It’s September. For many people, this month invokes sentiments of happiness and hope, as it feels like the start of a new year. People are generally relaxed following their summer holidays, they are back in a routine with the return of school, and there is a crispness to the air as a new season approaches. For others, the change of the seasons in September means it is time to start a new life – without their spouse.
The separation process, from the legal perspective, can begin on the right or the wrong foot. This will depend on the parties, whether they hire a lawyer or represent themselves, and who they hire as legal counsel. If one or both of the parties simply want to “get ahead”, either financially or from a custody standpoint, they may try to get away with certain “dirty divorce tricks”. What are some of these tricks? More importantly, do they really work or will they backfire?
- If you are representing yourself and are in the court process, hire a lawyer immediately before a motion or trial date to delay the matter if you are ill-prepared. Everyone is entitled to receive legal counsel so it would be uncommon for a judge to order that the motion or trial continue in the absence of offering both parties the opportunity to obtain legal advice (unless you have used this tactic before, in which case a judge may deny you the opportunity to delay the process again).
- If you have retained a lawyer and are already deep into the court process, fire your lawyer before a trial in order to delay it. This trick usually works best for the spouse who does not want a final court order to be made, which may change their existing standard of living, if their current lifestyle is favourable to them. While a trial can be delayed, it cannot be avoided if your spouse insists on proceeding. Furthermore, attempting to represent yourself in a family law trial is likely not the best idea.
- If you are self-represented, stay self-represented in order to try to “get away” with more than your spouse’s lawyer would. The standards are supposed to be the same for lawyers and self-represented litigants, but this is not always the case, depending on the judge. Often, self-represented litigants who can show that they do not understand the process can buy them more time to prepare their court documents, or delay the progression of a case, which will also increase their spouse’s legal fees. If this is taken too far, however, the self-represented litigant can be faced with costs for being unreasonable.
- Avoid communicating with your spouse. Another way of intentionally increasing your spouse’s legal fees is to avoid speaking with him or her about anything, resulting in all communication having to go through your spouse’s lawyer. Again, if this type of unreasonable behavior persists, however, a judge could order costs against you.
- Gain exclusive possession of your matrimonial home (and possibly a restraining order which will surely impact the amount of time your spouse gets to see the kids) by alleging a domestic assault. This happens all too often when one spouse calls the police on the other spouse, alleging abuse. While such false accusations can work in the short term to allow you to live peacefully in the home with your children, it will make the next several months (or years) that much more financially and emotionally challenging, as you may have to rely on your lawyer for all communication with your spouse and also potentially have regular interaction with the Children’s Aid Society. Furthermore, if a judge believes you intentionally fabricated a story of abuse about your spouse in order to gain exclusive access to the home and your children, he or she could order you to leave the house and your spouse could move back in, reversing the situation and resulting in you having limited access to your children.
- Transfer your assets off-shore or hide your money immediately before you intend to separate from your spouse in order to try to reduce your net worth on your date of separation. Chances are, you most likely will be caught. Lawyers and forensic accountants (possibly with the assistance of a Private Investigator) often find out about this and you will be punished.
- Refuse to pay support to your spouse or any household bills until you are forced to do so. If you are the family breadwinner, this could force your spouse to accept a less than fair support settlement out of desperation. Any interim support agreement, however, will most likely be without prejudice to any retroactive support claims. In other words, if you are underpaying support, any final agreement or order could consider applying a higher amount of support back to the date you should have started to pay.
- Use the threat of seeking a court order for sole custody in order to obtain a settlement in which you are paying less support to your spouse in exchange for a “joint” custody settlement. Anytime threats of custody come into play, you can almost guarantee that the relationship you have with your spouse will also be threatened. The fact is that if you have children, your spouse will be in your life for the rest of your life so ruining that relationship for some minor financial gain needs to be weighed heavily.
- Deplete your jointly held bank accounts, and put the money into accounts you hold alone. Then watch your spouse struggle with bounced cheques and pre-authorized payments. This usually will result in your spouse successfully obtaining a court order for you to return the money and could also result in an order freezing your own bank accounts to prevent this from occurring again.
- Purchase property in the name of a family member before or during your marriage in order to reduce your net worth (and then transfer it into your name after your date of separation). Although the cottage may be registered on title under someone else’s name, there are trust remedies available for a spouse to make a claim that you actually own the property and therefore, they should share in half of the value of that property.
There are many other “dirty divorce tricks” that are played in family law disputes. If you feel you are being victimized by the unscrupulous actions of your spouse, or if you are contemplating engaging in any of these dirty tricks, you need to contact one of the family law lawyers at Devry Smith Frank LLP to discuss how these actions may affect you and your family, and how we can protect you from the consequences of these dirty divorce tricks.