Climans v Latner ONCA – A New Definition of Spouse

The Ontario Court of Appeal Redefines “Spouse”

A Commentary on Climans v Latner, 2020 ONCA 554

By Jonathan Martin

The law of spousal support in Canada has changed significantly over the past few decades. Once reserved for legally married individuals, spousal support obligations can now arise from a variety of different relationships, whether they produce children or not. In Climans v Latner, 2020 ONCA 554 [Latner], the Court of Appeal for Ontario endorsed the view that those in a long-term romantic relationship who do not cohabit or produce children may still be eligible for spousal support at the termination of the relationship.

FACTS

Lisa Climans and Michael Latner were in a romantic relationship for almost 14 years, starting in 2001. When they met, Lisa was a retired model and marketing employee for a construction company earning about $5,000 per month. Michael Latner was a multi-millionaire businessman. Throughout their relationship, the pair maintained separate homes in Toronto and never moved in together. They kept their finances apart and never owned any property together. Neither self-reported on their income taxes that they were living in a common-law relationship. They had no children together. Both had children from previous marriages.

Mr. Latner was very generous to Ms. Climans throughout their relationship, to the extent that Ms. Climans quit her job shortly after they started dating and never worked again the entire time they were together. They would stay together at Mr. Latner’s cottage in July and August of each year. They spent weekends in Florida in the winter and occasionally for March break. Mr. Latner proposed to Ms. Climans several times but never married, partly because Ms. Climans refused to sign any prenuptial agreements. In many of his letters, Mr. Latner referred to Ms. Climans as Mrs. Latner.

LEGISLATIVE CONTEXT

The Ontario the Family Law Act, RSO 1990 has two different definitions of spouse. For most of the Act, “spouse” means legally married. However, for spousal support, section 29 defines “spouse” as any two people who have cohabited for at least three years or were in a relationship of some permanence that produced a child. New Brunswick’s Family Services Act, SNB 1980, c F-2.2 does not use the term spouse for non-married individuals, but still provides that support must be paid if the parties live continuously together for at least three years or have a child together in a relationship of some permanence living together. Fathers in New Brunswick are also liable to pay support to the mother of their child, regardless of their relationship (over and above support for the child under the Guidelines), should there be need and ability to pay.

The issue in Latner had to do with the definition of “cohabit”, a term defined in the Ontario Family Law Act as meaning to “live together in a conjugal relationship, within or outside of marriage”. It could arguably be said to have the same meaning as the provision for support at section 112(3) of the New Brunswick Family Services Act, which provides support for those “who have lived together continuously… in a family relationship”.

“LIVING TOGETHER”

According to the legislation, two elements are needed in order to fall under the category of living continuously in a conjugal or family relationship. You need (1) to live together, and (2) be in a conjugal or family relationship. In most cases, whether parties are living together is easy to discover. What constitutes a “conjugal or family relationship” presents with more difficulty as you are essentially trying to reconstruct the essence of marriage itself. The courts have over time come to accept a list of criteria that indicate the existence of a conjugal relationship, while stressing that all of them need not be present. These include: sexual and personal behaviour, services, social activities, economic support, children, and the social perception of the couple” (M. v. H., [1999] 2 S.C.R. 3, at paras. 59-60).

On occasion, the courts have had to turn their attention to the question of what constitutes “living together”. It is generally a straight forward exercise, ruling out other explanations for sharing the same roof, such as being roommates or in a landlord/tenant relationship, etc. Sometimes, however, the parties don’t share the same roof. Although this would on the surface appear to bar a claim for spousal support, life is rarely quite that simple. In Campbell v. Szoke [2003] O. J. No. 3471 (Ont. S. C. J.) at para 52, Madam Justice Karakatsanis, now judge of the Supreme Court of Canada found that “the fact that parties maintain separate residences does not prevent the finding of cohabitation.  The court must look at all of the circumstances and consider the reasons for maintaining another residence, such as to facilitate access with one’s children.” This approach makes sense since it would be unreasonable to require that couples always live together. Married people will often live apart for a variety of reasons, including work, immigration barriers, or to care for family members. However, one would expect that the reason for not living together would have some element of necessity to it, as opposed to a mere decision by the parties not to live together. Campbell, however, found that parties who had chosen not to live together mainly because one of them did not want the legal consequences that come from that, had in fact been living together. Several lower court decisions had followed the approach in Campbell. Latner now provides an appellate decision endorsing this line of jurisprudence, which arguably dispenses with the first part of the legislative test altogether.  

The decision in Latner was not reached without some difficulty. The legislation is, after all, clear that the parties need to live together. The trial judge admitted that “there needs to be some element of living together under the same roof. The very definition of “cohabit” requires that the parties live together in a conjugal relationship.” The trial judge however found the necessary elements of living together in the various vacations and alternate weekends the parties spent under the same roof. It was not without some difficulty that the Court of Appeal justified this conclusion. A crucial question in determining how long support must be paid is how long the parties cohabited. The Court of Appeal overturned the lower court finding that the parties had “cohabited” during the entire length of their 14-year relationship, since the conclusion that they had cohabited at all was in essence a legal conclusion based on the entirety of their relationship, and not a discreet finding of fact. They had never in fact lived together. The Court of Appeal could therefore not support the trial decision that support should be payed indefinitely based on a 14-year cohabitation. Interestingly, it never provided its own finding of how long the parties cohabited. The Court of Appeal sidestepped this question and ordered that spousal support be payable for ten years. It would have been interesting if the Court had attempted to count or estimate the number of days the parties had actually spent under the same roof, and ordered support based on that time period alone.  Perhaps 4 or 5 years of support would have been ordered under that approach.

CONCLUSION

The decision in Latner provides an important precedent for the proposition that romantic couples need not physically live together or have children to claim for spousal support at the end of the relationship. If there is significant and ongoing financial support during the relationship, the parties present as a couple, and they spent any amount of time under the same roof, they could be found to have been “living together in a family relationship”. Given the amounts at issue, it is likely that one of the parties will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Stay tuned for future developments.

A Review of the New Power of Attorney Legislation in New Brunswick

1.      Introduction

People often make Powers of Attorney to deal with financial (property) and healthcare decisions in the event they become incapacitated by reason of age, accident or other mental infirmity. However, it is surprising how many people do not understand what a power of attorney is for and what are the repercussions creating same. Many frequently asked questions surround powers of attorney, such as: does a power of attorney continue after death?; Is a power of attorney the same as an executor under a Will? Are there different kinds of powers of attorney?

While many provinces have specific legislation related to appointing an enduring power of attorney and the attorney’s duties after appointment, New Brunswick’s power of attorney legislation only recently came into force on July 1, 2020. Indeed, it was the last province in Canada to do so. Prior to this legislation coming into force, lawyers drafting powers of attorney relied on the common law and other statutes for guidance on issues, such as: does this person have capacity to make a power of attorney?; Who can legally act as a power of attorney?; What duties does an Attorney of a power of attorney have to the Grantor?

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/nb-power-of-attorney-legislation-1.4174868

Under the common law, a person has capacity to grant an enduring power of attorney if he or she: a. Is able to understand the basic nature and purpose of the enduring power of attorney; and b. understands the consequences of same (i.e. the Attorney of the power of attorney can make potentially all financial and healthcare decisions for that person, which could cause loss of funds, or decisions that may not be exactly what the Grantor of the power of attorney would make under the circumstances).

The duties of the power of attorney were laid out in various cases in New Brunswick. For example, in LeBouthillier Estate v. Selosse (Appeal by LeBouthillier), 2014 NBCA 68 (QL), B.R. Bell J.A. (as he then was) for the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, outlined the relevant jurisprudence confirming an attorney acting under a power of attorney has a fiduciary duty to the Grantor, meaning the attorney must act in good faith and only in the best interests of the Grantor.

Yet it is difficult to explain with clarity the concept of fiduciary duty to a client without having some specific examples and details about what a power of attorney can and cannot do. Even if the Attorney understands her duties at the time of discussion, she may find herself in trouble later on without some specific guidelines. (for example, see previous post here on misuse of Powers of Attorney).

Add to this the fact that different statutes applied to different aspects of common powers of attorney (i.e. the Infirm Persons Act for personal care provisions and the Property Act for property matters), one can easily understand why powers of attorney could go wrong in executing their duties. (see for example Trites v. Trites and Jones, 2017 NBQB 085, wherein Mr. Justice Rideout of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Moncton ordered the Applicant’s wife and daughter to return two 2016 Toyota RAV4s, which the wife purchased with funds she transferred from her husband’s bank account as his Power Of Attorney.)

2.      The Enduring Powers of Attorney Act SNB 2019, c 30

The new Enduring Powers of Attorney Act (the “Act”) provides much needed guidance for legal counsel as well as Grantors and Attorneys on different aspects of creating and using powers of attorney. For example, section 2(1) sets out the required capacity for an individual to make a power of attorney:

           Capacity

2(1)A person has capacity with respect to a matter or an act if the person is able to

(a) understand the information that is relevant to decisions with respect to the matter or act, and

(b) appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of decisions with respect to the matter or act.

2(2)A person is presumed to have capacity unless it is determined otherwise.

Although this section essentially codifies the common law requirements for capacity, it is helpful to have this information in one location as a reference point. It is also helpful to clarify that capacity is presumed unless determined otherwise.

Section 4, dealing with the validity of a power of attorney, is one of the more notable sections in the new Act because it adds new requirements for counsel to ensure that a power of attorney is valid. This section reads as follows:

Validity

4(1)An enduring power of attorney is valid if

(a) the grantor had the capacity to make it,

(b) it is in writing and is signed and dated by the grantor or, in the circumstances described in subsection (2), by another person,

(c) in the case of an enduring power of attorney in which an attorney for property is appointed or an attorney for property and an attorney for personal care are appointed,

(i) it is signed and dated in the presence of a lawyer, and

(ii) it includes or is accompanied by a written statement by the lawyer declaring that the lawyer

(A) is a practising member of the Law Society of New Brunswick,

(B) reviewed the provisions of the enduring power of attorney with the grantor,

(C) was present when the enduring power of attorney was signed by the grantor or, in the circumstances described in subsection (2), by another person, and

(D) is of the opinion that the grantor had the capacity to make the enduring power of attorney, and

(d) in the case of an enduring power of attorney in which only an attorney for personal care is appointed, it meets the requirements of paragraph (c) or it is signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses, both of whom are adults and neither of whom is the attorney or the spouse, common-law partner or child of the attorney, and it is signed by the two witnesses.

4(2)An enduring power of attorney may be signed and dated by a person on behalf of the grantor if

(a) the grantor is unable to sign and date the enduring power of attorney,

(b) the person signs and dates the enduring power of attorney at the direction and in the presence of the grantor, and

(c) the person is an adult who is not the attorney or the spouse, common-law partner or child of the attorney.

Section 4(1) adds the requirements for lawyers witnessing the signing of powers of attorney to include statements confirming they have turned their mind to the issue of capacity and confirmed in writing that a Grantor has the requisite capacity as set out in section 2(1).  While these details should be confirmed each time a lawyer witnesses the signing of a power of attorney anyway, this section helps ensure these tasks are completed, or the power of attorney would be invalid. Section 4(2) is also interesting, as it allows a grantor of a power of attorney to appoint someone else to sign the power of attorney on his/her behalf. It will be interesting to view the future circumstances under which this section is used.

Another interesting section deals with individuals who are prohibited from acting as powers of attorneys:

Prohibited attorneys

6(1)A grantor shall not appoint the following persons as an attorney:

(a) a person who has been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty, unless the enduring power of attorney states that the grantor is aware of the conviction;

(b) a person who provides health care services or support services to the grantor for compensation, unless the person is the spouse, the common-law partner or a relative of the grantor; or

(c) a person who is a member of a class of persons prescribed by regulation.

6(2)A grantor shall not appoint an undischarged bankrupt as an attorney for property.

6(3)If a person who is not an adult is appointed as an attorney, the person may only act when the person becomes an adult.

One final section worth noting is section 12, which deals with the duties of attorneys:

Duties of attorneys

12(1)An attorney shall

(a) act honestly and in good faith,

(b) exercise reasonable care, and

(c) act within the authority given under the enduring power of attorney.

12(2)When making a decision on behalf of a grantor who lacks the capacity to make the decision, the attorney shall consult with the grantor, if it is reasonable to do so, and

(a) make the decision in accordance with any relevant instructions given by the grantor when the grantor had capacity,

(b) in the absence of any instructions, make the decision in accordance with the current wishes of the grantor, if the wishes are reasonable,

(c) if the wishes of the grantor cannot be determined or are unreasonable, make the decision that the attorney believes the grantor would make if the grantor had the capacity to make the decision, taking into consideration the values and beliefs of the grantor, or

(d) if the attorney is unable to determine what decision the grantor would make, make the decision that the attorney believes to be in the best interests of the grantor.

12(3)For the purposes of paragraph (2)(a), if a grantor has given instructions that are inconsistent with previous instructions, the attorney shall make the decision in accordance with the most recent instructions.

12(4)When an attorney for property is acting on behalf of a grantor who has capacity with respect to property and financial affairs, the attorney shall consult with the grantor and act in accordance with the instructions of the grantor.

This section of the Act is particularly interesting, as it requires the Power of Attorney to consult with the Grantor of the Power of Attorney prior to making decisions (if possible). 

3.      Conclusions

The new Enduring Powers of Attorney Act is a helpful addition to New Brunswick’s legislative landscape. It should help lawyers, Grantors and Attorneys of Powers of Attorney in the future with ensuring the Grantor’s wishes are respected. It will hopefully reduce the amount of misuse of Powers of Attorney, which has unfortunately become a common issue today.  Here are some helpful links for more information on this Act:

Bill C-78 – Amendments to Divorce Act (and other legislation) – The Good, The Bad and the somewhat Redundant?

Introduction

In a post on June 1, 2018, I discussed proposed amendments to the Divorce Act that, if passed, would be the first major changes to the current Act since 1985. I recently attended a Family Law Conference, at which Stéphanie M. Cormier, a lawyer at Actus Law in Moncton, New Brunswick (and Chair of the CBA Family Law group) presented in more detail on the amendments to the Divorce Act (and several other Acts) proposed in Bill-C78. As of April  11, 2019, this bill was in its second reading in the Senate. The focus of this post will be solely on the proposed amendments to the Divorce Act, as these changes are voluminous enough to generate significant discussion. Also, I will not go through each and every amendment in detail. Should you wish to read the Bill in its entirety, you can visit the link here to the House of Commons website version of same. Also, here is a link to the current status of this bill.

Positive Amendments

Firstly, I wish to note that I maintain the same opinions expressed in my June 1, 2018 post that the proposed amendments to the Divorce Act are mostly positive. For example, the amendments include adding a non-exhaustive list of criteria with respect to best interests of the child. This is a positive change in and of itself, as family law practitioners (in New Brunswick anyway) have traditionally had to utilize the criteria contained in the caselaw and in the Family Services Act. Oddly enough, previous versions of the Divorce Act did not include a list of criteria for best interests of the child, even though all decisions regarding care and access to children is based on same. In addition, the proposed amendments would replace terminology related to “custody ” and “access” with “parenting” time. This is a positive change, as terms referring to custody (i.e. “joint” vs. “shared” custody in particular) confuse many people in my experience and these loaded terms often create unnecessary division between separating parents. Moreover, persons other than spouses may apply for contact orders with the children. This is a positive amendment, which follows recent trends in provincial legislation allowing grandparents and other persons to apply for custody or access to children. (for example, see previous posts here , here and here.)

In addition, the amended Act includes provisions to assist courts with divorces that involve family violence. This recognizes an unfortunate pattern in recent years of increased instances of domestic violence in family law disputes.

There are also provisions in the amended Act that provides a framework for dealing with jurisdiction, where a court in one province is dealing with a parent that removes a child from that province.

Questionable Amendments

While there are many positive amendments to the Act, there are some amendments that simply codify what the common law already is. For example, there are new provisions dealing with the duty of legal advisers to discuss reconciliation and alternatives to court with clients. Most family lawyers likely already discuss these options with their clients. Also, there are new provisions dealing with relocating with a child of marriage. These amendments require a parent wishing to move with a child to notify the other parent “in writing at least 60 days before the expected date of the proposed relocation and set out”:

(a) the expected date of the relocation;
(b) the address of the new place of residence and contact information of the person or child, as the case may be; and
(c) a proposal as to how parenting time, decision-making responsibility or contact, as the case may be, could be exercised.

If the child spends the majority of time with the moving parent, then the onus shifts to the responding parent to establish why relocation would not be in the best interests of the child. At paragraphs 26-48 in Gordon v. Goertz, [1996] 2 SCR 27, 1996 CanLII 191 (SCC), the preeminent case regarding mobility in Canada, the Supreme Court dealt with arguments for and against a presumption in favour of the moving parent. On the one hand, the Court cited the following arguments in favour of this presumption:

  1. the principal residence of the child is a normal incident of custody and the court should accordingly defer to the custodial parent (para 34);
  2. the personal freedom of the custodial parent requires that he or she be permitted to decide where to live (para 34);
  3.  would make outcomes of variation applications more predictable (para 34);

The Court deals with each of these arguments in succession and ultimately concludes that if Parliament wished that decisions would be made in this way, it would have codified same in the Divorce Act (as it has now): “Had Parliament wished to impose general rules at the expense of individual justice, it could have done so.” (para 38). The Court further notes at paragraph 38 that a presumption in favour of a custodial parent would do little to minimize conflict. Indeed, it may do the opposite and increase conflict.

Between paragraphs 40-48, the Court considered arguments against the presumption in favour of custodial parents in mobility cases:

  1. the child’s best interests may no longer be protected or advanced through the earlier order (para 40);
  2.  presumption should as matter of principle be introduced in all matters involving variation? (para 41);
  3.  Parliament placed a duty on deciding best interests of children on the judge, not the custodial parent (para 42);
  4.  could render inquiry more technical and adversarial than necessary (para 43);
  5.  Most importantly, presumption could impair the inquiry into the best interests of the child … in favour of parent’s wishes (para 44);

This final argument against the presumption is the most concerning, as the proposed amendments may unnecessarily complicate mobility cases by focussing too much attention on the parents rather than the children. As the Supreme Court stated in Goertz, supra: “But to begin from the premise that one parent has the prima facie right to take the child where he or she wishes may unduly deflect the focus from the child to its parents.” 

Conclusions

Time will only tell what kind of impact these amendments will have, or whether they are simply codifying trends that already exist in cases across Canada. However, as with all legislation, it will be incumbent on lawyers to pay attention to how these changes are interpreted and implemented in various jurisdictions across the country. These amendments appear to be a reality and are likely to come into force in the not-too-distant future. Therefore, we will continue to review the proposed amendments and would be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding same.

 

First Major Changes to Divorce Act since 1985

On May 22, 2018 the Federal Government introduced Bill C-78, which proposes changes to the Divorce Act. The proposed amendment would be the first significant revision to the Divorce Act since its enactment in 1985.

The changes to the Divorce Act are designed to implement a more “child-focused” approach to family law disputes, rather than an adversarial approach. By removing language like “custody” and “access,” and encouraging dispute resolution, the Act is designed to better promote the interests of the child.

The Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, summarizes the changes as follows:

(a) replace terminology related to custody and access with terminology related to parenting;

(b) establish a non-exhaustive list of criteria with respect to the best interests of the child;

(c) create duties for parties and legal advisers to encourage the use of family dispute resolution processes;

(d) introduce measures to assist the courts in addressing family violence;

(e) establish a framework for the relocation of a child; and

(f) simplify certain processes, including those related to family support obligations.

If this Bill passes in the House of Commons, the legislation will likely come into force in 2019.

Thus far, most family law practitioners and commentators view the proposed changes positively. However, some state the impact of these amendments will depend on how courts across Canada would apply the new provisions. We note that the common-law in Canada already requires the courts to apply a “child-centric” test and only consider the “best interests of the child” when making decisions regarding custody and access (or “parenting time” rather) (Young v. Young, [1993] S.C.J. No. 112). However, the proposed changes to the terminology should help reduce the “win/lose” mentality of many individuals involved in family law disputes.

To view Bill C-78 in its entirety, check out the link below:

https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/bill/C-78/first-reading

To view the Divorce Act (1985), check out the link below:

https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/D-3.4/page-1.html

Child Support: Can I just pay the child directly?

Not a week goes by that I do not hear the question: “can I pay child support directly to him/her (the child)?”. This question is usually followed by a discussion of why he or she (the other parent) is not spending the child support on the child. In this parent’s theory, the other parent is using the child support funds to go on extravagant trips and other luxury items that are not related to the child’s care. Hence, “why can’t I just pay him/her directly? Then atleast I will know that the funds are going toward the intended purpose.”

The answer to this question is that courts rarely allow child support payments to be made directly to a child; it is the exception rather than the rule. Courts in Canada have stated that compelling reasons must exist for payments to be made directly to a child. In Mylrea v. Benoit, 2003 CanLII 1975 (ON SC), the Ontario Superior Court responded as follows to a father’s request to set up a trust to pay child support directly to the children:

[31]      Mr. Mylrea requests the right to limit the amount of child support that goes directly to Ms. Benoit to the sum of $248.00 each month, with the balance to be paid into a trust account for the benefit of the children.  Again, even if I were inclined to do that – and I am not in the least – authority prevents me from doing so.  In Simon v. Simon (2000) 1999 CanLII 3818 (ON CA), 1 RFL (5th) 119 (Ont.C.A.), MacPherson, J.A., in delivering the judgment of the court, said this (at page 134 of the Report):

 ——-

It may be that in some cases a court imposed trust to secure funds for a child’s future care and education would be appropriate.  However, in my view, absent a good reason for imposing a trust, the court should not do so.  The presumption should be that a custodial parent will do his or her best to provide for both the child’s immediate needs and his or her future care and education.  Unless there is strong evidence establishing the need for a trust (e.g. the misuse of support payments by the custodial parent) I see no reason to interfere with the way in which the parent balances the present and future needs of the child in his or her custody.

                                                                (emphasis added)

In L. B. L. v. S. B., 2010 NBQB 339 (CanLII), Justice Walsh of the Court of Queen’s Bench of New Brunswick dealt with a situation where the payor mother was attempting to create her own system of child support payments to her child on the grounds that the father wasted funds meant for the child:

[65]      On the totality of the evidence it is clear that the mother cannot stand the thought of paying child support directly to the father, despite the absence of any cogent evidence that the father was wasting the sums that he did receive through garnishment. By any means, by any claim, the mother has now sought to create her own system, to permit her to directly support or reward the children for her own purposes, to ignore the law’s requirements. The receipted claims she made in this case and the claims she has filed with Revenue Canada constitute clear evidence of her present approach. The irony is that the vast majority of the arrears that were terminated in May 2009 were for a period when the mother was having little, if any, contact with the children, and the children would appear to have forever lost this money owed to them (See: Beninger v. Beninger 2009 BCCA 145 (CanLII)).

[66]      In these circumstances I apply Swiderski v. Dussault:

While D.B.S. [v. S.R.G. et. al., 2006 SCC 37 (CanLII)] at para. 109, opens the theoretical possibility that the payor parent can justify himself by showing total payments equivalent to the Guidelines amounts, this, I suggest, presupposes candour, openness and satisfactory proof of the amounts. None is present in this case.

There are at least two reasons why payors should not be able to create their own support regimes. The first is that the receiving parent usually has custody, and must be the one to make decisions about the child’s expenditures. A private unilateral scheme operated by the payor can be a method of control which undermines the authority of the custodial parent. The second reason is that the payor is in sole possession of the information about direct payments. Unless the payor is forthcoming about such payments in a timely way, the payee is at the mercy of the payor’s record-keeping …

(2009 BCCA 461 (CanLII),at paras. 38, 39) (emphasis added)

These cases stand for the proposition that child support is meant to maintain a child’s permanent home and to cover the incidentals that a custodial parent provides to a child (see Armaz v. van Erp, 2000 CanLII 22585 (ON SC) ). I often explain it this way to clients: just think of how much you might spend on the children or other incidentals if you were still living in the same home with the other parent. Wouldn’t it likely be more than you are spending right now? And regardless of whether these funds go directly toward the children or not, there are certain expenses the other parent must pay to keep the children’s quality of life similar to what they would have experienced if you were living with the children, correct?

As stated earlier, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as when the parents’ relationship is extremely acrimonious and the child lives away at school (see B. (T.T.) v. D. (P.H.), 2014 NBQB 164).

Curious Case: Smiths v. Cataraqui Cemetery Company (aka – a Plot to get a Plot)

Here’s a somewhat spooky curious case about three brothers who sued a cemetery for the right to be buried there.

Background:

In 1869, brothers Joseph and Darius Smith purchased the rights to 4 plots at the Cataraqui Cemetary for the sum of $100.00. The purpose of these plots was to be the final resting place for them as well as their family for years to come.

In general, when a person wishes for their remains to be buried or cremated at a cemetery or interred, they purchase the rights to be laid in a plot of land, and not the land itself. Essentially, the person is purchasing the right to be interred in a specific area of the cemetery.

Throughout the years following this purchase, only a handful of Smith family members were buried on this plot, as several members chose to be buried elsewhere. This left a large amount of unused space to be used by future heirs of the Smith family.

Details:

Fast forward almost two centuries to 2013, when three brothers, Allan, Carmon, and Marvin Smith, sued the Cataraqui Cemetery for denying their request to be buried in their ancestor’s plot.

According to the current manager, the cemetery had been under different management when it allowed family members to be buried there without proof of being heirs of Joseph and Darius Smith. He states that just because family members were buried there throughout the years does not mean he will allow others to do so as well without first proving their lineage.

The issue here is that since 1869, over 2000 living heirs existed that would have be equally as entitled to a spot in the plot, so to speak.

Outcome:

The Court’s decision on the matter came down to several points:

  • The Court  looked at the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act (the Act), which came into effect in July of 2012, and replaced the old Cemeteries Act. The Act states that only the interment rights holder has the right to be buried and to decide who is buried in the plots in question. Therefore, the Smith brothers (current) had to prove that they had such a right.
  • The Court found on their deed that Darius and Joseph Smith intended the plots to be handed down to their heirs in a broad manner including anyone in the lineage of either brother. Considering the obvious fact that they bought the rights to 64 plots, what did the cemetery believe they intended on doing with them?
  • The fact that the cemetery had previously permitted over 20 burials of members of the Smith family without proof that they were interment rights holder was also a factor in the decision.
  • Finally, the Court applied the law of estoppel to find that the cemetery’s silence and its acts in permitting other Smith burials without formal proof of interment rights prevents it from now insisting that the applicants prove such rights.

Are you a Landlord or a Tenant looking for information? Check out this site

I attended a Continuing Legal Education session this week on Real Property Law and one of the presenters was the newly named “Chief Residential Tenancies Officer.” I must admit that I had no idea that the Office of the Rentalsman had been recently renamed as the Residential Tenancies Tribunal. The website for this tribunal has lots of information that can be helpful if you are  a tenant or a residential landlord. What is especially helpful are the various forms and resources, which include Form 6 –  Standard Form Residential Lease. I highly recommend that both landlords and tenants spend some time navigating this site and taking advantage of the many resources contained within the site. Here is a link to the site: https://www.snb.ca/RTT-TLL/E/RTT-TLL_E.asp

 

 

Curious Case: Bruni v. Bruni – A “how not” to behave in a family law dispute by being “one dimensional problem solvers”

In this week’s installment of our Curious Case series, we take a look at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice case of Bruni v. Bruni, 2010 ONSC 6568. As stated in our last curious case post here,  real life is often stranger than fiction. This is one of those cases where even the Judge in this case could not withhold his frustrations with the ways in which these parties interacted with one another. While entertaining, the Judge’s comments throughout this case serve as a stern warning to family law litigants to have some modicum of respect for one another.

Background:

Catherine and Larry Bruni separated in 2010 after an 11 year marriage. While in committed relationships with other people, the two separated individuals absolutely loathed one another. There was nothing out of bounds for this couple, from death threats to alienating their children, B and T, against each other.

Details:

Larry sought to set aside the child support provisions in their separation agreement because he felt that Catherine’s partner, Sam, was able to support her and the children. Larry also sought an equalization of net family property. As later stated by the Judge, Larry neglected to read the entire Separation Agreement resulting in disadvantages such as, property rights, rights to his children, and even the rights to independent legal advice.

Catherine responded by requesting variation of the separation agreement by amending child support and access provisions, seeking spousal support, and acquiring contributions to extraordinary expenses.

Catherine would often threaten Larry by stating that “the Hell’s Angels would be knocking on his door at any moment” or that” her family members were on their way to kill him”. She even took matters into her own hands by trying to run him over with her vehicle.

On the other hand, Sandra, Larry’s significant other, refused to allow B to contact her mother while in the care of her and Larry, stating that Larry’s time with his children was his and not Catherine’s.

Furthermore, Justice Quinn noted at paragraph 70 of his decision that “[o]n 14 occasions, within 18 months, the parties drew the police into their petty disagreements — a sad commentary on their inability to get along and a shocking abuse of the Niagara Regional Police Service.”

During their trial, Catherine and her partner, Sam, continuously uttered threats in the court room directed towards Larry.

Outcome:

The Judge dismissed Larry’s requests and partially allowed Catherine’s requests by making small changes to the Separation Agreement including typographical errors and the amendments to the amount of child support Larry had to pay.

The judge felt that it had been Larry’s responsibility to read the entire Separation Agreement before signing, and it is due to his own neglect that he is now facing these misfortunes.

JUDGES NOTES WORTH READING:

  1. “A finger is worth a thousand words and, therefore, is particularly useful should one have a vocabulary of less than a thousand words.”
  2. “When the operator of a motor vehicle yells “jackass” at a pedestrian, the jackassedness of the former has been proved, but, at that point, it is only an allegation as against the latter.”
  3. “I confess that I sometimes permit a lengthier hiatus than the schedule of the court might otherwise dictate in order to afford the parties an opportunity to reflect on the trial experience, come to their senses and resolve their difficulties like mature adults. It is touching how a trial judge can retain his naivety even after 15 years on the bench.”
  4. It takes a special level of audacity to utter threats under the roof of the Court House.
  5. I gather that this is Larry’s version of the Big Bang Theory.
  6. My personal favourite excerpt, which is quoted in full:

[15] Some family trees have more barren branches than others.

[16] Larry testified about the many death threats he received from Catherine and members of her family around the time of, and in the months following, separation. I will mention some of them.

[17] In September of 2006, Larry went to live with his father “for a couple of days” to “clear my head”. When he returned to the matrimonial home, the locks had been changed. Larry stated in evidence: “Catherine didn’t want me on the property and her family threatened to have me killed.” [page260]

[18] Larry gave evidence that, less than one month later, Catherine “Tried to run me over with her van.” [See Note 6 below]

[19] On November 21, 2006, Catherine demanded $400 from Larry or her brother was “going to get the Hells Angels after me”. [See Note 7 below]

[20] On February 9, 2007, Catherine told Larry that she wanted him to sign adoption papers so that Sam could adopt their children. [See Note 8 below] Said Larry, “She threatened me with her brothers and Hells Angels again.”

[21] On August 13, 2007, Catherine’s niece (Donna), telephoned Larry “and told me I will get a bullet in my head if I don’t sign the adoption papers. She called back later and told me I’m as good as dead.” She called a third time, “to tell me her father and uncles are coming to kill me”. [See Note 9 below]

[22] The next day, Catherine telephoned Larry and said that she “wanted my truck or her brother and the Hells Angels are coming to get it and me”.

[23] On October 18, 2007, a nautical theme was added. According to Larry, “Donna Taylor, Catherine’s sister-in-law, yelled out her window that I was going to be floating in the canal dead.”

[24] As can be seen, Catherine and her relatives are one- dimensional problem solvers.

If you’re interested in taking a look at this curious case for yourself, here’s the link to the full decision!

https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2010/2010onsc6568/2010onsc6568.html

 

 

Curious Case: The Squires, The Fitzpatricks and…. a Coyote Head?

Here’s a curious case I wrote about years ago on a personal blog. It’s strange enough to warrant repeating here.

Background: For 20 years, 60-year-old Bill Squires and 75-year-old Anna Squires maintained a close relationship with their neighbor, Mary Fitzpatrick. In 2006, however, Ms. Fitzpatrick passed away and her son, David, became the Squires’ new neighbor.

Details: Friction between the Squires and David began shortly after Ms. Fitzpatrick’s funeral. The Squires had lent photos of Ms. Fitzpatrick to David for display at the funeral and, despite multiple polite requests, the Squires’ photos were never returned. The neighbors’ relationship continued to deteriorate and when the parties disagreed over the care of a strip of grass between their properties, the feud – which could have once been classified as a neighborly dispute – escalated to passive-aggressive outbursts and death threats.

Particularly disconcerting was the morning of November 12, 2007, when the Squires stepped out of the front door of their home to find a dead coyote on the hood of their car. The Squires reported that, when they walked out and saw the horrifying scene, David appeared to wait patiently nearby in his own vehicle. When they looked at David, he drove away slowly, while displaying a satisfied grin on his face.

Outcome: Reportedly, the “first strain” (over the Squires’ photographs of Ms. Fitzpatrick) was amplified due to David’s already-existing feud with his sister, Shelley, over their mother’s estate. When the severity of their situation with David escalated, however, the Squires pressed charges.

The Squires reported the coyote incident to the police and provided video and audio recordings that captured David threatening the Squires. In response, David turned himself in (although he denied having anything to do with the dead coyote) and he was arrested for harassment.

When police officials lost the Squires’ video and audio recordings, the Crown decided not to proceed to trial and the charge against David was withdrawn. The Squires sold their home and moved on with their lives; meanwhile, David filed a civil suit against the Squires and his sister, Shelley, for “malicious prosecution and conspiracy”. Ironically, it was after David had started the new action and the Squires made a counter-claim that the Court finally heard the Squires’ case.

David’s original claims were dismissed and Judge Stinson of the Ontario Superior Court found that David was responsible for leaving the dead coyote on the Squires’ car and that he intentionally aspired to inflict mental distress on the Squires. The judge ordered David to pay the Squires over $166,000 in damages, a lifetime ban of contact with the Squires, additional costs to cover the Squires’ extensive legal fees, and additional funds to cover Shelley’s costs.

Curious about the Case? Check it out for yourself:

Amendments to Family Services Act in NB Considers Grandparents in Custody Matters

The New Brunswick Government recently amended Section 129(3) of the Family Services Act to consider other parties, including grandparents’ access to their children. Section 129(3) of the Act used to state that “upon application the court may order that either parent or any person shall have access to a child”.  The New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench referred to this section in cases such as, G.G. v. J.W., 2008 NBQB 338 and Morecraft v. Morecraft (1991), 122 NBR (2d) 271 regarding whether grandparents have rights to access their granchildren. In GG, supra, Madam Justice D’Entremont referred to Morecraft, which stated “[t]here is no automatic right of access to third parties“. In an earlier post (see here), I noted the difficulty the wording of section 129(3) posed to questions regarding grandparent’s access to their grandchildren.

On May 5, 2017, the New Brunswick Government passed the bill–An Act to Amend the Family Services Act. This Act essentially replaces the current section 129(3) with the following:

129(3)Repealed: 2017, c.22, s.1

129(3.1)On application, the court may order, on the basis of the best interests of the child, that either parent, a grandparent, another member of the child’s immediate family or any other person shall have access to a child, whether or not an order for custody has been made with respect to the child.
129(3.2)An order under subsection (3.1) shall be made subject to the terms and conditions that the court determines.
129(3.3)On application by a grandparent or another member of the child’s immediate family, other than a parent or guardian, the court shall take into consideration the willingness of each parent or guardian of the child to facilitate access and the need for making an order for access.
129(3.4)An order under subsection (3.1) may provide that access be exercised in the form of visits, oral or written communication or by any other means of communication.
129(3.5)The court may vary or discharge an order under subsection (3.1) at any time.

These amendments broaden the items a judge must consider when making an order for access to a child to “grandparents” and “another member of the child’s immediate family.” In addition, section 129(3.4) specifies that access may be through visits or other means of communication (likely email, Facetime, Skype, etc.) These are likely welcomed changes for grandparents who have, until now, not been explicitly mentioned. As stated in my post <a href=”https://www.purvisculbertlaw.ca/proposed-changes-to-family-services-act-in-new-brunswick-to-consider-role-of-grandparents/”>here</a>, however, how these amendments affect grandparent’s access to their grandchildren will depend on how courts in New Brunswick interpret and apply these provisions in future

Here are some links to more information on these amendments:
– Copy of An Act to Amend the Family Services Act: https://www.gnb.ca/legis/bill/pdf/58/3/Bill-49.pdf
– Link to status of the bills in NB Legislature: https://www1.gnb.ca/legis/bill/print-e.asp?legi=58&num=3&page=4
– Link to current version of the Family Services Act: https://www.canlii.org/en/nb/laws/stat/snb-1980-c-f-2.2/latest/snb-1980-c-f-2.2.html