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Exclusive Possession of the Matrimonial Home

One of the more difficult choices to make when separating is deciding who will get to live in the matrimonial home, or what is otherwise known as exclusive possession.  Both parties have likely developed an attachment to the home, and uprooting your life to move somewhere else can be a daunting and stressful experience.

So what exactly is exclusive possession? Does this mean a spouse now has ownership, legally known as title, of the home?

No.

This is a common misconception regarding what exclusive possession actually is.  Exclusive possession is the right of a spouse to possession of the home.  In other words, the ability of a spouse to live in the home, while the other spouse has to live somewhere else.  This right of possession is as against the spouse and not the home itself.  This WILL NOT give you title or ownership of the home by itself.

It is important to note that Married spouses have a stronger claim than Common law spouses regarding exclusive possession of the home as a result of the provisions in the Family Law Act (“FLA”).  The relevant provisions are replicated below:

 

19.(1) Both spouses have an equal right to possession of a matrimonial home.

(2)  When only one of the spouses has an interest in a matrimonial home, the other spouse’s right of possession,

(a) is personal as against the first spouse; and

(b) ends when they cease to be spouses, unless a separation agreement or court order provides otherwise.

 

24.(1) Regardless of the ownership of a matrimonial home and its contents, and despite section 19 (spouse’s right of possession), the court may on application, by order,

(b) direct that one spouse be given exclusive possession of the matrimonial home or part of it for the period that the court directs and release other property that is a matrimonial home from the application of this Part;

(2)  The court may, on motion, make a temporary or interim order under clause (1)(a), (b).

 

The court will of course have some considerations they will need to weigh when making the order for exclusive possession as per s. 24(1)(3) of the FLA:

(3)  In determining whether to make an order for exclusive possession, the court shall consider,

(a) the best interests of the children affected;

(b) any existing orders under Part I (Family Property) and any existing support orders;

(c) the financial position of both spouses;

(d) any written agreement between the parties;

(e) the availability of other suitable and affordable accommodation; and

(f) any violence committed by a spouse against the other spouse or the children.

 

(4) In determining the best interests of a child, the court shall consider,

(a) the possible disruptive effects on the child of a move to other accommodation; and

(b) the child’s views and preferences, if they can be reasonably ascertained.

 

What kind of spouses are entitled to exclusive possession?

The FLA is clear that if a person is looking for an Order in Family Court for exclusive possession, they must fall within the meaning of spouse in s. 1(1) of the Family Law Act.  Basically, you need to be married. See our post on Common Law vs. Marriage for more details.

This also means that you have to currently be a spouse of the other party to claim this remedy.  Divorced parties are not entitled to this remedy as they are no longer a spouse, but a former spouse.  So if you are separated, you can claim this remedy, but if you have a divorce certificate and you are legally divorced, you cannot claim this remedy. See our blog regarding Separation and Divorce for more info.

Common Law Spouses are similarly limited in their ability to utilize this remedy as they do not fall under the meaning of spouse in s. 1(1) of the FLA as described above.  However, this does not mean common law spouses cannot claim exclusive possession at all.  Common law spouses may be able to rely on the following:

  1. The common law spouse may have a trust claim towards the property that could result in an injunction, effectively allowing the spouse to remain in the home until the issue is resolved.[1]
  2. Under s. 34(1)(d) of the FLA, possession of the home could act as a form of support payment.
  3. Under a restraining order under s. 46(1) of the FLA or s. 35(1) of the Children’s law Reform Act. In which case, the possession of the home would be an effect of the Order, rather that the purpose of the Order.[2]

 

Proving the need for exclusive possession

Under these provisions, the person claiming exclusive possession needs to show that the evidence weighs heavily in their favour for the granting of the Order.[3] In Chrobok v. Chrobok, 2006 CanLII 27308, [2006] O.J. No. 3243 (S.C.J.), the wife claimed that she needed to remain in the home as it would be too traumatic for her children to move, and they were undergoing counselling at the time.  Ultimately, the wife failed to prove her argument for exclusive possession as she did not provide any supporting evidence from her children’s counsellor to support her position.

 

Occupation Rent

As a warning, if you are actually granted exclusive possession, you may then have to pay rent towards your former spouse who had to move out of the home!  Check back for future blog posts where I will discuss how this legal remedy works.

Information provided is for legal information purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

[1] Perks v. Lazaris, 2016 ONSC 1356

[2] Perks v. Lazaris, 2016 ONSC 1356, para 27.

[3] Berdun v. Berdun, 2008 CanLII 23945, [2008] O.J. No. 2016 (S.C.J.); McEachern v. McEachern, [1994] O.J. No. 1544 (Gen.Div .); Tweed v. Tweed, [1990] O.J. No. 1440 (H.C.).

Child Support

Child Support

One of the major issues at separation is how much child or spousal support will be paid from one spouse to the other.  This can often become very contentious between separating spouses as it can greatly impact both of their finances.

The Family Law Act (“FLA”) recognizes that each parent has an obligation to provide support for the children in accordance with the Child Support Guidelines, and that spousal support should recognize each spouse’s contribution to the relationship (see ss. 33(7) and (8) of the FLA).  This is to ensure that there are fair provisions to assist a spouse to contribute to their own support after the relationship ends.

Both types of support can be paid to married AND Common Law partners.  See our previous blog post regarding the differences between Married and Common law partners to learn more here.

This post will focus on child support.  See our next family law post for information on how spousal support is determined.

 

Child Support

Courts generally consider child support non-negotiable.  This is a right of the child and can be enforced strictly to ensure that children are properly taken care of.  This child support is meant to cover things like food, clothes and other essentials for the child’s well-being.  Additionally, parents can be required to split extraordinary expenses or s. 7 expenses.  These can be payments for things like after school programs or health related expenses.

Child support is determined by:

  1. The number of children;
  2. The province or territory where the paying parent lives; and,
  3. The paying parent’s before tax annual income.

These factors help us determine the “table” amount of child support to be paid.  A very rudimentary and approximate formula used to determine this support amount is to pay 10.8% of your monthly Gross income for one child (“the initial amount”).  If you have multiple children, you multiply the initial amount by the following approximate amounts:

  • 1.6 for 2 children
  • 2.1 for 3 children
  • 2.5 for 4 children

Of course this only gives you a ballpark figure and is not completely accurate as the factors in the formula are slightly adjusted as income changes.

For a more accurate answer, follow this link and plug in your details to determine what child support could be paid from one spouse to the other.

As of the date of this post, and according to the calculator provided in the link above, a parent living in Ontario with an annual income of $60,000 and 2 children would pay $915.00 per month in child support.

This takes into account the fact that both children reside in the same home.  If a parent has multiple children with multiple partners who all live in different households, you restart the calculation for each household.  As an example, using the above facts again, a father paying support to two different mothers would pay $556 per month to each mother, rather than $915 split between them both.

Considering that child support is the right of the child and necessary to ensure they are supported throughout their development, it is understandable why courts are so strict in enforcing the table amounts of support.  However, child support can change depending on certain factors.  Generally, child support is paid to the parent who has the child the most.  Yet should this residency arrangement be that one parent has the child 40% of the time and the other parent has the child 60% of the time, then child support payments can be reduced.

Another reason why child support could be reduced is as a result of the paying parent suffering an undue hardship.

 

Undue Hardship

S. 10 of the Federal Child Support Guidelines provides a means for parents to apply to change the set amount of child support if the parent or a child in respect of whom the request is made would suffer undue hardship.

Circumstances that could cause a spouse or child to suffer undue hardship can include:

  1. responsibility for an unusually high level of debt incurred to support spouses and children prior to separation or to earn a living
  2. unusually high expenses in relation to exercising access to a child
  3. a legal duty under a judgment, order or written separation agreement to support any person
  4. a legal duty to support a child, other than a child of the marriage
  5. a legal duty to support any person who is unable to obtain the necessaries of life due to an illness or disability

 

Is there a deadline for Apply for Child Support?

There is no limitation period for applying for child support that has been ordered by a court or that was to be paid as a result of a written agreement.  The problem arises when parents attempt to apply for child support without any court order or agreement in place.  Under s. 31(1)  of the FLA, every parent has an obligation to pay support for a child of the relationship if the child is:

  1. Unmarried;
  2. A minor;
  3. Enrolled in a full time program of education; or
  4. Unable by reason of illness, disability or other cause to withdraw from charge of their parent.

So generally, if the child is over 18 and self-sufficient, it is very unlikely that a court would make an order for child support.

The parent may be successful in a claim for retroactive child support.  The general rule is that retroactive child support can be ordered back to three years before the child support recipient can prove that they asked for child support, or that child support should be changed.  Keep watch on our blogs for a future post related to the topic of retroactive child support for more details.

Speaking with a legal representative about the support issues involved in your specific situation is a great way to ensure you can plan for your future.  Contact Rabideau Law to see how we can help you.

Estate planning for Separated Couples – reasons to get your will done or re-done

In Ontario, simply being separated from your spouse and not obtaining legal divorce may put your estate plan in jeopardy. Section 17(2) of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”) provides that for parties that have obtained legal divorce, any reference to a former spouse in an individual’s will is revoked and the will is construed as if the former spouse had predeceased the testator (party preparing the will). This is helpful due to the simple fact that after divorce, there is clearly a shift in interests and priorities and the law protects you in this regard. However, unlike the provision protecting those who obtain a divorce, there is no similar provision in a situation where spouses are just separated. That being said, it is a common misconception to believe that if you are separated, your ex-spouse will not inherit anything.

In fact, where spouses are separated (assuming no update to the will) and one party passes away, the surviving spouse maintains his or her entitlement under the will. The result is not much different if there was no will to begin with – the separated spouse may still qualify under the definition of a “spouse” under the intestacy rules.

A simple example may serve to bring the point home: if you have separated from your spouse (and not obtained a divorce) and own property jointly, the property may pass to the former spouse automatically. A visit to the lawyer’s office can prevent this from happening so that your portion of the property passes on to whom you intend. This may be to provide for your children, your siblings or even your new common law partner.

Along with preparing or revising an existing will, upon separation, one must ensure they update their insurance policies, registered plans, and any pensions. Further, unless you want your separated spouse to be able to make your property and personal care decisions, you must attend to preparation of your power of attorney documents as well.

Since separation can drag on for some time, individuals need to ensure they take a close look at their assets and related estate documents to avoid unintended consequences.

The above serves as general information only and is not to be relied on as legal advice. Please contact your lawyer for your specific circumstances.

Separation and Divorce

Clients often contact our office inquiring whether we can assist with their divorce. In these cases, one of the first questions I always ask is how long they have been separated for.  If they tell me they’ve only been separated for a few months I inform them that they can’t get divorced unless one of the following things occurs:

The Divorce Act (“DA”) requires that there be a “breakdown of the marriage” under s. 8(2).

This means that:

  1. You live separate and apart for one year;
  2. The other spouse has committed adultery; or
  3. One spouse has treated the other with physical or mental cruelty.

If you meet one of the criteria above then you can get a divorce. If you are separated, you can start an application for divorce at any time, but the court will not grant you the divorce until you have been separated for one full year.  The DA even has a section on how to determine that period of separation under s. 8(3) The basic requirements are that the spouses have an intention to separate and that they do not try to reconcile their relationship for more than 90 days.

Keep in mind that divorce only applies to married spouses; if you are common law then you only need to be separated in order to effectively terminate the relationship. See our previous blog post covering the difference between common law and married spouses.

Even if you start the divorce application, the divorce does not actually take effect until 31 days after a Judge provides a judgment granting the Divorce (see s. 12(1) of the DA).  Furthermore, s. 11(1)(b) of the DA states that a divorce will not be granted until the court is satisfied that reasonable arrangements have been made to support the children of the marriage.

A divorce or annulment is the only way to end a marriage.

You won’t NEED any formal documentation to show that you are separated, however it is HIGHLY recommended that you get a separation agreement drafted to protect your interests. http://www.rabideaulaw.ca/separation-agreements-an-overview/

Adultery and Abuse

The “separated for a year” rule does not apply if there is a breakdown of the marriage resulting from adultery or abuse. If a person is relying on adultery or abuse as a reason for the breakdown of marriage, s. 11(1) of the DA makes it clear that there can be no collusion, condonation, or connivance on the part of the spouse bringing the application.

This means that the spouse bringing the application for divorce cannot accept the behaviour or conspire to orchestrate the adultery or abuse. Also, the spouse committing the adultery cannot use it as a reason for the breakdown of the marriage.  However, the court will grant the divorce if it is their opinion that the public interest would be better served by granting the divorce.

The DA also provides a definition for collusion.  Here, collusion means an action taken directly or indirectly by a spouse applying for divorce to subvert the administration of justice.  This includes an agreement or conspiracy to fabricate, or suppress evidence to deceive the court (see s. 11(4) of the DA).

The Separation – Living Separate and Apart

In order to be separated, courts need to see that you are living “separate and apart”.

But what does this mean exactly?

There are a few factors that courts will consider regarding whether or not two persons are actually separated. Simply saying you’re separated may not be enough.

Factors courts will consider to determine if you are separated include the following (see paragraphs 37-47 of T.R. v A. K, 2015 ONSC 6272)

  • Is there a physical separation, (Note that this doesn’t have to mean spouses live in separate houses)
  • An intent of ending the marriage/relationship
  • Absence of sexual relations
  • Level of communication between the spouses
  • Are there joint social activities
  • Meal patterns
  • What chores are being performed between them
  • How do others view their relationship

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list as courts can consider other factors.  Also, you don’t need to meet all of these factors in order to be considered separated.  What needs to occur is that courts see a physical separation and that you both are seeking to pull out of the marriage (or common law relationship). What is important is the INTENTION to separate.

Does the date of separation matter?

The actual separation date or valuation date as defined in s. 4(1) of the Family Law Act is an essential part of the separation process.  The valuation date is the date from which all values related to property and support are calculated from.  As an example, a valuation date in the winter versus one in the spring or summer could affect the value of the matrimonial home and how much is to be distributed between the parties.  This is why it is crucial to seek out a family lawyer to advise you of your rights and responsibilities to ensure that you and your family are properly protected.

Keep an eye out for future blog posts discussing issues related to property.