The emergence of cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin has provided governments and courts with numerous challenges. With cryptocurrency being unregulated, and in many instances anonymous, it can be difficult to determine how much currency someone might have. One area grappling with these challenges is family law. In a recent case before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the court was asked whether someone should be forced to disclose their cryptocurrency assets in order to calculate child support.
The family history
The parties began living together in May 1994. The father had a child from a previous marriage, and that child resided with them. They had their own child in 1995, but separated on March 30, 1997. Upon separation an interim order was made in relation to child support, with the father being required to pay $1,200 per month.
The parties were involved in litigation up to 2006, with most of it centering on the father’s access to the child. However, the litigation stopped, with the mother stating she was emotionally and financially exhausted and unable to continue.
In 2017 the mother learned that the father’s net worth was much higher than originally thought, and that he owned “millions of dollars” in cryptocurrency.
Seeking an increase in child support
After learning about the father’s wealth, the mother went to court to increase his child support obligations, seeking $4,000 per month rather than the $1,200 per month he had previously been ordered to pay. The mother testified that she is unemployed and had few assets. Her only income was the child support she received from the father. She sought an interim payment to assist with legal fees incurred as well as to hire an expert to help determine how much the father’s cryptocurrency holdings were worth. She accused the father of “aggressive litigation tactics” throughout their previous litigation and the current round.
The father denied using aggressive tactics, stating he has followed his child support obligations to date despite his belief that the mother does not need it. He stated he was self-employed, producing described videos for the deaf and hearing impaired. His disclosed income for 2015 and 2016 was around $225,000-$250,000, but it ballooned to over $3 million in 2017 after he said he liquidated capital. He claimed to make $172,000 in 2017.
The father’s cryptocurrency holdings were alleged by the mother to be in the range of $10 million. She was seeking a detailed accounting of these holdings, including past transactions. The father stated that a record of past transactions was not available, as is the nature of Bitcoin. He did, however, ask that he be allowed to provide redacted documentation about his holdings for fear that too much detail would make it possible for others to unlawfully access the funds.
The court’s analysis
The court pointed out that it had no expert evidence on how to protect and assess the value of the father’s cryptocurrency since it is such an emerging field. That said, some disclosure was necessary. The court found that the father’s production of redacted documents would be acceptable. The court also granted the mother some interim support, settling with $25,000.
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