Law is not justice and a trial is not a scientific inquiry into truth. A trial is the resolution of a dispute.
– Edison Haines
Divorces are costly. They cost time and money, and health and happiness.
Very few couples have plenty of money set aside to cover legal fees in the event of a divorce. Yet separation and divorce are facts of life. Close to 50% of all relationships in North America will end in separation. Most people going through a separation are going to incur legal fees, whether they want to or not.
What can you do to keep these costs down? Here are a few guidelines:
1. Get legal advice promptly:
It is in your best interests to know as soon as possible what your legal rights and responsibilities are. An initial conference with a family law lawyer will help you determine, for instance, what property division to expect and the range of support you may count on paying or receiving.
2. Keep it in the family:
The more you and your partner can decide upon by yourselves, the better. Parenting arrangements and furniture and vehicle division, for instance, are areas in which many separating couples can reach agreement without much outside intervention. This is the fastest, cheapest method of proceeding—and ought to be used for as many issues as possible. Equally important, you maintain control.
3. Consider alternate dispute resolution:
Talk over your options with the family law lawyer you consult. Do you have to litigate? Or can you work things out with your partner through mediation, or through collaborative law, or through some other method of out-of-court negotiation? Going to court is usually the most expensive course of action, but sometimes it is the only practical one.
4. Have a realistic fee budget:
Ask about your lawyer’s hourly rate. Let your lawyer know what you feel you can afford in the way of legal fees. Narrow the issues you choose to resolve through lawyers. See if you are eligible for Legal Aid.
5. Do not flood your lawyer with phone calls:
Your lawyer charges by time spent. If you want to communicate with your lawyer, do it in writing. A lawyer can read an email faster than you can convey the same information in a phone call. If you have to phone, make notes beforehand so that you can keep the call brief and business-like. Make it easy for your lawyer to understand your situation. Give your lawyer a written chronology of the significant events of your relationship. Hand over clear details and documentation of your financial situation, including copies of tax returns, notices of assessment, any appraisals you may have, statements for credit card, line of credit, RRSP, investment, insurance, pension and mortgage accounts, as well as your list of expenses. This will save time for your lawyer, and lower your legal costs.
6. Look after your own emotional well-being:
Divorce is stressful and upsetting, so it is a good idea to get help from your doctor or a professional counselor. It is normal to go through a variety of emotional stages during a separation, including disbelief, anger and grief. Try to make thoughtful decisions from your head, rather than lashing out from your hurting heart.
7. Temper your expectations:
If you are open to a variety of options for settlement, you havea better chance of a satisfactory outcome. If you can be generous, then be generous. Let go. Take responsibility for yourself as much as possible. Put your children’s need first. Settle if your can. Parties who are able to settle early – along with their children – are the real winners.
© Brenda McCourt, Mediator/Barrister & Solicitor