Obtaining a Foreign Divorce Opinion Letter in Ontario – Additional Implications of Foreign Divorces

In my job as a Toronto family lawyer, I have  drafted numerous foreign divorce opinion letters – some more complex than others. In my previous foreign divorce opinion letters blog, I discussed the legal tests and requirement for remarriage in Canada. This post expands on the policy reasons and additional legal consequences of (non) recognizing foreign divorces in Canada. Why is the recognition of foreign divorces in Canada relevant and important? Most people will only worry about this issue if they wish to re-marry in Canada and need to obtain a foreign divorce opinion letter from a local family lawyer. The recognition of foreign divorces in Canada, however, extends far beyond a person’s eligibility for a marriage license.

Marriage and divorce carry specific rights, obligations and entitlements. For example, Canadian courts cannot grant a Canadian divorce if Canada had already recognized a foreign divorce. A foreign and recognized divorce has the same status on the parties as a Canadian divorce. Consequently, if the divorce is not recognized, a spouse may be able to divorce in Canada and make property and support claims here. Depending on the circumstances of each party and the family law regimes in their country of origin, this could be significant.

Furthermore, a widow(er) may not be automatically entitled to pensions and other succession interests if a foreign divorce is recognized in Canada. The estate law issues, including the interpretation and validity of wills are affected by (non)recognition of foreign divorces, including the effect on financial provisions for dependents (i.e. former spouse).

In my practice as a Toronto immigration lawyer, specializing in spousal sponsorships to Canada, I have come across cases where the existence of a non-recognized foreign divorce could have undermined the attempt by a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident to sponsor his or her foreign spouse. If one of the parties remains married in the eyes of Canadian law, the parties are unable to re-marry, or if they re-marry outside Canada, their new marriage will likely be considered invalid ab initio for immigration purposes. The question of bigamy also arises in this context and should not be taken lightly. Lastly, the recognition of a foreign divorce can have significant tax implication in Canada, and it may affect the parties’ entitlement to state and welfare benefits.

The laws in this area can be quite complex and technical. If you have been divorced outside of Canada and either wish to re-marry and obtain a foreign divorce opinion letter or if you wish to ensure that your divorce is recognized for other purposes, such as immigration, you should contact a knowledgable family lawyer in Toronto.

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A Toronto Family Lawyer’s Guide to Using Facebook During Divorce Proceedings

How many times have you checked your facebook app today? Facebook has become an irreplaceable tool, which allows us to stay in touch with family and friends, who are often dispersed around the world. At the same time, Facebook posts have become a rich source of evidence, which can and will be used against you by your ex spouse and his or her lawyer in family court. The amount of information other people see on social media sites is controlled by privacy settings or permissions. For its own marketing purposes, Facebook  and other social networking websites default permissions usually favour widespread sharing. Always remember that you cannot be anonymous on the web. Most family and divorce lawyers in Toronto have experienced the occasional inability of their clients to behave online. Facebook is designed to share your real personality and your actions and attitudes. This is exactly why social media is one of the best lie detection methods that afamily court judge can use.

Behave and Do Not Over-share

Do not denigrate your ex on Facebook and other social media websites, especially if you have children in common. Wile venting your hurt emotions and seeking solace in cyber space can be therapeutic, Facebook is hardly the most appropriate place for healing. Not only is it in arguably poor taste to over-share your innermost emotional struggles in a public forum, but putting down and ripping into your ex can seriously jeopardize your legal position. As your family lawyer will likely caution you, If you are embroiled in a custody dispute, your vitriolic rants against your co-parent can be seen as evidence of your inability to put your child’s best interests above your own. Fighting over child custody in Ontario can get very nasty very fast. Facebook expressions of animosity can also show that you are unwilling to work cooperatively with your ex in parenting your child. These indicators may demonstrate to a family court judge that you cannot be trusted to promote the maximum contact and meaningful relationship between your child and the other parent. Furthermore, if you post an untruthful comment, you could be sued for libel. On a very human and practical level, sounding like a raving maniac will seriously undermine your credibility in the eyes of an adjudicator and public at large.

Post Wisely

Who doesn’t have some embarrassing photographic evidence of a crazy Friday night, drinking with friends? That picture of you drinking with your BFFs, smoking a bong or a photo of your kid “pretend” drinking a bottle of rum with a funny caption can all support your spouse’s claims that you have a problem with alcohol or that you are an unfit parent. as you can see, social media can show poor parenting skills or judgement, show capacity to work or show smoking or the use of substances not normally associated with someone who is an exemplary parent.

Checking into luxury hotels, enjoying expensive vacation packages and showing off your newest car or a boat is a great ego boost, but your bragging rights come with a potentially significant price tag. When it comes to equalizing family property or dealing with spousal support or child support issues, Facebook photos and status updates can unwittingly reveal your financial circumstances that differs drastically from the claims that you made in your financial disclosure. While hiding assets and understating your income are reckless and imprudent moves in any family law case, getting caught doing it is even worse. A picture of that piece of jewelry that you claimed was lost or a trip to Paris with your new love interest can result in a reassessment of your equalization calculation and support payments, and you could have costs ordered against you. Make sure to work closely and follow the advice of your Toronto family lawyer to avoid these costly missteps.

To Check in or Not to Check In

Checking into various venues, restaurants, movie theatres and travel destinations is fun and addictive. If you are involved in a particularly contentious divorce or if have applied for a restraining order because you fear physical or emotional abuse from your ex, you may not want to post your whereabouts on social media. Even the best family lawyer in Toronto is not a substitute for common sense. Posting your location is an open invitation for trouble and should be resisted.

 Parting Words of Caution 

While most divorce lawyers recommend a dating “time out” immediately following your separation, if you choose to pursue romantic interests during a particularly contentious family law matter, you will need to refrain from sharing this sweet information on Facebook. Your ex, a mutual friend, a family members or even an acquaintance can pass this information on to your ex and his lawyer, who may use it to their advantage.

This legal information brought to you by Ivan Steele Law Office.

Free Consultation in Family Law – Good Idea?

If it is free, why not take advantage of it, right? Yet, in that simple “F”  word lies the central problem with free family law consultations. In the arsenal of dirty divorce tricks and tactics, “poisoning the well” or “conflicting out” certain divorce lawyer so that your spouse cannot retain them takes a place of great distinction and infamy.

Here is how this ploy plays out: A husband or a wife makes an appointment with  top family and divorce lawyers in a geographic area. He or she proceeds to meets with each one in order to establish a solicitor-client relationship,  effectively preventing that lawyer from representing the other spouse. Of course, the lawyer-shopping spouse doesn’t actually have to hire any of these family lawyers. The entire goal with this tactic is to “conflict out” family lawyers so they cannot be hired by you. While celebrities frequently use this strategy, it is also a popular one in high conflict divorce cases, where the goal is not simply to win a legal battle but to inflict as much damage as possible (scorched earth approach). The lesson here is  twofold. First, do not procrastinate. While interviewing lawyers to find a good fit is perfectly acceptable and even advisable, being indecisive could cost you an excellent attorney, if you spouse gets there first. Second, when a lawyer tells you the consultations are not free, don’t get mad and jump to the conclusion that such decision is motivated purely by greed.

Once you have decided to meet with a lawyer, you need to be prepared to ask questions, evaluate and temporarily step back from the emotional charge of your separation. The following steps will go a long way towards maximizing the chances of a positive outcome in your family law or divorce matter:

Pick Your Battles Wisely

In many cases, during your first visit to a lawyer you may still be feeling of anger, betrayal or disappointment, following the breakdown of your relationship. You may feel overwhelmed, anxious and fearful, faced with financial and emotional uncertainty of the  future. All of that is normal. While these emotions are a necessary and even helpful part of a healing process, you should know that divorces can get expensive very fast, especially when spouses are unable to agree on the terms. This is not the time to be guided by volatile emotions. That is precisely why you need a realistic ally by your side. Your family and divorce lawyer will make sure to explore all possible ways to reach an out-of-court solutions and quicken the process, saving you a tremendous amount of money, which you put towards re-building your future.  Do not be shy to ask for an estimate on time and cost from your lawyer, especially if litigation is the only or the most likely option. Although your divorce lawyer may not be able to give you an accurate estimate during the initial interview, considering the uncertainties in law and evidence, you will at least have a general idea of ow you will be billed and what type of work you can expect to see on your invoice.

Take Notes

Go back to basics. Your may be nervous or preoccupied during your meeting with a lawyer, but make sure that you remember what is said. Take notes but don’be fixated on writing down revery detail of the conversation. Remember that the consultation also serves as a two-way interview where both, the family lawyer and  you need to dtermine if you are comfortable with one another.

Ask, Ask and Ask Again

Ask your family or divorce lawyer as many questions as you can think of during your initial consultation. Family law is a highly complex and constantly evolving area so no question is too silly or too obvious. After all, we are talking about your life here. Come prepared with a list of questions that you want answered about your case AND the lawyer him or herself. Be sure that you understand the answers  thoroughly and that they were answered to your satisfaction. This back and worth will also reveal a great deal about your prospective lawyer’s communication style. Family lawyers should be able to communicate with you in non-legal terms.

Cheaper Is Not Always Better

Let’s face it – hiring a lawyer is a little different than finding a pair of awesome jeans at Winners. Cheap legal services will often yield cheap results and may end up costing you more money in the long run. On the other hand, expensive is not always better either, unless you are have millions at stake and/or a highly complex case that is likely to drag through the appeals process. Follow the “Goldilocks Rule” and choosing a moderately priced family lawyer who offers honest, effective and most importantly, personalized service. Making the right decision the first time could end up saving you quite a bit.

Bring the Paperwork

As a family and divorce lawyer, I want to know as much as possible about situation, before I give you my legal advice. Seeing your tax returns, bank accounts, prior agreements, detailed childcare history and any other evidence that you may believe is material to your case will make my job easier and my advise more accurate and tailored to your circumstances. Knowing the other party’s income, finances, property, and debt would make me even happier.

Often times, consulting with a solicitor is a person’s first step in beginning a family law case.  More often still, consulting with a divorce lawyer marks the end of a significant chapter in your life. Allow yourself to be unsure. You do not need to know exactly what is going to happen next.. That’s what your family or divorce lawyer is there for.

Happy Hunting!

Ivan J. Steele, M.A., J.D.,

Ivan Steele, Toronto family and immigration lawyer

Ivan Steele, Toronto family and immigration lawyer

What Do Family Lawyers Do Anyway? A Toronto Family Lawyer’s Thoughts on Our Unique Role in Marriages, Upon Separation and Divorce

Ivan Steele, Toronto family and immigration lawyer

Ivan Steele, Toronto family and immigration lawyer

Family lawyers have received a colorful and varied treatment in the media. From blockbuster Hollywood movies (think Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney in “Intolerable Cruelty” to lawyer dramas and sensational news articles, we are frequently led to believe that family and divorce lawyers invariably fall into one of two categories, neatly pre-packaged for late night television enjoyment.

If you are a family lawyer, you must be either a high flying, insufferable, impeccably dressed shark, with Ben Franklins bursting out of your leather Prada briefcase (that incidentally costs more than an average car). Alternatively, you are a kind hearted, dedicated, legal aid, politically correct, save the children (and the whole word while you are at it) type. Production variety demands minor character twists and idiosyncrasies, but for most part, these archetypes prevail.

I am a family lawyer in Toronto, Canada, formerly trained as a psychotherapist. In a few years that I have practiced family law, I have encountered several walking caricatures and self-proclaimed legal celebrities (you know who you are) roaming the hallowed hallways of Her Majesty’s courts, with egos and wallets too inflated for everyone’s comfort. And yes, the crunchy, earthy, granola types also abound. These fringe types notwithstanding, a majority of family lawyers in Toronto are kind, industrious and balanced individuals, dedicated to their craft, their clients and their families (you have to learn something from seeing broken families day in and day out).

So what do most of us do that is so darn important and that justifies our (greatly variable) hourly rates? While no profession is immune to greed and bad judgment, despite the prevailing stereotypes, family lawyers are a caring bunch. We do run our businesses and need money to support our families, but we earnestly try to help our clients to live their lives on their terms, within practical and legal constraints.

Marriages are great – until they are not. If we do our jobs right, we are the best prevention and the best remedy for all parties in failing marriages. We take on your worries, cope ԝіtһ the legal, emotional and practical headaches that plague once happy unions, and we try to find the best solutions for your children. Because divorce is emotionally volatile, we are here to provide objectivity and guidance. What family lawyers do not do is make decisions about your lives. That is your responsibility and we are here to try and bring your plans to life, whenever possible.

Along with psychologists and psychiatrist, we are the confessors of the modern times. We actively listen to your stories and then we think, plan and strategize about issues involving children, visitation rights, property division, spousal abuse, spousal support, divorce etc.

The bеѕt time tо hire one of us іѕ bеfоrе you get married. I will get angry letters for this – I just know it. Sounds cynical? “Where is the trust?” you may be asking? While creating а prenuptial agreement (marriage contract) mау ѕееm like a cold and calculated decision rooted in mistrust, this piece of paper may be the kindest thing that both spouses can gift to one another – ever. If you are married for life, you will never look at this document again. If your marriage breaks up, however, a marriage contract will set оut precisely һоԝ your property will be divided and how much, if anything, you need to pay to your spouse as support. While prenups have limitations (i.e. cannot agree on a custody of a child), they are true money and sanity savers. Divorce proceedings and protracted, contentious negotiations leading up to a Separation Agreement саn wipe оut аn average savings and eat significantly into your retirement funds.

If you separate without a domestic contract in place, do not despair. We are here to make your separation as efficient and cost-effective as possible. The billing horror stories that fill the family lawyer lore are true, but not as prevalent as the rumors would lead us to believe. While paying a family lawyer is not cheap, being reasonable and following sound legal advice will save you a great deal of money in the long run.

When selecting a divorce lawyer in Toronto or elsewhere, be picky (but not unreasonable. Unfortunately for everyone involved, we are not wizards. If we were, would we still be working?) Legal expertise is important but insufficient by itself. Honesty and transparency are essential. Make sure that a family lawyer that you retain is someone that you like and that can relate tо уоur life and your circumstances. Judgment and bias have no place in our line of work. Consult ԝіtһ friends who went through a similar process, but do not expect your case to mirror theirs. Your life is unique and your family matter will be as well. Read reviews іf any are available. In the end, with some research and a bit of good luck, you will find a family lawyer that is just right for you.

Ivan Steele, M.A., J.D.  – Ivan Steele Law Office

Divorce in Ontario – Brief Summery from Ivan Steele Law Office: Divorce Lawyer in the Heart of Toronto

To even be able to apply for divorce in Ontario, you have to be resident in the Province for at least one year.

There is only one ground for getting a Divorce in Canada – the breakdown of the marriage. How you go about proving that breakdown is a different story. There are three reasons recognized by common law and the Divorce Act that can be used as evidence of marriage breakdown (and no, we do not just use that vague “irreconcilable differences: phrase):

1) The spouses have separated and have lived separate and apart for at least one year. The separation is usually physical but under some circumstances (economic or financial hardship are most notable), the parties can still live under the same roof and claim to be separated. The evidence of a true separation needs to be presented to the judge in accordance with applicable case law. As long as the “marriage-like” quality of their relationship has ended and the parties have stopped sleeping together, doing chores for each other, going to family events together and so on, separation will likely be established.
In this situation, getting a lawyer is probably a wise move.

2) One or both spouses have committed adultery which the other spouse hasn’t forgiven. In this case, you do not need to name the person with whom a spouse has committed adultery, but if you chose to do so, you will need to serve that person as well, which is only additional and often unnecessary headache.

3) One spouse has been mentally or physically abusive to the other spouse, and that spouse can no longer continue  to live in a matrimonial union. The definition of abuse is wide, but it should not be watered down to the point of irrelevance. Also, do not throw around the accusations of abuse if none exist. There are serious matters that should not be taken lightly. You may also get into trouble if you lie to the Court.

The bottom line is that most people ask for a divorce based on separation. To claim a divorce based on adultery or cruelty, you must be able to prove that the adultery or cruelty occurred, and that can be difficult.

Temporary Reconciliation is OK: Spouses who have separated can get back together and move back in to try to reconcile and make the marriage work. But within the one-year separation period, they can only live together for a total of 90 days or less. If they live together for more than 90 days, the one-year period of separation starts all over again from the date of the last separation.
Judges will not grant a divorce when there is

  • collusion
  • connivance
  • condonation
  • insufficient arrangements for child support – before granting a divorce, the judge must be satisfied that appropriate arrangements have been made for the financial support of the children. This is why I recommend that the parties enter into a Separation Agreement before proceeding with the Divorce.

Collusion is when you work with your spouse to lie to the court, either in an affidavit or through your testimony. For example, if a couple agrees that they will lie about the date of separation to speed up the divorce.

Connivance is when one spouse encourages the other spouse to commit adultery or tricks the other spouse into committing adultery to speed up the divorce.

Condonation is when you have forgiven your spouse for his or her adultery or cruelty.

To avoid costly mistakes and delays in the process, it is highly recommended to retain a divorce lawyer to assist you with a dissolution of your marriage.