courts, divorce, family law, law, weddings, wills & estates

Til Death do us part

As the days grow short, rain rattles against the window panes and Christmas carols take over the Muzak in the mall, normal people start their Christmas decorating and baking while we lawyers, ever marching to a different drummer, lumber into action in a mad dash to complete our  mandatory  annual CLE credits.

In order to maintain our ability to practice for the coming year we must do several things: refrain from getting caught committing any indictable offenses; pay the law society an inordinate sum for fees, and lastly, provide proof of attendance of at least 12 hours of “lawyers school.”

Not being one to leave things until the last minute I resolved this year to bag all my necessary educational credits well before the 30 November deadline-whole days before, so I signed up for a course about what’s new and exciting in the world of wills and estates.

To my surprise I found the course most instructive: indeed I learned a lot about marriage. Now having been a husband for almost 40 years now, I thought I knew a thing or two about the institution-I even consider myself partially house broken; but, it seems there is always more to learn.

When I began my own journey into wedded bliss, a formal walk down the isle was the sole precursor to asserting any claims at all againswed3t the property or income of a significant other, in the event that things didn’t work out, and marriage was defined as “the union of one man, and one woman, for life.” Pretty simple, straightforward  stuff, that even a poor country lawyer could suss out.

Nowadays, as a result of the Family Law Act, the Wills Estates and Succession Act, the Charter, and a handful of other legislative changes, as interpreted by recent court decisions, its a whole new ball game. In modern times, one can, it seems, slide into matrimony without even knowing it!

Distinctions between “formal” and “common law ” marriages have long since been consigned to the dust bin, along with any notion that your spouse need be someone of the opposite gender. One can acquire significant support obligations in any relationship that endures for longer than two years, and a claim against some pension benefits can be advanced after only a year of togetherness.

The courts now instruct us that we need to run through a bit of a checklist  of activities to determine if two people seen hanging out together may in  fact be married in the eyes of the law. Are they doing things that suggest they are in a “marriage -like  relationship”?

Do they live together, sleep together, pool their finances, vacation together, own things  together, bicker, or complete each others sentences ? Now here’s where recent judicial pronouncement make it interesting. Courts have ruled that you no linger have to live together, or have sex, or pool your resources in order to be deemed to be married. You can inadvertently acquire a spouse if your relationship ticks a sufficient number of “marriage-like relationship” boxes.

This can be a big deal if you happen to die without a thoughtful estate plan in place, since your “spouse” steps to the head of the line to claim a big chunk of your estate, as well as life insurance, pension benefits, RRSP’s  and the like. For most, their long term relationships are sufficiently “marriage -like” so the question doesn’t come up, but for many, it does. Consider seniors who acquire companions late in life, never thinking that their friend might displace their children for a share of their estate  or those whose time together is punctuated by long periods of separation, or those who fall into long distance relationships.

We live in interesting times- it didn’t used to be so hard to tell if you were married !

 

 

courts, Darwin award, divorce, family law, law, lawyers, weddings

The Legal Darwin Awards

We are inaugurating with this post, an occasional series dedicated to honouring those members of the legal profession deserving of a special award for colossal stupidity in the commission of a career ending folly. The award is, of course, an offshoot of the better known Darwin Awards, which celebrate the perpetual cleansing of the human gene pool  by the magnificently stupid, and are named after Sir Charles Darwin, who famously observed that smart species survive, and dumb ones don’t.

Today’s recipient is James Cooper Morton, aged 58, a senior and well known member of the Ontario Bar; former head of the Ontario Bar Association,  an adjunct professor of law, and a sometimes Liberal candidate for parliament. Mr Morton. it seems became enamoured of his law clerk, to the point of proposing marriage. It happens- office romances can sometimes lead the unwary into matrimony.

There existed but a single impediment to the path of true  love. Mr Morton was, unfortunately, already married. Nothing that an ugly and expensive divorce couldn’t cure- right?

Well, even lawyers begrudge paying divorce lawyers, it seems, almost as much as they hate handing over half their assets as the price of freedom, so Mr Morton took a wee short cut. He simply forged a divorce decree, complete with an official looking court stamp and fake judicial signatures. A seemingly simple and elegant solution to the otherwise messy business of  divorce!

Alas, the scheme very quickly unravelled, and Mr Morton has now been charged with forgery and obstruction of Justice, and finds himself suspended by the Ontario Law Society. (and facing some actual divorce proceedings as well, no doubt!)

Lawyers wreck their careers in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons,  but Mr. Morton self -destructed with such panache that we simply had to award him with this blog’s first Legal Darwin Award .

 

 

income tax, law, weddings

Who doesn’t love a royal wedding ?

Like most offices, the talk around the water cooler at Darnell and company has all been about Harry and Meghan’s upcoming nuptials -who doesn’t love the pomp and ceremony of a royal wedding?

Actually, most of the chatter in our lunchroom hasn’t been about what Meghan’s wedding dress will look like, or whether Harry’s stag night will feature naked billiard playing, but rather has been about what their pre-nuptial agreement might look like. After all, crafting complicated marriage agreements for high wealth individuals is exactly the sort of work we like to sink our teeth into!

Young Harry has a personal fortune in excess of $90 million (CDN), so our standard advice to the lad would be to insist on a pre-nuptial agreement, just for the sake of certainty, in case things don’t work out. Interestingly, his father Prince Charles didn’t bother with one for either of his marriages,  nor did his older brother, the future King, but then, they weren’t marrying an American.

Meghan has her own fortune, of course, only $7 million (CDN), but still enough to want  some protection for, so her advisors should be whispering in her ear about getting the  contract  inked as well. What really complicates matters though is her income tax status as a US citizen. The tentacles of the US Internal Revenue Service extend globally, so  a US citizen cannot escape  paying US income tax  just by marrying a charming foreign prince and moving into a castle in another country.

Marriage agreements can deal with many matters  besides  the standard  ” If it doesn’t work out I get to keep  the assets I came into the marriage with “. Who pays for what, housekeeping  allowances, and so forth can also be dealt with, and the happy royal couple would do well to pay some attention to those financial arrangements.

The source of their income as a married couple will be complicated, including income from their estates, allowances from the Duchy of Cornwall, stipends from the British Government, royalties from Meghan’s acting days, and so forth, and there is a goodly chance that some of it will be taxable by the US government, courtesy of Meghan’s citizenship.

Then of course there is the issue of children, always a thorny issue in a marriage agreement.  Consider that any children born to the couple would be in line for the throne. Should then the couple make provision now  for the non-removal of potential heirs to the realm, from the realm?

Yes indeed, Harry and Meghan’s  marriage contract  would be a delightful file for any lawyer, and we would love to to get our hands on it. It would be fun  to have a royal warrant – “By appointment to his Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales ” to add some class to our website. While we wait for the call  though, we would like to keep out pencils sharpened and our skills honed, so we welcome inquiries from anyone closer to home who has just bagged their prince charming or their raven haired princess. We need to chat about that marriage agreement.