The Cost of Divorce in Ontario

When couples find that their relationship is coming to an end, there is often stress over finances. This leads to the question: “What is the cost of divorce in Ontario?”. The simple answer is that the cost of a divorce is directly related to how reasonable each person is and how hard they want to work to find reasonable solutions to their problems after marriage. The unfortunate reality is that if even one party is being unreasonable, the costs of divorce will skyrocket.

This blog post looks at the story of one Ontario couple of average means who spent $500,000 in legal fees for their divorce. With that much money spent, the parents risked both of their futures financially.

How do you Spend $500,000 on Legal Fees in a Divorce

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice had four different written decisions on this lengthy divorce proceeding. The father worked for the Toronto Police Service and earned $100,350 per year. The mother was unemployed at the time of separation and for the year of the trial, estimated she would earn $17,000. The trial judge found that the mother was underemployed and imputed her income at $60,000.

The couple met in 1997 or 1998, married in 2004, had one child together in 2007 and separated in 2011. After four years of animosity, the trial was held in 2015. Both parents insisted that what they were doing was in the best interests of the child. After 36 days of trial, hearing from 20 witnesses, the father had spent over $300,000 in legal fees and the mother had spent $200,000 in legal fees.

The witnesses at trial included teachers, principal, vice-principal, children’s aid workers, a family doctor and a custody/access assessor. The judge had this comment: “Custody trials are supposed to be about children. But 36 days – that speaks volumes about the parents“.

While the father was mostly successful and was awarded full custody, the sad reality was that the couple spent almost five years of gross salary on legal fees to get to that point. This means they have effectively destroyed their financial future and that of their child, by continuously arguing about the best interests of the child.

 

Cost of Divorce in Ontario

In the subsequent decision on costs, the father was quoted in a letter sent to the mother prior to the legal battle starting: “We are both reasonable people and I really think we can work this out without spending 40 to 50 thousand dollars a piece in lawyer fees only to have a judge tell use something we could arrange ourselves. Please I’m begging you to be reasonable.”

After the trial and in her argument against having costs awarded to the father, the mother was quoted as saying: “This trial has been financially disastrous for both parties.” Had the parties employed a little bit of reasonableness years before, they could have saved themselves half of a million dollars.

How to be Reasonable During Separation?

This couple separated in 2011. In 2012, the mother began to restrict the father’s access to the child. The father responded by sending a letter to work things out. With no response, the father obtained a lawyer to send the mother a letter. The father offered to go to mediation to get all of their matters resolved. The mother refused mediation and said it wouldn’t have worked.

These actions are what leads to a higher cost of divorce in Ontario. If you want to keep legal fees low in your divorce proceeding, try and work things out yourselves or go to mediation. Not only go to mediation, but go with an open mind. While the initial separation may be an emotional time, after one year has passed and there is conflict, reflect on your own actions prior to looking to blame the other. Going to mediation with an open mind is a good opportunity to demonstrate that you are trying to resolve matters in the best interests of the child.

The best thing that can happen from mediation is that all of your issues are resolved and your child will have certainty of what their future will look like. The worst thing that can happen by offering mediation, is that it will look to others that you are trying to be reasonable and looking to resolve the issues on your own.

Continuous calls to police and continuous litigation over trivial things, while providing some short-term satisfaction doesn’t actually help. Being 5-minutes late to drop a child off is not something to call the police over. Going to court to resolve who should have a car-seat, or blankets, is not being reasonable.

What to do After Spending so Much on Legal Fees?

After spending $500,000 on legal fees and calling it financially disastrous, you would think it would end the litigation between the parties. Shockingly, only two-years after 36-days of trial, the parties were back in Court. The father sought supervised access, the mother said the father was alienating the child from her.

At the time of this decision, the mother hadn’t seen the child in over one year. The mother argued that since she wasn’t seeing the child, she shouldn’t have to pay child support. (That is the topic for another post) So effectively, after spending $200,000 in legal fees on a 36-day trial doing what she said was in the best interests of the child, the mother didn’t want to have anything to do with the child.

One Party Refuses to be Reasonable

After 36-days of trial, it is difficult to identify the reasonable party. The fact that the father was almost entirely successful is a good indicator, but it isn’t the deciding factor. The actions of the parties after the trial is what really shows reasonableness. A mother walking away from her child because she was not happy with the outcome of the trial, is the very definition of unreasonable.

What do you do when one-party isn’t being reasonable? The first step is to look in the mirror and see if there is something you could be doing different. After that, it becomes a very difficult situation and there is no easy answer. Having a lawyer that will explore all avenues prior to litigation is a good start.

What is the Cost of a Divorce in Ontario?

What is the cost of divorce in Ontario in 2020? The answer is, “whatever you want to spend”. If both parties are reasonable, everything can be solved in short order and for very little cost. If even one party is being unreasonable, it increases costs. The couple here demonstrated you can spend five years in salary on legal fees and still not be satisfied.

Get legal advice early in the process and that may help save some cost later on. Contact Hearty Law for a free one-hour virtual consultation to discuss your family law matter.

Hearty Law serves Toronto, Ottawa and surrounding communities. Email toronto@heartylaw.ca or ottawa@heartylaw.ca for more information.

Mother and Father Arguing

Divorce is Expensive in Ontario Because of Unreasonable Parents

Mother and Father Arguing

Why is divorce so expensive in Ontario? While the popular answer is that lawyers make it so, but divorce is expensive in Ontario because of unreasonable parents. Earlier this summer, there was yet another decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, where the parents spent over $100,000 on a 10-day trial. This trial was to interpret the final order from the last trial, five-years ago.

Divorce is Expensive in Ontario Because of Unreasonable Parents

This couple separated in 2012 and went to trial in 2015, which was to resolve all of their outstanding issue. For the past five-years, both the mother and the father have continued to argue over everything. Now eight years apart and with children, ages nine and eight, they went back to Court.

These were the major issues: first, the Court Order said that the March break would split in half. The mother thought the half-way point would be at 5pm, while the father thought the half-way point would be noon.

Second, the Court Order provided that each parent would have two continuous weeks in July and August. As this only covered 28 out of the 31 days in the month, they couldn’t agree what to  do with the extra three-days.

Third, the Court Order provided that the father would have the children for three weekends each month. He wanted the first, second and third weekends. The mother wanted the second weekend each month, not the fourth weekend.

The father picked up the children from school at 3pm, to start his access weekend. The mother wanted the father to pick up the kids from her house at 5pm to start the access weekend. The father wanted to end his access weekend at 6pm and the mother wanted to pick-up the children at 5pm.

These were just some of the issues that frequently resulted in police being called to enforce the Court Order. After five years of constant fighting, they have yet another Court Order which now interprets the first.

Why Does a Divorce Cost so Much in Ontario?

A quick review of some Ontario Superior Court decisions demonstrates that this couple is not unique. See my blog-post on a middle-class couple that spent over $500,000 on legal fees. It is difficult when emotion runs high, but in this instance, the couple has been separated for eight-years.

The Judge pointed this out by saying that each parent refused to look at the issues from the perspective of the other. And more importantly, neither parent was acting in the best interests of the children. There is no way you argue that calling the police to resolve an issue over a pick-up time is in anyone’s best interest.

The role of the lawyer is to represent the client and often times the client won’t listen to reasonable advice. The cost of a divorce rises exponentially with the level of unreasonableness with each parent.

How to Reduce the Cost of a Divorce in Ontario?

It is very difficult to do at the time, but take a step back and think about what you are trying to accomplish. In this instance, the parents could have put together a list of all the issues. Then flip a coin and go back and forth resolving each issue.

Look at this another way. The father ended up spending over $95,000 in legal fees. This is after he was ordered to pay costs of $58,000 because the mother was successful at the 2015 trial. The mother was then ordered to pay costs of $37,000 on this trial because the father was successful.

While I don’t have the costs from the first trial in 2015, this couple has spent at least $200,000 on lawyers over the past five years. If each person looked at by saying, I will save myself $100,000 and give in on a few hours over March break, that may resolve some of the issues.

$100,000 over the past five years could have been spent far more effectively on an investment property, an RESP for the children, vacations or boats. Or anything else you want to spend money on.

Some Advice to Lower Costs of Divorce

Divorce is expensive in Ontario because of unreasonable parents. To reduce the cost, first, reduce the level of animosity. This may be hard but it can be accomplished by not calling police over every little issue.

Second, prior to making yet another Court application, ask yourself if there is a better way to spend that money.

Third, if you still want to make that Court application, ask yourself if the children will be better off with you spending your energy on another trial.

Contact Hearty Law for a free one-hour virtual consultation. Hearty Law will represent you on any family law matter and will answer all your questions on divorce, separation, custody, access, child support, spousal support and property distribution.

Email toronto@heartylaw.ca or ottawa@heartylaw.ca for more information.

Hearty Law serves Toronto, Ottawa and surrounding communities.

 

Shaking Hands

Divorce Costs in Ontario Rise With Refusal to Negotiate

Shaking Hands

In the past, I have posted articles on a decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal. The previous posts looked at the impact of false allegations of domestic violence and the impact of RRSP withdrawals on child support. This post will look at the legal costs incurred for this 12-day trial. This is an example of how divorce costs in Ontario rise with refusal to negotiate. The father spent $249,000 on legal fees, while the mother spent $231,000. These high costs were the direct result of the mother refusing to negotiate in good faith.

 

Why Does Divorce Cost so Much in Ontario?

The couple in this decision married in 2006. They had one child together in 2014 and separated in 2015. As discussed in a previous post, the mother made false allegations of abuse, which created a high conflict environment. These allegations were used to support her position that the father could only have supervised access.

The trial Judge in 2018 found that the father made three separate reasonable offers to settle. In each case, the offer made by the father would have left the mother in a better position than she was in after trial. The first offer was made shortly after separation. Had that initial offer been accepted, combined the couple would have saved nearly $500,000.

The first offer from the father was for joint custody and equal parenting time. Unless there is some significant reason to keep a parent from being involved in decision making, joint custody is a typical result. Since the father ended up with sole custody and equal parenting time, the offer was at the very least a reasonable starting position.

 

Continue to Negotiate Through the Proceedings

In early 2017, the father made another offer. This time, in an effort to demonstrate his desire to negotiate in good faith, he offered to reduce his parenting time. The goal was to engage the mother in negotiation to resolve the matter without trial. This offer also included a resolution proposal on spousal support, child support and division of property. After trial, the father ended up in a better position on each issue.

In late 2017, the father made one further settlement offer in an effort to avoid an expensive trial. The father offered to waive all of his rights to equalization of property and waived occupation rent the mother needed to pay. In all, he offered to accept $21,000 from the mother to resolve all property matters. After trial, the mother was ordered to pay over $140,000 to the father. In addition to resolving the property matters, the father offered a reduction in his access and child support.

The most important aspect of the fathers offers was that every item was severable. This means that the mother could have picked individual offers to settle to reduce the time needed in court. Offering to sever any issues in an effort to resolve something, is an important aspect of reasonable offers.

 

What Is an Unreasonable Offer?

In this case, the Judge found that the mother acted in bad faith throughout the process. This included:

  • making false allegations of domestic violence;
  • Calling 911 to falsely report the father was abducting the child;
  • Limiting the father’s access to the child;
  • Requiring the father to have supervised access with the child;
  • Refusing to provide the father with medical information on the child;
  • Making all decisions about the child unilaterally;
  • Delaying proceedings by changing lawyers.

All of these things combined painted the mother in a bad light. With all of this in mind, the Judge looked at the mother’s offers to settle. Every offer the mother made included the provision that the mother was to have sole custody and sole decision-making authority. All of her offers were not severable, which meant that the only way the father could accept anything in the offer, was to grant sole custody to the mother.

The mothers position was unreasonable because there was no evidence of domestic violence. Withholding a child from a parent is serious and must only be done in the clearest and most serious of cases. If there are criminal charges, or a criminal conviction, that is a good indicator of the potential of violence. If you have called 911 and the police don’t do anything, take a critical examination of your position, before insisting that you are right.

 

Refusing to Negotiate Makes Divorce in Ontario Expensive

The Judge reviewed the law on ordering costs. There is a presumption in family law proceedings that costs are awarded to the successful party. The purpose of this is to force both participants to negotiate in good faith. In this case, the Judge ordered the mother to pay $249,000 in costs, a very expensive lesson.

The mother attempted to take this decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Her argument was that she wouldn’t be able to properly care for the child if she had to pay the father $249,000. In dismissing her appeal, the Court of Appeal noted that her income was approximately $79,000 per year and that she had just received $100,000 from the sale of the matrimonial home.

 

How to Reduce the Cost of Divorce in Ontario

Divorce costs in Ontario rise with the refusal to negotiate. If you want to keep divorce costs down, negotiate in good faith. The more that you can resolve without the need of a Judge, the cheaper your divorce will be.

Contact Hearty Law with any questions on your divorce and what good faith means in your case. Hearty Law provides legal services on divorce, custody, access, child support, spousal support, division of property and any other family law financial matter.

Schedule an appointment by completing the contact form or by emailing toronto@heartylaw.ca or ottawa@heartylaw.ca.

Hearty Law serves Toronto, Ottawa and surrounding communities.

A Lock Representing Enforcement

Order for Costs Enforced by the Family Responsibility Office

A Lock Representing Enforcement

I previously wrote about a husband who took steps to hide income in an effort to avoid spousal support and child support payments. His actions cost him nearly $700,000 in support payments. You can read my comments about the trial here. Earlier this summer, these two were back in court for a decision on what costs, if any, were to be awarded. The issue to be resolved was whether or not an order for costs can be enforced by the Family Responsibility Office in Ontario.

 

Costs Awarded After Divorce Trial

Typically after a divorce trial, the losing party must pay the successful party their costs. This rule encourages negotiation and resolution without taking up precious public resources at the courthouse. When determining whether or not costs should be awarded, the Judge will look closely at the effort each side gave in the negotiation. Or put another way, how reasonable each side was being.

Rule 24 of the Family Law Rules is the legislation that governs this issue. This rule says there is a presumption that the successful party will be awarded costs. The amount of costs is dependent on these factors:

  • each party’s behaviour;
  • the time spent by each party;
  • any written offers to settle;
  • amount of legal fees paid;
  • expert witness fees; and
  • any other relevant matter.

The Judge will determine the reasonableness of each party by looking at how they handled the issues for trial. This means whether or not the settlement offers were reasonable and how the issue was resolved at trial. The legislation also states that if a party has acted in bad faith, the other party will receive the full amount of their costs.

Divorce trials can be very expensive. If you are not reasonable throughout the negotiation, losing a divorce trial is even more expensive. And if you refuse to be reasonable throughout negotiation and then lose a divorce trial, a Judge will not be kind to you.

 

Bad Faith During a Divorce Proceeding

A party who acted in bad faith throughout a divorce proceeding will be punished through a costs award. Bad faith is not simply being unreasonable. Rather, bad faith requires active steps to harm the position of the opposing party.

In this case, the Judge found the father acted in bad faith. For instance, the father refused to provide financial disclosure, which the Court of Appeal characterized as “willful disobedience”. This refusal to provide financial disclosure meant the wife needed to obtain two experts to give evidence on the father’s financial situation. After this evidence came out at trial, the Judge found that the father was deliberately attempting to conceal assets from the wife.

While hiding assets and refusing to disclose financial information can be bad faith on its own, there was more. The father refused to concede on a single fact or issue. He did not narrow any legal issue prior to trial. This meant that the wife’s lawyer had to argue every single point.

The wife also provided a number of offers to settle and made every issue severable. This means that the husband could have cherry picked any issue to resolve or to negotiate. He refused to do either. By the time of the trial, the husband was not permitted to participate. In the end, the Judge ordered the husband immediately pay $217,000 to the wife to cover her legal fees.

 

Order for Costs can be Enforced by the Family Responsibility Office in Ontario

While receiving a costs award is very common, enforcing that award is more difficult. Often time, the costs award comes after a very expensive divorce proceeding. The unsuccessful party may simply have no money left after paying their own legal fees.

In this case the wife requested an Order that the costs award be enforced by the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) in Ontario. That office is responsible for collecting support payments and they have broad powers to assist them in their duties. These powers include the ability to garnish wages, bank accounts and claim payments from the government.

The Judge reviewed the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act. This legislation allows the FRO to use their powers to collect support payments or to collect on legal fees incurred in relation to support payments. In this case, the Judge agreed with the wife’s submission and with a few minor exceptions, ordered that the costs would be enforced by the FRO.

 

How to Be Reasonable in Divorce Proceedings

This ruling was very harsh against the husband. The reason for this was bad faith throughout the proceeding. If you are going through a divorce, it is in your best interest to act reasonably throughout and attempt to negotiate a reasonable resolution. This can be done by obtaining legal advice to have a thorough understanding of what your rights and obligations are.

Another aspect of being reasonable is to make offers to settle and respond to offers presented to you. Making issues severable in your offers will help you later. This can mean keeping custody and property matters separate.

Contact Hearty Law today to receive legal advice on your specific situation. Hearty Law can assist with hidden assets, concealed income, child support, spousal support, retroactive support, property division and other family law financial issues. Either fill out the contact form on this site or send an email to toronto@heartylaw.ca or ottawa@heartylaw.ca.

Hearty Law serves Toronto, Ottawa and surrounding communities.

Destitute man on the street

Bad Faith and the High Cost of Divorce

Destitute man on the street

Earlier this summer, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice released on interim decision on a divorce proceeding. The actions of the father in that case demonstrate bad faith and the high cost of divorce. This is a story of what you can’t do when you initiate divorce proceedings. Nobody gets married and plans for divorce. At times, the highly emotional situation can lead to bad decisions that can turn costly.

 

First Steps to Initiate a Divorce Proceeding in Ontario

This Court decision is on the divorce of a mother and father who were married in 2018 and had one child together. The child was under 2 years old at the time of the separation. The father had two children from a previous marriage who he had access to. The mother was from Columbia and also had two children from a previous marriage. The mother moved to Canada in 2019 with her children. Both her and the child had medical issues.

The couple was living in a residence owned by the father’s family. At the time of separation in April 2020, the mother, father and three children were living in the home. The father’s children from his first marriage also stayed there every second weekend.

In April 2020, the father moved out of the matrimonial home and moved in with his parents. The mother continued to reside in the matrimonial home with the child from this marriage and her two children from a previous marriage.

On June 22, 2020, the father’s lawyer sent a letter to the mother which stated that the matrimonial home was rented and the lease was to be terminated. The mother was to vacate the home within three days.

This is an example of bad faith. The father was using his family to apply pressure to the mother to have her leave the matrimonial home. She had only lived in Canada for five months and had no income and no way to care for her children.

 

What is an Urgent Family Law Application in Ontario

This situation is exactly what an urgent family law application is for. The mother had just arrived in Canada and was completely dependent on the father for financial support. The mother had medical issues, including reduced immunity, which made her at risk during the ongoing pandemic in Ontario.

Typically motions are not heard until after a case conference, unless it is urgent. During emotional separations, it may seem like everything is urgent and needs to be resolved immediately. Urgent in this case means hardship if required to wait. Hardship would be to have no home and no income to care for three children.

The mother was successful in having her application heard prior to the case conference. She sought spousal support, and child support for the child of the marriage as well as child support for her children from her previous marriage.

 

Bad Faith and the High Cost of Divorce in Ontario

The father’s actions proved to be costly. In this instance his bad faith proved to be costly. The father reported his income as $92,000 per year. According to the online Canada Revenue Agency payroll calculator, his net income is approximately $5,500 per month. While the judgement is not clear, he would likely be paying $1,374 per month in child support for his two children from his previous marriage.

The mother sought child support for their child as well as her children from her previous marriage. The father argued against paying child support for these two children. The Judge found that since the children came to Canada to form a new family with the father, for the purposes of interim child support, they were children of the marriage. This decision could be looked at again with a full trial on the issue.

The father was ordered to pay child support for these three children, which according to the Federal Child Support Guidelines is approximately $1,795 per month. Just in child support alone, the father was ordered to pay more than 55% of his monthly salary.

The father was also ordered to pay the mother $343 in spousal support, in addition to this high level of child support. Further, as the mother still had nowhere to live, the Court ordered that she remain in the matrimonial home and the father was to pay all rent and utilities. While the father did not own the house, his family was represented in Court and were also subjected to the decision.

 

How to Initiate a Separation in Ontario

There is no information on this point in the decision, but if the father’s family expected to be paid rent each month, it would be very costly. Child support is approximately $3,169 per month and spousal support is $343 month. A very conservative estimate on market rent on the home would be approximately $1,500 per month and utilities would be an additional few hundred per month. These expenses are getting very close to the entirety of the father’s take home pay each month.

Whether or not to separate is always a difficult decision. Sometimes, living under the same roof, but separate and apart is an option. If you are at the point where you are going to leave the matrimonial home, ensure that each person has the financial resources to provide the necessities for the children.

It this situation, the father could have made a different decision. By ensuring the mother had financial resources to care for herself, there may have been a different outcome. Instead, the father is now paying almost his entire salary in support payments.

Contact Hearty Law if you are considering separation. Hearty Law provides legal services on spousal support, child support, retroactive support, hidden assets, concealed income, property distribution and other family law financial needs. Either complete the contact form here, or email toronto@heartylaw.ca or ottawa@heartylaw.ca.

Hearty Law serves Toronto, Ottawa and the surrounding communities.