How Much Disclosure Is Enough in Family Law Cases?

pile of financial disclosure

In cases involving any form of money issue, be it support, property division or any other claims regarding property,  separated spouses or parents must be able to understand each others financial situation to do anything with the case.  A party cannot even understand if a proposal or an agreement is good or bad if he or she does not know what the other party has.   Child support of $1500.00 per month may sound like a great deal, unless the support payer is actually making a million dollars per year.  Both section 15.1(3) of the Divorce Act  and section 33(11) of Ontario’s Family Law Act require that judges, and any child support calculation service, set child support to match the table amount for the support payer’s income.  That is impossible without income disclosure from the support payer.  It is not possible to equalize the value of separated spouses net family property without knowing the value of that property.

Ontario Family Law Podcast - Episode 23 - Why You Need a Last Will and Testament

34 - Financial Disclosure in Family Law Cases

Since financial disclosure is crucial to have productive discussions about any financial issue in a case, the Family Law Rules require that it be provided at the start of any Family Court Case.  Rules 13(3.2) and (3.3) of Ontario’s Family Law Rules require that within 30 days of serving his or her Application or Answer, each party must provide, to the other party the financial disclosure that is necessary to understand each parties’ financial situation.   The of required documents is extensive, it includes, among other documents, the following:

  • Income tax returns, with all schedules and attachments, and Notices of Assessment (the document that comes back from the Canada Revenue Agency) for the three most recent years
  • the party’s most recent pay stub
  • A statement of performance related pay (a statement of tips, profit sharing plans, or other incentives)
  • If the party has recently lost a job, a copy of the Record of Employment and any severance package
  • For self-employed people – three years of their statements of the business financial statements or statements of business and professional activities, and the details of any payments may to non-arms length individuals
  • For people on Employment insurance, Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support Program or Workplace Safety and Insurance Board Benefits, Canada Pension Plan or a private pension plan, a statements showing the benefits paid and being paid
  • The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation assessment for all real estate owned by the party
  • Copies of all bank, RRSP, and investment accounts for the date of separation and, where available, the date of marriage
  • A statement of the number and types of shares owned in any publically held corporation
  • For beneficiaries under a trust, the trust financial statements and trust settlement agreement
  • A mortgage statement for any real property for the date of separation and, where available, the date of marriage
  • Statements for Lines of Credit for the date of separation and, where available, the date of marriage
  • Statements for all Credit Cards for the date of separation and, where available, the date of marriage
  • Any other private loan documentation

piles of disclosure for family court

The above is not a complete list of the disclosure that may be required to understand  a party’s financial situation.  The disclosure that is necessary depends on the specific circumstance of the family.  For example, where a party has valuable jewellery or artwork, he or she will also have to provide appraisals of those items.  In addition, income determination is much more complicated for people who are self-employed.  This is one of the reasons they are not permitted to use the Ontario Government’s Administrative Calculation and Recalculation of Child Support service. 

When, after reviewing the initial disclosure, a party does not understand the other party’s financial situation, there is a procedure under Rule 13 to get more disclosure:

  1. The first step is to send a letter or email to the other party, or their lawyer, requesting the additional documentation  or information that is necessary to understand the other party’s financial situation.  The expectation is that anyone who receives such a request will answer it within seven days. 
  2. If the answer is inadequate, the party requesting the additional disclosure may bring a motion in writing for a court order requiring the other party to produce the needed disclosure.   The disclosing party can challenge the necessity or relevance of the disclosure by responding to that motion.  The expectation is that if such motions are necessary, the parties will bring them before the case conference with the intent of having the motion decided and the disclosure provided before the case conference.  Judges’ time is valuable and conferences in family court can get many parts of a case, if not the entire case, resolved if they are not bogged down with dealing with disclosure.

Angry Judge

People in family court, especially self-employed people, often feel that their spouse is demanding excessive disclosure just as a tactic to wear them down and drive up their lawyer’s fees.  That is a tactic that some lawyers use.  However, it is also often the case that a lot of information is needed to understand a person’s financial situation especially where it is complex.  Every Family Court Judge has seen many bitter parents or ex-spouses who have tried to hide large sums of money through organizing their finances in complex ways. While former spouses who trust each other may be able to avoid extensive disclosure, former spouses who are suspicious of each other often need extensive disclosure to be sure that the other party is not hiding money.

In most cases, it is faster and less expensive to just provide all the requested disclosure that it is to fight about it.  Judges like that.  In cases where the parties are suspicious of each other, and may be trying to run up each other’s fees, providing the extensive disclosure that a party is requesting  often forces the requesting party to incur large lawyer or accounting fees reviewing that disclosure.  That is because such a suspicious party will assume that there must be something hidden in all those pages of disclosure and so will have a professional comb through it carefully.  It can be quite disheartening for a party to pay lots for professional fees only to find nothing.  It can also be quite disheartening when a former spouse just hands over disclosure without a fight because then requesting spouse feels tat he or she is not “getting to them.” 

Not letting a former spouse get under your skin is one of the best tricks for succeeding in Family Court

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Exactly what disclosure parties must provide and what disclosure requests are merely harassment depends on the specifics of the particular case.  It is best to speak to a top divorce lawyer if you have any questions about disclosure. Doing disclosure wrong is a common way that people get themselves into a lot of trouble in their family law or divorce case.  To get advice on your situation, or if you have any Ontario Family Law questions that you need answers, contact Certified Specialist in Family Law, John Schuman, by calling 416-446-4036, emailing him, or filling out the form below. You can also use the form below to comment on this page.

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In any separation or divorce, there are many common mistakes that people make when they do not speak to a lawyer.  You should speak to a lawyer so you know your rights and how the law applies to your situation.  Otherwise, your ex may trick you into taking less than you deserve.  Pick up a copy of the Guide to the Basics of Ontario Family Law, which is an easy-to-understand book on Ontario Family Law that explains property division, matrimonial homes, child support, alimony and most other family law issues so that you know where you stand.  You can get the paperback from Amazon, or you can immediately download the $9.99 Kindle ebook or iBook for your iPad or iPhone or for Kobo.

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