discounts available to articled students and law students

27 March 2016

Interested in Adopting This Blog?

It's becoming more and more difficult for me to maintain this blog, and I'm looking for a British Columbia family law lawyer who's interested in taking it over. The blog gets between 400 and 600 pageviews per weekday, less on weekends, has 1597 published comments and this is its 383rd post.

Unfortunately, my job at the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family is taking up an increasing amount of my time, and I'm afraid I'm just not able to keep this blog as up to date as I'd like to. I'm doing more writing for organizations like Slaw and LawNow, which is letting me focus on theory, access to justice issues and topical public legal education, but is also robbing me of the time I normally have to write here.

Ideally, you'd write an article or two each month focussing on developments in family law, practice and procedure, commonly misunderstood legal issues and common legal needs and so forth. You'd expect that your posts will be read by the bench and bar -- incidentally, this blog was the first legal blog cited in a Canadian court judgment! -- as well as the public, and that you'll occasionally provoke some controversy with your writing. One of the things that's set this blog apart, I think, has been my interest in taking positions on legal issues, not just passively reporting on them or treating bad options as equal to good options. I'd hope that you'd make recommendations, promote best practices and discourage foolish, self-centred behaviour.

You should also expect to reply to two to three comments a week. Most of the comments this blog receives are spam from spell casters (believe it or not), lawyers (for shame), scammers (hardly a surprise) and the illuminati (or so they say). The rest are a mix of genuine commentary that contributes to the dialogue and questions about readers' personal situations. You can't give legal advice through this blog, of course, but you can give legal information.

You'll also need to expect that your writing will be copied and republished. Use of this blog is subject to a Creative Commons licence that allows readers to save, store, copy, reuse, repurpose and republish its contents as they wish, without the need to obtain my permission, subject only to three restrictions: that they do not copy or republish this material for commercial purposes; that they cite this blog as the source of the material they have used; and, that they publish the material they create with material from this blog available for others to copy and republish on the same terms. It will be condition of my transfer of this blog that you continue to publish on the terms of this licence.

Another condition will be that you keep the primary name of the blog as "JP Boyd on Family Law" in order to maintain consistency with the branding of the wikibook of the same name. You can add whatever you'd like to after that to identify it with yourself or your form.

A final condition will be that all articles published prior to you taking the blog over continue to remain published and that I continue, except for guest posts, to be identified as their author. You can of course add whatever editorial comments you want to make to those posts if you take a different view.... as long as you're clearly identified as the author of those comments!

So... anyone interested? If you'd like to talk, call me at my office at 403-261-0341. Otherwise, send me an email at the address you'll find on www.jpboyd.com.

12 January 2016

Save the Date! New Course on the Intersection of Family Law and Psychology Coming to Vancouver

A brand new two-day course, "Assessments and Interventions: The Intersection of Family Law and Psychology," is coming to the Pan Pacific in Vancouver, British Columbia in March. The course is being put on by the Continuing Legal Education Society of BC and the course chairs are myself and Morag MacLeod, a noted Vancouver family law lawyer, and Alyson Jones, a well-known registered clinical counsellor based in West Vancouver. Morag frequently presents for groups including CLEBC and the Trial Lawyers Association of BC. Alyson teaches at the Adler University and presents for the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

Here's how the promo material from CLEBC describes the course:
This two-day course, taught by a multidisciplinary faculty of expert lawyers, judges, psychologists, and clinical counsellors, will provide insights and practical guidance on how psychology intersects with family law disputes. 
Day 1 will feature a discussion of childhood developmental psychology, how to craft age-appropriate parenting plans, how children experience separation and conflict, and judicial and therapeutic interventions in family law disputes. 
On Day 2, experts’ forensic reports on children and parenting and the legal and scientific standards that apply to them will be critically examined. The second day will also address the causes of and potential remedies for children’s reluctance to visit a parent after separation, focusing on parental alienation and child estrangement.
Other esteemed faculty include:
This is going to be an excellent course. It is designed for a multidisciplinary audience of lawyers, mental health professionals, mediators, arbitrators, parenting coordinators and judges, and will be relevant for anyone practicing in Canada or the United States whose work involves separating and separated families. Best of all, there's a seat sale on right now that'll give you a whopping discount on the ordinary price.

The present draft of the agendum is available on CLEBC's website. Here are the details...
10 and 11 March 2016
(Register for both days or either day.)
Pan Pacific Hotel, Vancouver
Price, given for both days
Early bird rate until 11 February 2016
$1,030 regular, in person
$575 students, in person
$910 live webinar
Rate after 11 February 2016
$1,140 regular, in person
$635 students, in person
$1,010 live webinar
Mental health professionals
Special reduced pricing is available, contact the customer service department
Seat sale rate
$740 regular, in person
$610 live webinar