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Read Articles and Advice from Shank Law Office

I Know About the Canada Pension Plan, but What Else is Out There?

Q: My parents are getting older, and I want to assist them with government benefits. I know about the Canada Pension Plan, but what else is out there? 

A: I have two words for you: Service Canada. This is a government website which explains the OAS, the GIS, and Allowance payments. Depending on your parents’ circumstances, they may be eligible for some or all of these. In this case, timing matters and one size does not fit all.

OAS: Old Age Security – a monthly benefit available to seniors aged 65 and older who meet Canadian legal status and residence requirements. Your parents may receive a letter from Service Canada the month after each of them turns 64, or they may have to apply in writing. The earliest each can apply is 11 months before their 65th birthday. If they have already turned 65 they need to apply promptly as the retroactive payments can only go back 11 months from the date of application. Not all people receive the same amount, as the number of years you lived in Canada after age 18 plays a role, and if you
have income from other sources you may have an OAS clawback. If this is the case, talk to a financial planner for assistance.

GIS: Guaranteed Income Supplement – a monthly benefit provided to low income OAS recipients living in Canada.

Allowance Benefits – covers benefits for low income seniors whose spouse is eligible for or is receiving OAS and GIS, or whose spouse has died. The table in the Service Canada website is very helpful.

Your friends at Shank Law.

When My Ex Pays Child Support She Pays Much Less Than I Did. What Can I Do About This?

Q: I always paid child support to my ex when our daughter lived with her. Now our daughter is living with me, and my ex doesn't want to pay child support. When she pays, she pays much less than I did. This can't be right! What can I do about this?

A: First, child support is the right of the child, and the non-residential parent is required to pay support. The gender of the non-residential parent is irrelevant; being female doesn't release you from the obligation to pay child support for a child who is living with the other parent.

Child support is in place so that both parents contribute to the child's standard of living. However, the amount of child support payable is directly related to the income of the Payor; if your ex earns much less than you, her child support obligation would be much less. Assuming that you and your ex have exchanged last year's income tax returns and notices of assessment, you know what she earns.

Go to and it will tell you the amount she should be paying per month in child support.

Should you continue having difficulty in collecting child support from your ex, I encourage you to send an email or text confirming her income and the amount of child support she owes per month. Should she still persist in not paying it all or paying too little according to the child support table, I urge you to seek out the assistance of a family lawyer who can help you obtain an Order from the Court which will assist you with enforcement from the Family Responsibility Office, among other benefits.

Your friends at Shank Law.

I Owned Our House Before My Wife and I Split Up. Now Whose House is it?

Q: My wife and I have called it quits. I owned our house before she moved in and we got married. I say it is mine and she says it is ours. What is the right answer?

A: I will assume that you are legally married and that the house is your matrimonial home. In this case, for the purposes of family property division, the matrimonial home is considered to be jointly owned, and its value (less any encumbrances such as mortgages or lines of credit attached to the home) would be divided equally.

This applies whether or not you owned the house originally, or whether you are still solely on title.

This also means that you cannot kick her out of the house, nor can you change the locks without her consent or a court order. You also cannot sell it, or mortgage it, without an agreement or court order, which you can obtain with the assistance of a family lawyer.

You may decide to buy her out of the house; you would need to agree on a current property value (while the value of other assets is frozen as of the date of separation, the value of the matrimonial home continues to grow until resolution is reached). A real estate broker can provide a free market valuation or you can jointly seek the paid services of a property appraiser to determine its value.

Your friends at Shank Law.

Can My Wife Come After Me Now for Child Support Arrears Even Though She Didn’t Pay Hers in the Past?

Q: Our children are all grown up, but now FRO has come after my wife for enforcement of arrears, and as I made more money than her, and sometimes the children lived with her, she is coming after me for child support arrears, even though she was a moving target when the children were little and never paid. This is so unfair! Her lawyer wrote me a nasty letter and is threatening me. What should I do?

A: Yours is a classic example of the struggles many couples face with respect to the Family Responsibility Office’s [FRO’S] role in delayed enforcement of a court Order which was made a long time ago, and which does not necessarily reflect the more fluid circumstances concerning the children. 

To avoid sleepless nights, I suggest that you gather up the old Order, any correspondence to and from the FRO and/or your ex and her lawyer with respect to child support or child support arrears and book a consult with a family lawyer, who will be able to assist you with the substantive calculations.

Basically, you will want to figure out whether what you owe your wife in child support is more than what she owes you, or the other way around, and approximately how much. Once you know that, you can decide to bargain, fight it out, or simply put the whole issue in your rear-view mirror, by agreeing to terminate ongoing support and any arrears. Whatever you decide, make sure that it is reflected in a new Order to the Family Responsibility Office.

Your friends at Shank Law.

My Wife Retired Early and Now Makes Less Than I Do. Do I Have to Pay Spousal Support?

Q: My wife and I have been married for a long time – 29 years. She retired early and I am still working. My employment income is more than her pension income, and she tells me I am going to have to pay spousal support. I do not think this is fair, as when we were both working our incomes were the same. Do I have to pay spousal support if we split?

A: The short answer is, if you separate today, given the current discrepancies in your incomes you probably will be required to pay spousal support. Spousal support is designed to equalize the post separation net disposable incomes (after tax incomes) of the two of you, and a number of factors come into play, among them the length of the marriage/relationship, and the age of the recipient party at the date of separation. Other factors include an ability to work, mental or physical disability if any, and age of the children. Sometimes the recipient spouse moves out of the matrimonial home and the other party pays their half of the mortgage, house insurance, and property taxes, such payments being counted towards the spousal support owed.

Spousal support can be structured in many different ways: you can consult with a family lawyer, and figure out together what the current likely support scenario will look like, and what a lump sum spousal support offer will look like. Other options include annual review, an automatic review upon a material change such as your retirement, or support for a fixed number of years.

Your friends at Shank Law.

Do I Have to Pay Spousal Support When I Have Been in a Common Law Relationship?

Q: Do I have to pay spousal support when I have been in a common-law relationship?

A: The short answer is yes, you do. If the two of you have lived together continuously for a period of three years or more, or have children together, then you may be obligated to pay spousal support.

Spousal support is calculated according to the length of the relationship and the age of the recipient spouse as of the date of separation and the relative incomes of the two of you, among other factors. A consult with a family lawyer will provide you with calculations.

Sometimes a couple keeps two residences or spends long periods apart for work or other reasons, and the three-year cohabitation period is disputed. In this case if you presented yourselves to family and community as a couple with intertwined lives, you can expect to pay spousal support.

it is important to remember that unlike child support, the amount of spousal support paid and the length of time which it is paid, are negotiable between the two of you. This is one area where consulting a family lawyer will save you grief down the road.

Your friends at Shank Law.

I Pay the Bills, but my Wife Won’t Leave the House. What Do I Do?

Q: My wife will not leave the house. I pay all the bills, and the house is in my name. Can I change the locks or call the police?

A: First, I am going to assume that you are legally married to each other. In Ontario, right of title – the house being solely in your name – does not permit you to change the locks, or evict your wife from the matrimonial home.

The police will not assist you in removing her from the home when they know that you are married to each other. A strategy of forcing her out of the home by selling it out from underneath her won't work either, as she has a spousal right in half of the value of the matrimonial home.

Does this mean that you are stuck forever in the same house with her, and paying all the household bills? No. You need to retain a family lawyer, and obtain a court order for exclusive possession of the matrimonial home. The courts may grant this if you meet the standard of "continued cohabitation has been rendered intolerable". In a worst-case scenario, the court process will proceed and this issue will be settled over time.

One word of caution: you did not mention any children. If there are children involved, there is a possibility that the courts would rule that the best interests of the children mean that she and the children stay in the home, and you move out, or that the two of you alternate your time in the home with the children in what is called a 'nested' arrangement. Finally, be alert to the threat of a domestic violence charge, as the police can remove you from the home if they believe that there is any violence or threats of same.

Your friends at Shank Law.

What Do I Do When I am Afraid To Leave Because of the Children?

Q: My wife and I are always fighting and we can see that it is hurting the kids. We know the marriage is over, but I am scared to leave because of the children. What can we do?

A: I have good news for you – while studies have shown that children are negatively impacted with being exposed to ongoing, long-standing conflict, when couples separate, cease their conflict and focus on the children, the children bounce back and do very well.

Many couples successfully separate and actually become better parents post separation. The ongoing conflict ceases by choice as the parents work with professionals to resolve their issues, and the children cease to be exposed to their parents’ daily hurt and bickering.

There are many avenues to accomplish this outside of litigation – working out a separation agreement, attending mediation, or retaining collaborative law professionals, are all successful routes.

Finally, if possible I would suggest that you and your wife proceed on your best behaviour, then move forward on separating by contacting a family lawyer.

Thank you for choosing us to help you.

Your friends at Shank Law.

How Do I Know if I Need a ‘Pre-Nup’?

Q: What is a ‘Pre-Nup’ and Do I Need One?

A: The term ‘Pre-nup’ stands for ‘prenuptial agreement’ and is also called a Domestic Contract, which can be a marriage or cohabitation agreement. The agreement sets out the rights and responsibilities of each party while they are together and after separation, including who keeps what and whether spousal support will be paid.

Most commonly, people with significant assets or entering a second marriage, or marrying later in life, elect to complete such an agreement. A pre-nuptial agreement is considered a contract under the law, and as such it needs to follow the rules and laws in order to be legally binding. The courts will typically honour the contract if it has been drawn up properly, is as fair as possible to both parties, and the contract wasn’t signed under duress.

Enforceable contracts have to be based on complete and open disclosure so both parties must reveal all of their assets and their debts. Each person requires Independent Legal Advice, which helps lessen the risk of the contract being challenged later by either party claiming that they didn’t understand the agreement.

There are certain obligations that you cannot contract out of, such as child support. You also cannot contract for things like sex, remaining childless, and future determination of custody or access. The best time to complete a marriage contract is well before the proposed marriage date, not on the eve of the wedding.

Your friends at Shank Law.

How to Handle Holidays after a Separation

Q: My wife and I separated 2 years ago, and for the last two Christmases she has had the children from December 23rd to the 27th. I told her that I deserved a Christmas with the children too, but she will not listen. She says that we always went to her family at Christmas. My family is very upset, as the children are missing my families’ Christmas festivities. What can I do?

A: Holidays are a difficult time for separated families. As this is an emotional issue, put into writing by text or email, what you think is a fair schedule for this year, and possibly going forward. Include one of your wife’s family members in the communication, as they might be able to assist her in approaching this rationally.

Give her a deadline, such as Friday, December 9, to respond. While each family’s needs are different because of travel, work schedules, culture, and traditions, the over-arching principle must be fairness –the children deserve equal time with both parents, and this includes holiday time.

If you get nowhere, do not hesitate to come see a family lawyer as quickly as possible to assist you with an Emergency Motion to establish Christmas access. Often the threat of Court proceedings is sufficient, but do not fear, the Courts are known for their fairness in this regard, and the argument that “we always did it this way” no longer applies when a couple has separated.

Your friends at Shank Law.

I Make Too Much to Qualify for Legal Aid, But Cannot Afford a Lawyer

Q: I make too much to qualify for legal aid, but I cannot afford a lawyer. My ex has taken me back to court – help!

A: You are not alone! In Ontario, at least 65% of family court litigants are self-represented, and the majority say that they would use a lawyer if they could afford one. I have good news for you – a new trend is sweeping through family law, and it is called limited scope legal services, or simply, unbundling.

Unbundling means that you get to pick and choose what you want to pay the lawyer to do, and you do the rest, much like picking from an à la carte menu. What can you get on an unbundled basis?

  • Consultation
  • Independent legal advice
  • Ghostwriting of court pleadings
  • Attending at court as your agent
  • Coaching for your court appearance
  • Counseling on mediation discussions

Why is unbundling a good idea? Not just about saving money, timely strategic legal representation can head off the following problems: litigation that drags on and on without settlement, a separation agreement which you and your spouse like, but which will not be enforced by the court, and a power imbalance between you and your spouse.

Many family lawyers believe that unbundled services provide a win-win scenario: the lawyer gets paid for doing specific tasks, and more importantly, the client chooses what tasks they want to pay for.

If this appeals to you, call your local family law lawyer today, and ask about unbundled services.

Your friends at Shank Law.

I Have a Family Dispute. What Are My Options

October 3, 2016

Q: My mother has Alzheimer’s and is in a home. I think she is being mistreated. I have power of attorney for her personal care, and my brother has power of attorney for property. I have tried to talk to my brother about moving my mother, but he will not listen. What can I do?

A: First, talk to your brother about why he is so opposed to moving your mother to another home. Does he believe that she is being safely cared for, or does his resistance lie in his concerns that your mother does not have the money available to relocate to a better (read- probably more expensive) -home? Sometimes a polite email summarizing your concerns is better received than a phone call.

Your second step should be to initiate a meeting with the home administration (preferably with your brother present), and discuss your concerns. Management may be willing to make changes. In the alternative, your brother may come around to your point of view. Further actions, if you feel that you are getting nowhere with the home and with your brother, would include retaining a wills and estates lawyer with the purpose of challenging your brother’s power of attorney.

A separate step would include notifying the relevant authorities with respect to your mother’s alleged mistreatment. The government of Ontario has a long-term-care home complaint process at This includes an urgent toll free number, 1-866-434-0144.

Your friends at Shank Law.

When Your Spouse Uses the Children as Messengers

June 2, 2016

Q: Since I moved in with my girlfriend, my Ex won’t talk to me and instead uses the kids as messengers. It is stressing out our children to be put in the middle. How can I make her stop? The kids hate it!

A: It is not unusual for the partner who is left behind, to feel hurt and rejected. Often, it is easier to avoid talking to the other spouse, and to use the children as go-between’s instead. Most people do not realize that this is downright harmful to the children. Study after study has shown that Divorce does not leave long-term negative impacts on children, but long-term conflict does-in particular, involving the children in the adult conflict. The children love both of you, and it is unfair to them to put them in the middle and divide their loyalties.

Appeal to your Ex in writing to deal with you directly, by text or email if she is more comfortable. If she continues to use the children as go-between’s, seek out a Family Lawyer who can assist you in obtaining a Court Order preventing your Ex from communicating directly through the children about adult issues.

Your friends at Shank Law.

Received Threats from an Ex? Read What You Can Do

Roxanne C. Shank, Lawyer
May 19, 2016

Q: My Ex is leaving me threatening phone messages and texts. He says things like “when you are gone I will have everything” and “accidents can happen.” I feel silly going to the police, but I am scared. Now what?

A: First of all, trust your gut – if you feel scared, you have good reason to feel that way. The risk of spousal assault is very real, especially around the time of separation. Don’t be a statistic!

One thing you can do, is save and print any threatening text or email messages from your Ex, as they are all admissible in court. Save and forward any threatening phone messages from your Ex. You can go to the nearest women’s shelter and share your concerns for free. They are very helpful, friendly, confidential and will help you with a safety plan. Alliston has a great shelter in My Sister’s Place, Tel. 705-435-3993.

If you are ready, go to the police and show them the texts/emails/phone messages; they will assist you with the next step, which may be a Restraining Order (which requires him to stay away from you, your home, where you work and frequent, and not to communicate directly with you).

You can talk with a local family lawyer whenever you are ready, but remember that even with a restraining order, you need to take precautions to remain safe.

Your friends at Shank Law.

Next time – when your spouse uses the children as messengers.

Nasty Phone Calls? Switch to Text or Email to Ease Conflict

Roxanne C. Shank, Lawyer
May 5, 2016

Q: My ex is really nasty when he calls me. I have asked him to stop, but he persists. What can I do?

A: Your objective here is to create a space between you, where the conflict cools off. If you are communicating by telephone, tell him politely in writing that you will communicate only by text and email. Then stick with your decision. If he calls, do not answer – instead text him back asking him to text or email you.

This technique – switching from telephone conversations to texts or emails – often works to ease the conflict, as there is no verbal sparring and now there is a paper trail of what is being said, which generally leads to more polite behavior.

If he continues to be abusive via texts, tell him you will not answer texts from him (unless it is an emergency with the children), and all communication will now be solely via email. Keep your conversations polite and short, and to the point.

If his email correspondence is still nasty, you can do several things:

  • Have all communication proceed through a go between - such as a relative, or a lawyer.
  • On consent or with a Court order, use for all communication.

Your friends at Shank Law

What to Do When Faced with Tough Child Access Requirements

Roxanne C. Shank, Lawyer
March 17, 2016

Q: I have to produce a hair follicle test before I can see my daughter. The lab that does hair follicle tests is not doing them anymore, and my ex will not let me see my daughter. It has been 3 weeks now since I have seen her. What can I do?

A: The good news is that you can take steps to regain access to your daughter; the bad news is that you may need the assistance of a family law lawyer to do so. Your ex is being unreasonable; while the access may have to be updated, your ex has no right to withhold access. You are correct in that the Motherisk lab out of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto has suspended its drug and alcohol hair testing program; your first step could be contacting your ex or her lawyer if she has one, and requesting that access continue without the requirement of the hair follicle test.

If she refuses, you could go back to Court to vary the current Order to remove the hair follicle testing requirement. If you have clean hair follicle tests for 6 months or more, your chances are good at achieving unrestricted access with your daughter; if the results are not as good, you could request to substitute blood and urine testing, or have your access supervised by a family member, or held at a Supervised Access Centre.

Whatever you do, do it quickly, in order to have your access with your daughter resuming without further delay.

Your friends at Shank Law.

Legal Matters: The Risks of Representing Yourself in Family Court

March 2, 2016

Q: My friend represented himself in family court, and he lost his case - his ex got a summary judgment against him. I was planning to represent myself, but now I am having 2nd thoughts. What is a summary judgment and why is it a bad thing?

A: In 2015, over 57% of Ontarians did not have legal representation in Family Court. The Family Court process can be tricky to navigate without a lawyer, and yes if you go it alone, you can have all of your time and effort - those sleepless nights filling out court documents, all of the missed days of work - be worth nothing, if your ex is successful in a motion to strike or summary judgment against you.

A summary judgment against you can permit the other side to dismiss some or all of your claims without you having the opportunity to go to trial for a full hearing of these issues. A motion to strike your pleadings can effectively silence you from participating in your own family litigation. Obviously, neither outcome is a good one for you.

In the last 10 years, summary judgments against self-represented litigants has increased 800%.

Some Ontarians choose to self-represent because they assume that this will save them money in legal costs. However, when assets worth many thousands of dollars are at stake, not to mention spousal support and other issues, a self-represented litigant can discover that they are spinning their wheels and ending up with a deal which is far more costly to them over the long run than the cost of a family lawyer.

Your friends at Shank Law.

Legal Matters: Separated Parents Seek Advice on Paying for Daycare

Feb. 16, 2016

Q: My wife and I have separated. We both work, and the children are in daycare. How do we handle this?

A: I understand that marital separation involves big changes, and you want to minimize the effect of the separation on the children.

With this in mind, I am going to assume that you and your spouse have decided to leave the children in the same daycare and in the same routine, as much as possible.

You should ensure that the daycare provider(s) know both you and your wife face to face, and that both of you can pick up and drop off to the daycare. Both of you should have the daycare info on your phones and be listed as emergency contacts at the daycare and school.

You can pay on a 50/50 basis or split the cost according to income; see a family law lawyer if you are not sure how to do this.

When it is tax time, it is always easier to have paid your portion to the daycare provider directly, and receive a separate tax receipt for what you paid. If you are with a provider who does not provide tax receipts you can still pay directly and obtain a receipt marked ‘not for income tax purposes’.

Your friends at Shank Law

Legal Matters: The Benefits of a Cohabitation Agreement

Jan. 28, 2016

Q: My new common-law partner is living with me in my furnished home. How can I protect myself if it doesn’t work out?

A: Furniture and other physical assets in the home are referred to as contents. While these are valuable, these are not the only assets you will want to protect if your new relationship does not work out. For example, your new partner could make an unjust enrichment claim against the increase in the value of your home for the time period that the two of you lived together, or she could claim spousal support. In circumstances where you have taken an active and parental role with her children, there is a possibility that she could claim child support.

While she cannot claim half of your RRSPs or workplace pension, fighting over who owns the new plasma TV or leather furniture can be painful and costly. In this case, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure; work with a family law lawyer to draft a cohabitation agreement for the two of you. It will spell out the division of contents (what is yours and what is hers) and include a waiver against claims such as constructive trust and spousal and child support, among other things. The beauty of such cohabitation agreements are that you can tailor them to your specific circumstances and needs.

Your friends at Shank Law.

Legal Matters: You’re Separated but Your Children are Travelling with Grandparents – What to Do

Jan. 19, 2016

Q: My parents want to take the children to Florida in January. My wife and I are separated. Is there anything that we need to do before they travel?

A: Congratulations. What a great trip for your children! First, get specific information from your parents – are they driving or flying? If they are flying, the name of the airline and the flight number in both directions is necessary. When are they leaving and when are they returning? What is the telephone number and address of the places they will be resident while in Florida?

Second, once you have this information, contact your wife preferably in writing, to confirm that she is in agreement with this trip proceeding. Are the children missing any school because of this trip, and does she have any concerns about that? Are there any other concerns? For example, are there any scheduled medical/dental appointments during this period, which would have to be rebooked?

It is a good idea to have three copied sets of the children’s health cards, birth certificates and passports, for each of the parents and the grandparents (the originals also travel with the children.)

Finally, you and your wife will need to fill out a detailed travel consent for each child, (preferably, notarized) by a lawyer. Forms can be found at Ensure that you and your wife have a copy and the grandparents have two originals to travel with them, one for each direction.

Completing these steps well ahead of time saves much wear and tear. Bon voyage, and Happy New Year!

Your friends at Shank Law.

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