The Family Court has recently issued another stern caution and warning to those embroiled in Family Court litigation, including the lawyers who represent them.
This important guidance is in Alsawwah v. Afini, 2020 ONSC 2883, at paragraph 108, and is a must-read for every person who finds himself or herself in the challenging landscape of the Superior Court - Family Division:
"In the hopes of lowering the rhetorical temperature of the future materials of these parties and perhaps those of others who will come before the court, I repeat these essential facts, often stated by my colleagues at all levels of court, but which bear constant repetition:
1. Evidence regarding a former spouse’s moral failings is rarely relevant to the issues before the court.
2. Nor are we swayed by rhetoric against the other party that verges on agitprop.
3. Our decisions are not guided by concerns of marital fidelity. A (nonabusive) partner can be a terrible spouse but a good parent. Everyone is supposed to know this, but all too often I see litigants raise these issues for “context”.
4. Exaggeration is the enemy of credibility. As it is often said, one never gets a second chance to make a first impression. If that impression, arising from a parties’ materials or argument, is one of embellishment, that impression will colour everything that emanates from that party or their counsel.
5. Affidavits that read as argument rather than a recitation of facts are not persuasive. They speak to careless drafting.
6. Similarly, hearsay allegations against the other side which fail to comply with r. 14(18) or (19) are generally ignored, whether judges feel it necessary to explicitly say so or not.
Note by us: Sub-Rules 14(18) and (19) read:
AFFIDAVIT BASED ON PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE
(18) An affidavit for use on a motion shall, as much as possible, contain only information within the personal knowledge of the person signing the affidavit. O. Reg. 114/99, r. 14 (18).
AFFIDAVIT BASED ON OTHER INFORMATION
(19) The affidavit may also contain information that the person learned from someone else, but only if,
(a) the source of the information is identified by name and the affidavit states that the person signing it believes the information is true; and
(b) in addition, if the motion is a contempt motion under rule 31, the information is not likely to be disputed. O. Reg. 114/99, r. 14 (19).
7. A lawyer’s letter, whatever it says, unless it contains an admission, is not evidence of anything except the fact that it was sent. The fact that a lawyer makes allegations against the other side in a letter is usually of no evidentiary value.
8. Facts win cases. A pebble of proof is worth a mountain of innuendo or bald allegation.
9. Relevance matters. If the court is dealing with, say an issue regarding parenting, allegations of a party’s failures regarding collateral issues, say their stinginess or the paucity of their financial disclosure, are irrelevant and counter-productive. They do not reveal the dark soul of the other side or turn the court against the allegedly offending spouse. Rather, they demonstrate that the party or their counsel is unable to focus on the issue at hand. Often those materials backfire leading the court to place greater trust in the other side.
10. One key to success in family law as in other areas of law is the race to the moral high ground. Courts appreciate those parties and counsel who demonstrate their commitment to that high ground in both the framing and presentation of their case.
11. While dealing with that moral high ground, many capable counsel advise their clients against “me-too” ism. One side’s failure to obey a court order or produce necessary disclosure does not give licence to the other side to do the same. Just because the materials of one side are incendiary or prolix, that does not mean that the other side is required to respond in kind. Judges are usually aware when a party has crossed the line. Showing that you or your client does not do the same is both the ethical and the smart thing to Do."