As a family mediator… I am conferenced out!

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, I 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. 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. Political agendas should never be louder than people’s voices! 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! For these reasons, I decided to walk the talk and put my energy where my mouth is: access to justice is access to information and access to options! And, this is exactly what I will continue to focus on!

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.

A Father’s Story

In 1987 my wife decided to leave…

We had 3 children. There were a number of reasons, and through talking it out with her we decided it was best for me to have full custody of the children, with her getting weekend and summer visitation. Initially, we involved lawyers which were expensive and made matters worse. By coming to an agreement ourselves, it did make things easier, although it was still very hard. There were no resources to turn to to get help and advice. We basically did it on our own.

Of course, this was nothing compared to becoming a single dad. I was really on my own except for one other single dad. I wasn’t raised to be the full-time parent and to carry a career. But, I did manage to make it through and did alright.

I eventually went on to be an online advisor for single parents and for those separating and divorcing, trying to help other single parents, especially dads. It came in handy when I went through my second divorce having a fourth child.

Workgroups and seminars such as the one the Family Mediation and Resource Centre are offering would have been a valuable and welcome resource back then. Surprisingly, being even needed more today, these types of resources are paramount for divorced and single dads.

If I could offer one piece of advice, it is make every decision based on what is best for the children. What is best for the children, in most cases, is to keep their lives as normal as possible, know that they are not to blame, and make sure they have equal and open access to both parents.

Rob

Check out our FREE events and groups:

Divorced or Separated Dads Group
Family Law Information Session (FLIS) 

Why a Peer Group for Divorced Dads?

While going through divorce, didn’t you always want a well-informed buddy who you can talk, gather information and plan ahead with?

This Divorced Dads Group was motivated by the notable lack of supports for dads experiencing divorce or separation. 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.
This group welcomes dads who have managed to successfully move past their divorce – to share their experience and help others.

Each dad needs different things:

  • Some dads need to share their experiences in a safe space
  • Some dads need to know that they’re not alone during this tough time
  • Some dads need more information about community resources
  • Some dads need to learn of different options to deal with their divorce
  • Some dads need to be heard and not judged
  • Some dads need to bounce ideas around
  • Some dads need to form positive relationships with other like-minded dads
  • Some dads simply need to share a laughter with others who get what he’s going through

The reality is that, sometimes, we all need support. And, you’d be surprised at how much well-informed “strangers” may actually support you more than the people you know.

Dads Peer Group

Fathering during and after divorce or separation – you’re not alone.

Why Join A Peer Group?

Everyone needs support when things get tough; some dads feel isolated and need to connect with other fathers; some need information or new tools; and others simply need to share a laugh with like-minded dads.

The idea is for fathers to have a space where they can share experiences, challenges and information with other dads. It provides opportunities for brainstorming, problem-solving and developing effective ways of dealing with post-separation.

Do I need to come to every group session?

While we welcome attendance at any session,  we recommend that you attend as many sessions as possible to maximize support and build a solid foundation for your post-separation life. There will also be guest speakers and a Holiday Party!

As our space is limited, we do want you to RSVP by sending a quick email to fmrcentre@gmail.com or calling our toll-free at 877-297-3312.

What is the format?

Each week, the group will be led by a peer dad, through a variety of topics. The dad has professional and personal experience with divorce, and is committed to supporting other fathers.

To accommodate diverse topics as those arise, we will not follow a strict curriculum. We will, however, attempt to cover the following discussions:

  • Effects of divorce on children and adults
  • Being a successful dad
  • Coping with divorce or separation
  • Having a quality relationship with children
  • Making co-parenting work
  • Ask a Lawyer: Legal Issues (guest speaker)
  • Avoiding or de-escalating conflict
  • Parenting Skills and Strategies
  • Benefits of fathering to children
  • When co-parenting is not successful
  • Complications of re-partnering or new relationships
  • Controlling emotions
  • Taking the high road for the sake of the children
  • Behaviours to avoid
  • Coping with a new stepfather
  • Ask a dad who’s been there: A dad’s 10-year legal battle (guest speaker)
  • Behaviours that have been shown to create positive outcomes
  • Communication and working as a team
  • Working through the loss of marriage
  • Talking to children about divorce or separation
  • Ask a Divorce Financial Expert: Financial Issues (guest speaker)
  • The benefits of divorce and formulating appropriate supports
  • Creating an effective parenting plan
  • How to handle holidays
  • Managing conflict within the co-parenting relationship
  • Holiday Party

Because men need support too

Thursdays from 6:30pm to 8:30pm
From May 24 to November 15, 2018
at Ajax Public Library

Divorce Information Session

Focusing on divorce options, in-and-out of court.

These sessions are conducted by a family lawyer and provide a general overview of the areas of law that are relevant to separation and divorce, such as the different rights for married couples versus couples who are not married but live together, the law regarding spousal support, child support and support enforcement.

Our dedicated group recognizes that without knowledge – without first having legal information, on the effects of separation and divorce on adults and children; alternatives to litigation; family law issues; the family court system and local resources and programs, people are committed to a system that they never have wanted in the first place.

For full schedule & to register, please see below which locations are convenient.  

Pickering Library Central – monthly sessions ( check schedule)

Downtown Oshawa – one Wednesday per month at 6:30PM BY REGISTRATION ONLY

“…adversarial family law system “appeared to encourage couples to become adversaries to a greater degree than they already are….to aggravate relations with the spouse…and to upset and humiliate people” (pp.214-215).” (Ellis, 2014)