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Canada New bill tabled to tackle 'predatory marriages' in Saskatchewan

20:05  01 november  2019
20:05  01 november  2019 Source:   leaderpost.com

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Don Morgan wearing a suit and tie: Saskatchewan Attorney General Don Morgan © Liam Richards Saskatchewan Attorney General Don Morgan

The Saskatchewan government is moving to empower judges to annul what it called “predatory marriages,” in order to help families protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation.

Justice Minister Don Morgan introduced a law to amend the Marriage Act and the Wills Act on Thursday. He said there was no specific case that prompted the proposed changes beyond worries that some, notably seniors, are preyed on by spouses who try to gain control of their assets.

The new provisions would require a court to determine that one of the spouses “did not provide valid consent.”

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There is currently no specific court application that allows family members to seek such a declaration, he explained. The law will allow them to fight back against what has been termed “gold digging,” in which seniors are exploited by a new and generally younger spouse.

Morgan said that’s one situation the proposed legislation is meant to address.

“It was a general concern that seniors were taken advantage of,” he said.

Once the new legislation is passed, family members will be able to apply to the Court of Queen’s Bench for a declaration that a marriage is invalid. Morgan suggested that they would do so by bringing supporting documents from a medical professional explaining the mental capacity of the exploited spouse. The application would not require a previous finding of incompetence, he said.

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Either party to the marriage will likewise be able to make such an application, as will parties with a close personal connection to them or the public guardian and trustee.

Beyond nullifying the marriage, Morgan said the court could also set aside any monetary transfers that have taken place. Family members might be expected to produce bank account information, for example, to back up those allegations.

Morgan said the spouse facing the allegations would still have the opportunity to challenge the attempt to nullify the marriage. He admitted that there might be “all sorts of shades of grey.

“It’s up to the court to look at the relevant facts,” he said.

Linda Anderson, communications co-ordinator for the Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism (SSM), hopes the courts take a very careful look. She said medical opinions will be essential, and in some cases a contrary opinion might be required.

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“There seems to me that there probably is some definite value in the legislation,” said Anderson, who is 76 years old. “The place where I would be asking questions and would want there to be a lot of care taken is regarding how is the older adults capacity determined.

“I’m certainly well aware that family members may may also be biased about a person’s capacity, particularly if they stand to inherit themselves.”

She said disputes over finances between parents and children are far more common than between seniors and their spouses. She said SSM received three calls on its answering machine Wednesday from seniors embroiled in those kinds of disagreements, in all cases with children.

Morgan’s bill makes other changes. The existing legislation already imposes parental consent requirements for minors. It also requires a judge to decide whether age isn’t a barrier to “the solemnization of the proposed marriage” for persons under age 16. The proposed amendments would strengthen that section by totally prohibiting marriages for minors under age 16.

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NDP deputy leader Nicole Sarauer said many of the changes are “common sense.” But she did express concerns about proposed amendments to the Wills Act that she said make a “major change” to the way wills are affected by marriages.

Currently, a marriage or common-law relationship invalidates an existing will. If passed, the amendments would put that to an end. Wills would have to be altered if the spouses want to change how their assets are handled, except in cases where an existing will makes allowance for a prospective marriage.

“This is a change that affects every single married or common-law couple in the entire province,” said Sarauer. “And as a result, that’s a pretty big change.

“If you were single or were divorced and you had made a will and then you get married, you will have to make a new will, because the one that you made before no longer will hold up.”

She said the NDP will be keeping a close eye on that part of the bill and consulting with stakeholders.

awhite-crummey@postmedia.com

Moe to speak about carbon tax, equalization, with Trudeau .
Saskatchewan's premier will meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday, according to a statement from Moe's office.The statement said the premier will speak about the “inequitable equalization formula, putting a one-year pause on the carbon tax” and expanding the province’s market access.

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