Leah Messer, an 18 year-old, and one of the teenagers featured on MTV's reality series, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, has filed for divorce from her husband and the father of her twins, Cory Simms, 20. The couple found out that Leah was pregnant with twins at the age of 16 after only having dated for a month. Their entire relationship, including the breakups, make-ups, the birth of their twin girls, their engagement and their wedding was documented as part of the two reality shows. Now it seems as though their divorce will play out in the public eye as well. Leah and Cory, who got married on October 18, 2010, have one-year-old twins, Aliannah and Aleeah. Aliannah has been diagnosed with a developmental disorder and it is currently unknown whether she will ever be able to walk. Leah filed for divorce on April 14, 2011, but the reason cited for the split is still unknown as the documents are not public record currently.
The Law in Ontario
If Leah and Cory were divorcing in Ontario, Leah would have filed a Court document known as an Application. This document commences the Court action and sets out the claims for relief that an individual is seeking in their matter. Without knowing the details of this case, it can be assumed that the following issues will be dealt with as a part of Leah and Cory's separation and divorce:
1) Custody of and a Parenting Plan for Aleeah and Aliannah
In Canada, custody refers to the legal decision making for the child(ren) in question. In this matter, it is not known whether Leah has requested sole or joint custody of the twins. If she was seeking sole custody in Canada, this would mean that she is looking to have the sole responsibility for the decision making for the children. If she was seeking joint custody, then she and Cory would be able to jointly make the major decisions regarding the twins including matters such as their religious upbringing, schooling, or medical care. Conversely, sole custody would mean that she would be requesting to be the sole decision maker for the twins.
When dealing with parenting arrangements for children, there are various options that the parties can agree to. The more common arrangements include one parent having the children reside primarily with him/her with the other parent having care of the child(ren) for a specified duration, usually on weekends, or the parents sharing the care of the child whereby neither parent would have the child less than 40% of the time. The court documents for this case are not public record and there have been no reports on the claims that Leah made for the parenting arrangements.
2) Child Support
In Ontario, the Child Support Guidelines presumptively determine the amount that is to be paid in support obligations. The determination of the quantum of support payable, as per the Guidelines is generally based on the following:
- The number of "children of the marriage"; as defined by the Divorce Act, or the dependants to be cared for when the Divorce Act does not apply; and
- The payor parent's line 150 income as per their annual Income Tax Return.
In this case, there are two children of this marriage. With respect to the payor parent, this is determined based on who the primary residence parent is. If it is decided that the children are to live primarily with Leah, then Cory would be the payor parent. The reverse, therefore, would also be true. Additionally, if the parties decide upon a shared parenting schedule with the twins residing equally with both parents, then the amount of what would be paid in child support would be based on what is known as the "set-off" approach. The Court would look to the following factors as outlined in Section 9 of the Child Support Guidelines in order to determine the appropriate amount of child support to Order:
- the amounts set out in the applicable Tables for each of the spouses;
- the increased costs of shared custody arrangements; and
- the conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each spouse and of any child for whom support is sought.
Without knowing the particular details regarding what Leah is requesting regarding the parenting arrangements, it is difficult to comment further regarding the quantum of support that either parent, or both will have to pay to support the children.
3) Spousal Support
If either Leah or Cory were to bring a claim for spousal support, in Ontario, the Court would first consider whether he/she was entitled to support. In order to determine this entitlement the Court would look at such factors as whether he/she is in need of support, or if he/she had made a contribution to the marriage that requires he/she be compensated for it. The length of the marriage is also a factor that will be taken into consideration.
Based on the known facts of this case, the parties are both very young. Although they have both been involved in two reality tv series, it is unknown how much they have earned, and it is unlikely that they have other significant sources of income. If either party is able to show that he/she contributed to the marriage in a way that he/she should be compensated for, then a Court may determine that he/she is entitled to support from the other. In this case, the fact that the parties were married for less than six months at the time that Leah filed her documents with the court, would also be taken into consideration. As the parties were only married for 5 months when they separated, it would likely be difficult to show that either contributed to the marriage in such a way that he/she should be compensated for. Therefore, based on the limited known facts of this case, it is difficult to say whether either party would be granted spousal support. Visit our website for more information on spousal support.
In Ontario, when a couple separates there is a process known as equalization whereby a calculation is completed to determine the amount which spouse with more assets is obligated to pay the other. This calculation and payment is completed in order to ensure that neither spouse leaves the marriage better or worse off than the other. Not knowing anything about the couple's assets or liabilities, it is impossible to say which spouse would be responsible for an equalization payment to the other, if any.
It is interesting to note that there has been mention of the fact that Cory had taken a significant amount of money out of the couple's joint bank account to purchase a new truck for himself. This factor could be taken into account when determining the equalization calculation in this matter if Leah wanted to argue for an unequal division of the parties' net family properties. It should be noted however, that meeting the test associated with a claim for unequal division is very difficult and the individual who makes the claim has the onus of proving why the parties net family properties should not be divided equally. Because of this, it is difficult to determine how Cory's decision to purchase a truck with money from the joint account would be dealt with.
5) The Matrimonial Home
In Ontario, the Family Law Act states that regardless of how title of the home is held or how it was brought into the marriage, if it has been made the matrimonial home by the couple by their family living in it during the marriage, or determining it to be such for tax purposes, each spouse has equal possessory rights to the home. In this case, it is unknown whether there is a matrimonial home which needs to be dealt with.