Truth often revealed in the details in family law
A lengthy family law trial involving an international diamond business, witnesses from around the world and complex financial matters underscores the importance of disclosure, says Toronto-area lawyer Reesa Heft, who successfully represented the ex-wife on the case.
The two former spouses disagreed on almost everything, most notably the date of separation — by nearly four years — which was important for valuation purposes, says Heft, principal of Heft Law, who became the wife’s counsel mid-trial.
The case, which also dealt with a tort claim of fraud, involved reams of email evidence, much of which was believed to be altered and not credible, Heft tells AdvocateDaily.com.
In the end, it meant the financial trail of deposits and transfers was the best way to determine what really happened — and who owed what.
Heft told the judge, who eventually decided her client was owed $1.2 million, to “follow the paper trail.”
“It was a difficult story. The judge found that the ex-husband was not credible and that my client was more credible. But my point to the judge was she didn’t even have to look at credibility because there was a paper trail showing exactly what happened.”
The ex-husband’s failure to submit a financial statement and unwillingness to disclose financial details hurt him in the end, Heft says.
The judge found the husband’s failure to provide financial disclosure made it “impossible” to make a reliable calculation of net family property, and dismissed his claim for equalization.
“That failure to comply with the Family Law Rules and the evidence that he owns an asset of some value leads me to conclude that I should draw the negative inference against him, namely that, had he properly disclosed, he would have owed Ms. Singh an equalization payment. Such failure to disclose should not be rewarded with any order for an equalization of net family property.”
“Financial disclosure is your best friend,” Heft says. “Documents to support your client’s position is the best evidence you can put before a judge. A bank statement is almost indisputable.”
Not only did Heft follow the trail of evidence, but she also had a witness in Guyana who could confirm what payments were made in relation to the wife’s diamond business. The husband, who was working for the wife as an agent, was accused of “purposely misdirecting” funds from the wife, Heft says.
Part of the reason for the discrepancy of the date of separation had to do with a $1.2-million payment, she says.
“Often when there’s a dispute about the date of separation it's because something financial has happened in the intervening period that would have a significant effect on equalization or other financial issues,” she says.
Heft says the case’s result was extremely positive for her client, who managed to build the raw diamond exporting business thanks to the education, experience and connections she made after moving from India to Canada, and later the U.S.
“In her opinion, she involved her ex-husband in the business because even though she didn't want to be married to him, she still trusted him and then he turned around and took the money that would rightfully have gone to her,” Heft says.
It was also a case fraught with challenges, from the lack of credible email communication to the need to conduct examinations in chief and cross-examination of witnesses located overseas on Skype, with the help of a translator. Several documents in Hindi were not properly translated, she says.
“Before I became counsel for the wife, disclosure had been made and submitted to the court amounting to about 3,000 pages. Coming on late, I then had to sift through it all and find the juicy nuggets.
“Sometimes, as the expression goes, the devil is in the details. You really just have to drill down and look at the details to see the bigger picture.”