As COVID-19 continues to take centre stage in the lives of most people around the world, the impacts of the pandemic have been felt across all areas of life, including family law. Not only can COVID-19 make things such as child access more difficult to manage, but the economic impacts over the last year are affecting the ability for many people to work, which in turn trickles down into family law. This is illustrated in a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, in which a father asks the court to order the sale of the matrimonial home as well as an investment property in order to alleviate financial stress caused by COVID-19.

COVID-19 leads to loss of income

The motion was brought by the father who was seeking to force the immediate sale of two properties owned by himself and the mother. The main property is their family home, which the mother lives in with their children. The second property is a condominium in Toronto which they currently rent.

The father is an optometrist with two offices in Ontario. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic he made about $132,000 per year. However, with the virus having slowed down business, he estimates that his 2020 income will come in somewhere around $66,000.

The father stated that he has been responsible for carrying the costs of the matrimonial home, something he said he was not able to afford when he was working full-time, never mind today. In addition, his reduced income has lead to his inability to pay child and spousal support as set out in an order. With property taxes now in arrears, he is asking the court to order the sale of the properties in order to free up equity they have built in the home and condo.

The mother told the court she felt the father was taking an aggressive approach to the litigation, and that she has acted reasonably in refusing to sell the home. She feels the father has not considered the impact the children would face if their home was sold, and that the market is not currently favourable for a sale. Ultimately, she feels the father is trying to apply pressure to her, and that he has access to savings and investments which he failed to mention. She also said he neglected to pursue avenues available to him to help his business during COVID-19.

Court orders sale of properties

The court noted that the Partition Act allows the courts to order the sale of jointly owned property, including matrimonial homes. The court is required to compel the partition and sale unless the party opposing the action has demonstrated that an order should not be made. This can be done by showing malicious, vexatious, or oppressive conduct on the party of the other party.

In this case, the court found that the carrying costs associated with the parties’ properties is unsustainable at present time, noting that house expenses were barely affordable when the family was together, but have become unaffordable altogether now that the mother is out of work and the father is experiencing a reduction in income.

The court did not find that the mother’s objections to the sale of the home were serious enough to warrant preventing its sale, and as a result ordered the parents to work together to list and sell both the home and the investment property.

Separation, divorce, and other family disputes are generally stressful and emotional. If you are contemplating a separation or divorce, your best short term plan is to contact an experienced family lawyer immediately to understand your options, and to formulate a strategy for moving forward. Contact the knowledgeable, effective, and compassionate family lawyer at NULaw online or at 416-481-5604 to book a consultation.

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