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Which Court Handles a Divorce Between “Snowbirds”?

As the colder weather starts to descend upon us here in Ontario many couples – particularly older, retired folk often with some accumulated wealth – start making plans to spend the cold Canadian winter in sunnier climes, often in Florida or the Caribbean.  Colloquially, these kinds of (lucky) people are sometimes referred to as “snowbirds”.

But when such couples decide to separate and divorce, the question often arises as to where their court hearings are to be held, and what jurisdiction should divide their assets and grant their divorce.

This was precisely the question between two unmarried snowbirds in a recent case called Knowles v. Lindstrom, 2013 ONSC 2818 which involved a common-law couple who spent time in both Ontario and Florida.  The 65-year old man was a successful, wealthy American businessman; the 58-year old Canadian woman never worked during the 10-years they lived together.     In order to dissolve their relationship and determine how to split up various assets (including a 7-bedroom Florida home, and two Muskoka cottages worth about $10 million), the Ontario court had to first determine whether it was even the best venue for hearing the matter at all.

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To do this, the court examined the total time that the couple spent in Ontario as opposed to Florida or elsewhere, as well as the geographical location of the land and other property in question.     The court also looked at the provisions of the relevant Canadian family law legislation, including the prerequisite under the Divorce Act – in terms of the court assuming jurisdiction over the matter – that only one of the parties is “ordinarily resident” in this country.

In this particular case – and while conceding that it was a rather “elastic” family law concept – the court concluded that the couple still had a “real and substantial” connection to Ontario despite their annual exodus to the warmer Florida climate.  It accordingly had jurisdiction to hear the matter.

The facts in these kinds of “snowbird” cases are always different – and so are the outcomes.  If you have this kind of situation and are contemplating a separating and divorce, be sure to get expert advice.

Shulman Law Firm is a Toronto-area firm of experienced Family Lawyers who can provide practical advice and effective representation relating to the steps and processes involved in separating and getting divorced in Ontario.   Contact us to set up a consultation.

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