YOU SHOULDN’T SKIMP ON DOCUMENTS DURING A MEDIATED SETTLEMENT
That was the central message in the case of Walts v. Walts, 2013 ONSC 6787. In this case, the parties negotiated Minutes of Settlement after a mediation lasting five hours. The Minutes of Settlement was turned into a court order. The Husband’s obligation to pay the wife spousal support was part of the order. The Husband brought a motion to change the court order to reduce or eliminate his spousal support obligation. He made two arguments.
First, that the Wife misstated her pension’s value at the time of the mediation. At the time she produced a document which showed the amount of money she contributed to her pension (approximately $3000). The document also said that it was a defined-benefits pension. (This means that once she was qualified to receive a pension she would receive a fixed amount of monthly income regardless of the amount she contributed to it). In reality the present value of her pension was approximately $20 000.00. The Honourable Justice Timothy Minnema held that the document produced clearly stated that it was a fixed-benefits pension. That statement should have alerted the Husband to have the Wife’s pension evaluated.
Second, the Husband argued that he should be entitled to retire at age 55 because he recently had a stroke. He was concerned about his health if he stayed employed. The Husband failed to provide a medical report that stated that the stroke caused long-term health consequences, however. Justice Minnema held that the retirement was voluntary and therefore the Husband’s retirement should not reduce his spousal support obligations.
Justice Minnema held that there was no material change in circumstances and that the Husband’s motion was dismissed.
As a side note, the Wife argued that once she accessed her Locked-In Retirement Account then her Disability Benefits would be reduced by an equal amount. The Wife produced an Email from someone at Human Resources to prove her claim. Justice Minnema reviewed the terms of the Disability Policy and made a finding of fact that accessing LIRA funds would not reduce her Disability Benefits.
Justice Minnema had to make decisions based on limited facts. The parties failed to get the reports necessary to make the key decisions on this issue. Although they may have saved litigation costs they received a result that either was, or could have been, far less than their actual entitlement. In summary, it makes sense to try to save money on arguing issues. Mediation is helpful. But spend the time and money necessary to get the key facts. Objective documents from third parties can often resolve arguments better than lawyers or the legal system.