Couples Legal Information

Separating does not mean you are enemies. You can still plan your divorce together and, for that to be successful, you need information!

A family lawyer provides legal information customized to each unique situation saving you hours of frustration in navigating the legal system and how to handle your conflict, separation or divorce.

There is a $300 + HST fee for this service ($150 each).

Serving Durham, GTA and Peel Region

What couples say about this session:

Thank you, Eva, for walking us through all of our options. Your frank approach was much needed for both of us!  I feel so much better and confident about what we need to do and how to go about. –  Katherine H.

I called 4 law firms and none of them made it so clear for us as this session did! We walked away with a great sense of control and that’s what we needed! – Gene L.

We did not want to tell anyone we were thinking of divorce. But, we needed to know how to best go about it and not hurt the kids! This was so informative and it mattered a lot for us to hear in the same time! – Paul and Martha K.

Dads Must Go On!

The Divorce Dads Group successfully concluded leaving us with the very strong message that there is a dire need for such resources!

The Divorced Dads Group was motivated by the notable lack of supports for dads experiencing divorce or separation, especially in the Durham Region. Its premise is that dads are equally important in their children’s lives and, just like moms or anyone experiencing divorce, dads also need help navigating through all challenges that separation comes with.

When asked “What was your favourite part of the program?”, dads said:

“Open discussion regarding emotional turmoil concerns, and the varied experiences pros/cons of particular ways to address challenges. How to keep hope, and future value to child, amid a parental-alienation scenario”

“Learning about my options for divorce. I realized I have been misinformed by my lawyer probably on purpose.”

“Knowing that I’m not alone and my experiences are not uncommon.”

“The information I got was excellent. It helped me find the right lawyer and work with her outside of court”

“Camaraderie of guys. Place to unload frustration without feeling judged or weak.”

When asked “What have you learned throughout the program?”, dads said:

“That it is normal to feel angry and upset but that it will get better over time. Also the best thing I can do for my kids is to try get along with my ex.”

“Too much to write here. thank you so much to whoever organized this is a life saver.”

“That its good to get my feelings out despite being stressed. I felt so much better after each session”

“There are other men struggling with issues and sometimes worse off than me.”

What We Learned and What We Need to Change in Our Community:

Men feel without a shred of a doubt that they are on the outside looking in when it comes to services for them. There is a lack of quality agenda-free information/resources about divorce and separation available in the public sphere; and it’s harming separating dads and their families! We are committed to change this: one dad at a time!

Thank you!

Many thanks to these men, dads, facilitators, volunteers: Mike LeFave, Anthony Goldstein and Edward Cunningham! Your support, knowledge and dedication offered the group with positive insight and invaluable resources!

Thank you Town of Ajax for supporting the establishing of the group, first of its kind in Durham Region!

Thank you Ajax Library for offering the group with space and resources all throughout!

This community rocks!


If you’re interested in this group, send us a quick email at fmrcentre@gmail.com and we’ll make sure to notify you when it restarts!

Divorce & Holidays: 5 Tips on How Not To Let Divorce Ruin Your Holidays

The winter holidays can be stressful for many and it can feel especially overwhelming for families who have recently separated. So, Eva and I put together some tips on how to support your children, co-parent with your ex and still enjoy the holidays!


1.  Feeling Pissed-off or Hurt is Normal! But, You Can Still Be Merry!

The best way to manage your stress and actually enjoy the holidays is to acknowledge how you’re feeling at the outset. Sweeping your anxiety, frustration, hurt and other feelings “under the rug” won’t make them go away! In fact, they are more likely to bubble to the surface during the holidays, ruining your good-times. Identifying and accepting of emotions is one of those things that we all should always practice, not just around the holidays but throughout the entire life. Easier said than done, so start with truly giving yourself permission to be upset, angry, hurt, lonely or even relieved!

Once you recognize how you feel, then you can start exploring ways to successfully manage these emotions. Some parents find it helpful to “talk things through” with a friend or take on a new hobby or enroll in a boxing class! Attending support groups or meet-ups also helps in connecting with others who are in the same boat. Trust me, you are not alone and isolating yourself is not going to make things better!

2.  Avoid the Need to Compete with Your Ex!

Post-separation/divorce you may be in a different financial position than before and, you may even be in a different financial position than your ex. Contain the urge to compete in buying gifts and loading up your kids with goodies and material items. It’s normal to want to give them everything you can, but you also need to be realistic in terms of your budget and the message you’re sending them!

The best gift you can give your kids is quality time with you! And it doesn’t even cost you money! Plan a movie day in, go tobogganing, build a snowman or arrange for a family snowball fight! These are the things that will mean the most to your children and help them develop positive coping skills in their own lives. Bottom line: your kids won’t remember the things you bought them, but they will always remember the way you made them feel when they were with you!

3.  Plan Early and Remain Flexible

Post-separation holiday planning can be extra stressful, especially with blended families in the mix. Approach your ex about scheduling as early as possible so that you’re not scrambling last minute. Flexibility is key to working out a shared holiday schedule; don’t be positional about certain dates or times, rather focus on the children’s needs!

Acknowledge that there are many people in your children’s lives who love them and want to be with them during the holidays – and this is a good thing! Give your children the gift of being with as many loved ones as possible during the holiday, even if you have to sacrifice a little of your time to make it happen.

4.  Practice Self-Care When the Children are Away

It can be really tough not having the children around during the holidays, especially if this the first year! The easiest way to get through this times is to practice self-care, that is – do something just for you. What brings you joy? Maybe it’s having alone time with a new book or scheduling time with old friends. Maybe it’s a trip to the mall or the movies. Carving out this time won’t bring the kids back, but it will help you unwind and relax during an otherwise stressful time.

While the tips above offer a good head start to tackle holiday stress, they are in no way exhaustive. The takeaway for readers, however, should be that while holiday stress is normal, you do not have to suffer through it. With some mindfulness and a little planning, both parents and kids can enjoy the holidays alike!

5.  Out With the Old, In With the New: Start New Traditions!

Instead of arguing over old traditions, use the separation as an opportunity to start new ones! Your kids will benefit from a peaceful and fun time, not who’s winning Christmas Day. What’s really great about creating new traditions is that you have full control over how you spend the time and saves your kids from being caught in the middle! You win, your kids win and your family wins! Win-Win-Win!

Eyes Wide Shut: A Note to My Future Mediation Colleagues

As established mediators, we have a responsibility to constantly both reflect upon, and critically assess the existing state of mediation training. Not in an effort to discredit but rather, to inform ourselves and others with a view to always seeking to improve it.

There is a Clear Divisiveness! And, Mediation Training May Contribute to It.

Ideally, as family mediators, we want to avoid creating more issues than divorcing couples already present with. Unfortunately, we still have a long journey ahead. In today’s dispute resolution context, there appears to be a great deal of confusion, for both the public and practitioners, as to who does what and who is best qualified to do the work of a “family mediator”. In Ontario, a few organizations, OAFM, FDRIO, ADRIO and FMC, have taken on the challenging task of developing accreditation standards. However, not every accredited mediator is treated or promoted equally in the field.

Intentionally or not, there is a clear distinction made between mediators who possess a law degree and those who have other degrees. This distinction, unfortunately only becomes evident at the commencement of mediation training and after the commitment of thousands of dollars to family mediation courses. It is my experience, also shared by many others, that the divisiveness intensifies even more upon completion of training, specifically when mediators go on to establish a private practice, assuming that that’s the goal of their pursuing mediation training.

Lawyers as Teachers of Mediation…

The vast majority of trainers in the family mediation field are lawyers. This may be of concern. For one, the skills required to practice law are very different than those needed to practice mediation.  As such, when teaching, there may be an unintentional altering of those skills promoted in the course outline. Lawyers as instructors (and without any teaching background) may cause a training program to be biased and, therefore subtly (or not) steer learning away from its original direction and intention. In fact, the perception of bias alone may jeopardize the trainer-trainee relationship and, in turn, impact the attribution of a trainer’s competence. Without trust, admiration and inspiration, learning will inevitably be stunted.

Second, self-esteem and confidence in one’s ability may be either seriously compromised or incorrectly exaggerated. One example that comes to mind is the assertion made throughout dispute resolution courses that, even upon completion, those without a legal background cannot/should not deal with parties’ financials. This is interesting because outside of a recent 21-hour course, there are no such impositions for lawyers when addressing non-financial/non-legal issues. Simply put, one may purport that having a law degree equates with competency in all areas. This mindset does not only create a fundamental imbalance; it also sets a dangerous precedent. On one hand, it acts to inflate a lawyer’s confidence in skills they may not possess, such as developing child-focused parenting plans; understanding the underlying interplay of complex cognitive, emotional and psychological factors; managing emotions; recognizing and addressing mental health concerns; and, properly identifying and managing risk of abuse during and post-separation. On the other hand, it can serve to deflate the confidence of those who do not have a law degree and frighten them away from conducting what’s referred to as “comprehensive” family mediation, where all of the matters are supposedly dealt with in mediation.

It is then, not an accident nor a coincidence that, post-mediation training, the imbalance continues to intensify and, so, potentially affects the establishing of a lucrative practice, if that’s the goal! Lawyers have been primed to believe they have all the necessary skills and are given the green light to conduct comprehensive family mediation, whereas mediators with other than law degrees have been warned against doing so as if to suggest their skills are somehow inferior. And, so, despite having undergone similar training and accreditation process, the design of mediation trainings places some mediators at a clear advantage while others are only left with thousands of dollars in debt (on top of  frustration and confusion).

In her report, “Making Peace and Making Money: Economic Analysis of the Market for Mediators in Private Practice“, Urška Velikonja, a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University, points to trainers as having a responsibility to fully disclose the realities of mediation practice to aspiring mediators:

The failure by mediation trainers to provide accurate information about opportunities to make money in mediation contributes to excess entry in the market for mediation services….[I]naccurate information about the availability of mediation jobs as well as overoptimism lead aspirant mediators to spend money on mediation training and starting a mediation practice, and incur opportunity costs by foregoing other career opportunities. Not only may the failure of mediation trainers to fully disclose the pros and cons of mediation practice and correct trainee misapprehensions be unethical, it also leads to socially inefficient outcomes. To correct this misallocation of resources, mediation training programs should disclose information about “the known opportunities, limits, and obstacles in mediation in mediation employment and professional practice opportunities.”

Skilled Mediators Are Overshadowed by Turf-Wars and Politics

In reality, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for accredited family mediators who have other than law degrees to establish a successful practice. Why? Well, if only family mediators with a law degree are told they can do it all (financials, parenting and draft separation agreements) then there is no incentive for disputing couples to go anywhere else. And, how are family mediators without a law degree expected to promote their business: “Accredited Family Mediators Offering Some Mediation Services”? You see how quickly this can become a highly frustrating exercise. Second, a large number of lawyers refuse to work with mediators who don’t have a law degree, deeming their work as “sub-par”. This sad reality ultimately spills into the quality of service that divorcing families receive; since evidently it would be best to work together to provide for most effective process.

Family mediation training is a good example of a faulty design where learner-centricity is overshadowed by turf wars and politics. As it stands, its design greatly destabilizes the original core of ADR, pulling farther away from clients’ self-determinism and right to options. Without a doubt, it incorrectly promotes the conceptualization of mediation as an extension of the law model and/or a mere add-on to one’s law practice. Today, many lawyers feel OK including “family mediation” as one of their services, even when they don’t have any mediation training whatsoever. How come? For one, the Rules of Professional Conduct allow for anyone to be a mediator, with a minor caveat that they are to remain “neutral” and stay away from providing legal advice (pretty vague and subjective). And, second, the mediation field has established the ground for lawyers to be perceived as “superior” family mediators; this is not only evidenced by the language and materials used in coursework, but also by the difference in mediator fees (for example, some Ontario courts have a fee cap for family mediators who have other than law degree).

To date, there is no research suggesting a correlation between a particular professional or educational background and the success at being a mediator. Theoretically, anyone can put up a shingle and call themselves mediators. Same thing goes for mediation trainers. One does not need to have special qualifications or educational background to develop a mediation training. There are, however, a few “established” trainers who pretty much control this market; and a large number them also happen to be at the helm of mediation course accreditation. This raises a number of ethical dilemmas, but that topic is beyond the scope of this article. I am only referencing it because I feel it is an important piece, illustrative of a larger cycle of bias.

My fear, which I wrote about plenty, is still very much alive: lawyer-centricity is causing a shift away from the original intention of ADR by placing focus on systems rather than families’ needs. And, as we can see, much of the mediation training contributes to this.

Want to be a Family Mediator: CAVEAT EMPTOR

I am not suggesting that everyone who’s taking mediation training wants to make a career out of it! But, most mediation courses are being marketed and sold that way; and lots of people jump both feet in! Optimistic and energizing keywords are consistently inserted in marketing campaigns, creating the illusion that mediation training is a gateway to full-time employment or that second career. In reality, out of tens of thousands trainees, very few get to practice mediation and even fewer get to make mediation their full-time job. And, a large majority give up within two years to return to paying jobs. There are many contributing reasons:

  1. Trainers don’t fully disclose the obstacles of obtaining mediation work and so, many trainees discover these too late in the game. As Urška Velikonja puts it: “…the profession trains too many people for jobs that do not exist.. But, the trainers do make money!
  2. The training is heavily skewed towards lawyers: after all, most instructors are lawyers.
  3. It takes a lot more than a mediation training to be or become a successful mediator. Young graduates virtually don’t stand a chance to turn family mediation into a day-job. One wouldn’t, however, be able to read this very fine print anywhere.
  4. Gaining experience requires hands-on practice. Finding an established mediator to work with and teach you the ropes is not an easy task at all! It’s a pretty lonely road ahead once training is completed.

Ironically, and this is where we should turn our minds to, the public does not really make any distinction between accredited and non-accredited family mediators. Whose responsibility is this?

All in all…do not despair – Information is power! If family mediation is your field of choice, be wise and strategic! It’s not a regulated field; I am not saying it should be (that’s a whole different story)! Do your research on training, trainers and course materials. Ask critical questions about how you will achieve the course objectives and reflect on how those match your personal and professional goals. Call mediators in your community and ask about their experiences in the field. But, for the love of God, do not quit your day job – not just yet!

We’re not married. What happens to Canada Pension Plan benefits after we separate or one of us dies?

ANSWER

“The Canada Pension Plan(link is external) (CPP) is a type of pension plan that most workers and employers contribute to. You earn CPP credits as you work. When you retire or can’t work because of a disability, you can apply to get pension payments.

This is different from a pension plan your employer may have.

After separation

If you lived with your partner for at least one year, you can apply to Service Canada to have the CPP credits that you and your partner earned while living together added up and then divided evenly. This is sometimes called “dividing CPP credits”, a “credit split”, or a “Division of Unadjusted Pensionable Earnings”.

If you earned less than your partner, a credit split may help you qualify for a pension. If you already qualify for a pension, it might increase the amount of your pension.

You don’t need your partner’s permission to apply for a credit split. You have a right to split their CPP credits even if they don’t agree to it as long as you have lived together for at least one year. This is different from how you and your partner would divide other property and debts after you separate.

Time limits

You must apply for a credit split within 4 years after you and your common-law partner separate.

If your partner dies less than a year after you separated, a credit split can still be done as long as you apply within 4 years of your partner’s death.

Partners who are married and have lived together for at least one year can also apply for a credit split, but there are some different rules about when they can apply.

Survivor’s pension

If your partner made enough contributions to the CPP pension plan, you may be able to get another benefit called a CPP survivor’s pension. You may qualify if, at the time of your partner’s death:

  • you were married or had been living together for at least one year, and
  • you are at least 35 years old at the time of your partner’s death, or you are younger but have a disability or have dependent children living with you

If you were separated at the time of your partner’s death, you may still qualify if your partner did not live with a different common-law partner.

There is no time limit to apply. CPP gives you benefits for the months dating back to your partner’s death, but they won’t go back more than one year before the date you apply. ”

Source of Article: Steps to Justice

Conferenced-Out: Divorcing Families Need Help Outside of Conference Rooms!

Mediation is no longer something new. Ontarians however, don’t really know much about it and  when they do, the information has been somewhat distorted by the time it has gotten to them. As an accredited mediator, this troubles me!

With the exception of some great speakers, family mediators have yet to experience a sense of “quid pro quo” or professional fraternity when attending conferences. Those prominent names of 20+ years ago are the same gatekeepers entering today through the same revolving door. While current topics may have incorporated today’s “hottest buzzwords and phrases” (such as “access to justice”), at a macro level, not much has changed. The question still remains: what are the real benefits of attending conferences and how does it serve our public?  As an accredited mediator, this troubles me!

I have been on both sides: attending and organizing conferences. I have been vocal about the dire need for educating the public about mediation and its benefits; educating the lawyers on how to best support their clients through mediation; lobbying the government to allocate dollars to out-of-court mediation programs; and promoting mediation in an unified manner. And, yet, to date, someone seeking information about mediation, will get at least three different versions: one from mediators, another one from lawyers, and yet another one from our justice system. No one is taking responsibility. Sadly, political and personal agendas seem to be louder than people’s voices and families’ needs! As an accredited mediator, this troubles me!

And, for these reasons, I am all conferenced out!

I entered the mediation field with highest hopes: to help families overcome what could be a very traumatic experience; to guide people through what could be an extremely overwhelming process; and to instill a sense of hope in the health of their post-divorce reorganization! And… I can’t do this from a conference room!

Child Support Woes: Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt Edition

Celebrity A-Listers Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt made headlines this week when Jolie filed court documents in Los Angeles, claiming that Pitt has paid “no meaningful child support since separation”. Jolie is requesting the Court to Order retro-active child support from the date of separation. The couple separated in September 2016 after two years of marriage; they have six children (biological and adopted) with ages ranging between 17 to 10.

CHILD SUPPORT IN ONTARIO – HOW DOES IT WORK?
The law requires all parents to financially support their dependent children. In most cases, the amount of child support is determined by the Federal Child Support Guidelines. These Guidelines say that child support is usually made up of:

  1. a basic monthly amount, called the table amount AND
  2. an amount for other expenses, called special & extraordinary expenses

Basic Amount/Table Amount
The “basic amount” (also known as the “table amount”) of child support, is a monthly amount of support paid to cover the child’s everyday expenses like clothes, food, and housing. This amount is based on the following factors:

  • the payor’s gross annual income;
  • the number of children they have to support and
  • the parenting schedule.

The Child Support Table is different for each province. If both parents live in Ontario, the Ontario table applies. If the child support payor lives outside of Ontario (but still in Canada), the Table for that province or territory applies.

Special & Extraordinary Expenses
According to the Federal Child Support Guidelines, parents must share certain expenses over and above the monthly table amount, proportionate to income. “Special expenses” are typically:

  • child care expenses;
  • Medical expenses not covered by OHIP or insurance;
  • Post-secondary education; and,
  • Extracurricular activities.

Extraordinary expenses are different from special expenses in that they are irregular in occurrence and quite large in expense (in comparison to the incomes of the parents). The expense must relate to the child’s special needs/talents, be in the child’s best interest and be reasonable, considering the parent’s incomes. Examples can include expenses for competitive sports and specialized educational classes.

In the case of Jolie/Pitt, according to reports, the estranged couple do not agree on child support. Pitt has stated, allegedly, that he has already made adequate child support payments, including an eight million-dollar ($8,000,000.00) loan to Jolie. Lawyers for Jolie argue that the loan was for housing costs, not child support, and that Pitt has been delinquent on payments since date of separation in 2016. Jolie is asking the Court to order Pitt pay child support, including retro-active payments.

WHAT IS RETRO-ACTIVE CHILD SUPPORT?
The law is clear that it is the child support payor’s obligation to ensure that he or she is paying the correct amount of child support. If a child support payor has under-paid or did not pay child support at all, the law allows the child-support recipient to sue for back-dated (or “retro-active”) payments. In Ontario, a child-support payor can be ordered to pay retro-active child support for the past three years and even in some cases, retro-active child support can go past three years where the payor has acted in a blameworthy way. For example, if the payor parent hid their financial information from the other parent.

DO I NEED TO GO TO COURT TO GET CHILD SUPPORT?
Not necessarily. Parents can attend mediation together, whereby they discuss the Child Support Guidelines, their needs and the best interests of the child to create an agreement on child support. If parents agree on the amount of child support, they can document the amount of child support and the pay schedule in a separation agreement.

If parents cannot agree on child support, then they must go to arbitration (for an arbitral award) or court (for a court order) where a third party can make a decision on their behalf. It is always best to start with mediation because of all of the options available, it can be the most cost-effective, timely and most importantly, parents have the most control over the outcome.

by
Eva Iole DiGiammarino
Hons BA, JD, ADR Cert.

Co-Parenting After Adultery?

Actors Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner were married June 29th, 2005 and separated in June 2015; they share three children ages 13, 9 and 6. The couple allegedly split due to Affleck’s numerous extra-marital affairs. Affleck and Garner are still in the divorce process; this week, the couple was in the headlines because (allegedly) Garner does not want Affleck’s current partner, Lindsay Shookus, around the children, as she is one of the women with whom Affleck had an extra-marital affair.

ADULTERY IN ONTARIO: CAN YOU LOSE CUSTODY IF YOU HAD AN AFFAIR?

The short answer is, generally, no. Past conduct of a parent is irrelevant in determining custody/access unless that conduct impacts their effectiveness to parent the child (section 24(3) of the Children’s Law Reform Act).

ADULTERY IN ONTARIO: CAN YOU KEEP YOUR EX’S (NEW) PARTNER (FROM AN AFFAIR) AWAY FROM YOUR CHILDREN?

The short answer is, generally, no. Unless there are concerns that your child’s safety is (or could reasonably be) in danger or that their needs will (or may) not be met by your partner or their new partner, then there are no legal grounds from barring your ex’s new partner from establishing a relationship with your children – even if your ex had an extra-marital affair with their current partner.

ADULTERY IN ONTARIO: HOW CAN WE MOVE ON AND CO-PARENT?

Adultery can wreak havoc on the stability and cohesion of a family unit. Typically, the bonds of trust are shattered and the baggage of emotional pain piles up. It is not uncommon for hurt, resentment and anger to set it in and, for many, it is extremely difficult to revive any semblance of a relationship. It is not uncommon, for adultery to result in separation and divorce. When adultery leads to separation/divorce, family mediation can help the couple learn how to co-parent by addressing the infidelity and their emotions surrounding it, and establish positive communication techniques.

CAN WE MEDIATE? 

Family Mediation is a voluntary process where a trained professional (a mediator) helps (ex)-partners communicate/negotiate in a productive and safe way. Typically, (ex)-partners who turn to mediation can, with the assistance of a mediator, negotiate an agreement regarding property division, support & child custody. However, unlike other dispute resolution processes such as Court or Arbitration, the parties to a mediation are not limited to only discussing legal matters. Emotional issues, such as those which stem from adultery, can impact how one partner feels about legal issues such as custody issues (as exemplified in the Affleck/Garner case) and it is well acknowledged among mediators, that the emotional issues underlying one’s position must be worked through for a mutually-satisfactory settlement to be reached.

At Family Mediation and Resources, our mediators have extensive experience working with families who are separating/divorcing after adultery. Our co-mediation model, which has a family lawyer and a mental health professional mediating together, allows (ex)-partners to address emotional issues and learn how to establish a positive co-parenting relationship going forward.

About the author (Eva DiGiammarino)
Eva DiGiammarino is a Family Mediator and a Lawyer. Eva volunteers with Family Mediation & Resources and is passionate about educating families about the law and their options to resolve their matters outside of the court.

 

Can’t afford a lawyer, but still need legal help? Consider unbundled services!

Think about whether you want to hire a lawyer who offers unbundled services. This means you can hire them to help with a certain part of your legal problem only. For example, to help you prepare your court documents.

This option is useful if you can’t afford to hire a lawyer to help with the whole legal problem. Or for example, if you hired a lawyer to help with your problem, but now don’t have enough money left to keep paying them. Unbundled services can also be called limited scope services, unbundled legal services, or legal coaching.

 

A lawyer that offers unbundled services usually divides all the things they would usually do for a client into smaller, separate steps or items. You can hire them to only do the things that you decide you need the most help with.

 

Unbundled services can be:
• Legal advice: meeting with a lawyer to get advice on what your legal options are
• Preparing documents: a lawyer prepares your documents, for example, a court application or a separation agreement
• Appearances: a lawyer represents you in legal situations, for example, at a court hearing, or at a case conference
• Coaching: a lawyer guides you through the court process, or explains how to submit evidence
Lawyers who offer unbundled services usually charge a flat fee. You may have to pay this fee before they help you. Usually you don’t have to pay any other deposit or retainer.
Some lawyers have websites that say if they offer “unbundled” or “limited scope” services. Others do not, but if you ask them, they may be willing to offer it to you.”

[Retrieved from
: https://stepstojustice.ca/common-question-step/1-find-lawyer]

“Bring her to the negotiating table on her knees”

Once I realized that my spouse and I were going to separate, I contacted a family lawyer to assist and to help guide me through the process. The first lawyer that I saw started by working on a plan to “cut off this and cut off that” and was adamant that I do everything in my power to hurt my partner financially and “bring her to the negotiating table on her knees”. The anger and aggression emanating from this individual actually scared me and I realized that this was not the right lawyer for me… I was scared and confused enough without looking for more conflict.

The next attorney that I contacted was helpful in arranging a separation agreement, but kept asking for meetings with myself and my (now) ex-wife to review the terms and firm up the agreement so that it could serve as the template for a divorce agreement. This process took over 2 years and several thousand dollars and at the end of this I was absolutely no further ahead in negotiating an agreement.

I then contacted a family lawyer who had helped a friend with a “high conflict divorce”. My divorce proceedings were not “high conflict”, and my ex-wife and I were able to meet and verbally agree to terms for the divorce several times. However, after we had agreed between ourselves to terms, the agreement was sent to one of our lawyers to write up and ensure that all was legal and acceptable. The agreement that came back from the lawyers, either hers or mine, was never what we had agreed to between ourselves and materially changed almost every element of the agreement…. I started to realize that we were never going to settle this with lawyers who were eager to continue to alter our agreed upon terms and kept circling back to “having our day and kicking some butt” in family court. I was now several years separated and had spent over fifteen thousand on legal fees without any progress.

With the help of mediators in the community, we were finally able to agree to divorce terms and find lawyers who were not pushing us into a courtroom and we were able to finalize a divorce agreement on the terms we had agreed upon several years earlier but could never seem to get either of our attorney’s to write into a legal document.

My experience with the attorneys that I had worked with was that my wishes and my desire to ensure the comfort and security of my children was always secondary to the lawyer’s desire to get into a courtroom and battle it out. I never wanted that; the last several years had been painful and expensive enough. While their intent may have been to “protect my interests”, the reality was that I was spending time and money on a process that wasn’t what I wanted and that was, ultimately, unsuccessful. Breaking the cycle of endless letters and office visits and just working on what we both wanted was the key to a mutually acceptable agreement that allowed us both to move on with our lives and put my focus on what was truly important to me and not my attorney.

Author: John A.