Divorce - What is the First Step?

Simage of couple pulling rings aparteparation and Divorce: These are ugly words. They conjure up feelings of pain, disappointment, fear, and uncertainty. What is the first step? How do I get through this? 

I remember when I went through my own divorce (yes, divorce lawyers sometimes get divorced too) how stressful it was for me. I feared the impact it would have on my relationship with my children and wasn't sure what the financial outcome would be. I felt embarrassed and could hardly focus on anything.  I just wanted to get through it  with the least amount of pain as possible. 

It does not matter whether you were married or lived common law, the first step is to find a lawyer you feel comfortable with and who is committed to resolving the outstanding issues in a cost-effective and timely manner. Simply put, you need to find a Collaboratively trained lawyer. 

Going to Family Court just makes things worse. Collaborative Practice keeps you out of court. 

Collaborative Practice is a way to get through your divorce that minimizes the pain, both financially  and emotionally. It is a problem solving process. You are given the support you need to make the best decisions for your family. 

All of the lawyers at Galbraith Family Law are trained in this process and are committed to helping you get your issues resolved quickly, effectively and with the least amount of pain possible. We give you the information and support you need to find your way to a resolution. 

For more information about the process, here is an article about it. 

Other Collaboratively trained professionals are profiled at www.DivorceHappens.ca and www.CollaborativePracticeSimcoeCounty.com

Ontario Collaborative Law Federation Conference 2012

OCLF LogoThe 2012 OCLF Conference will be held in Horseshoe Resort in Simcoe County, just north of Barrie on September 26, 27, 28, 2012. 

I will be chairing it along with Sue Cook and Jackie Ramler. We have formed sub-committees with volunteers from throughout Ontaro. 

The theme is "Building High Performance Teams". 

The Ontario Collaborative Law Federation represents 18 groups of specially trained professionals across the province. The members provide legal, family and financial support to couples during separation and divorce. This unique approach avoids the conflict and expense of going to court and promotes a family-focused resolution based upon open communication and mutual respect.

The conference will be a great way for professionals to hone their skills and develop relationships with like-minded professionals. 

"Mandatory Information Program" Comes Too Late

Attorney General Chris BentleyThe Attorney General Chris Bentley, pictured on the left, announced that effective July 18, 2011, all new applicants to Family Court in Ontario must attend the Mandatory Information Program. This is a 2 hour program held at courthouses across the province explaining the Family Court process and alternatives. The intention of the program is to let people know that there are less painful ways to resolve their family law issues than going through Family Court. The motive is excellent. 

The problem with the program is that it is made available only after a court action has been commenced. By that time, the parties are often entrenched in their positions and ready for a long drawn out fight. The mud throwing has begun.

It's like advocating against drunk driving to car accident victims laying in hospital beds. It would be better if parties knew about alternatives to Court before they start their Court case....before it's too late. 

If we could somehow reach out to the public to let them know that they would be better off starting with Collaborative Practice instead of Court, society would be better off. Collaborative Practice is an excellent way to resolve family law issues quickly and cost-effectively, while minimizing the pain, especially for the children. It keeps people focused on problem-solving rather than verbally beating up each other. It keeps people out of Family Court. It works. 

I don't mean to rain on the Attorney General's parade. I believe his heart is in the right place. Families going through a divorce need to know that Court should be seen as their last resort. It's just about timing. The public needs to know before they commence a Court action. 

Why Do I Need To Do A Sworn Financial Statement?

Everyone hates having to do a sworn financial statement. This is a court form used in Ontario to list your assets, debts, income and expenses.  It is long, cumbersome and, frankly, a pain to complete. If your case is in Court in Ontario, you must complete the form. The Rules require you to complete it and the court clerks won't even open your court file without you filing a sworn financial statement.

If you aren't in court, I don't blame you if you don't want to complete it.

As your lawyer, we ask you to do a financial statement to ensure that you are protected. Yes, to protect you! We want you to fully disclose your assets and debts on the date of separation and date of marriage to ensure that your spouse cannot wiggle their wait out of the agreement, claiming that you were hiding assets. The Family Law Act allows the Court to "set aside" (which means not enforce) a separation agreement if there has not been full disclosure. 

The financial statement is an easy way to ensure that there has been full disclosure. It is like a checklist for lawyers. 

We ask your spouse to provide a sworn financial statement for the same reasons. It is an easy way to ensure we have a complete financial picture from him or her too.  

Once we have a complete financial picture, we can advise you as to the range of outcome should the matter proceed to court. In other words, we can give you legal advice. Without complete disclosure, we can't give you advice: we are just guessing.

Lawyers can get into big trouble with the Law Society if we give advice based on guesses or assumptions that turns out to be bad advice. Okay... you got me... we are also covering our own butt when we are asking for sworn financial statements. 

Disclosure is Essential

It isn't the financial statement itself that is important - what is important is that there is full disclosure. It's just that the financial statement makes it easy. 

A recent case before the Ontario Court of Appeal, known as Ward vs Ward clearly states that the exchange of financial statements is not necessary but full disclosure and knowledge of the other person's financial circumstances is essential. In that case, the parties exchanged some documentation with the assistance of the family's accountant. Financial statements were not completed but there was full disclosure and knowledge of each other’s financial circumstances.

The court describes the disclosure process in that case as follows:

“...neither party filed a financial statement, nor was one required under the terms of the process to which they agreed. While this did not diminish the obligation to disclose, in this case, the parties relied on the collaborative law process and other avenues of disclosure, including net family property statements and information from Mr. Wetstein [the family friend and accountant]”

In the end, the Ontario Court of Appeal determined that the husband's disclosure and the wife's knowledge of financial circumstances of the husband were sufficient even without sworn financial statements exchanged. The Court refused to set aside the agreement reached.  

Lawyers often use the financial statement because it is easy. It lists all of the categories of assets and debts so you don't miss disclosing something important. In our law firm, we insist on backup documentation to verify every value in the financial statement. It is the backup documentation that is important and fulfills the obligation to disclose. 

Collaborative Cases

In Collaborative cases, the Financial Specialist works with the clients to obtain a complete and accurate representation of the financial circumstances of the parties, usually without the use of a sworn financial statement. The Financial Specialist does a report and attaches the backup documentation for every value. Both lawyers ensure that their client has fully disclosed everything. Equally important, every lawyer must review what the other client has provided to ensure s/he has provided full disclosure. 

In Collaborative cases, as lawyers we always carefully review the Financial Specialist's report with our client to ensure it is accurate. Ultimately, the lawyers will ask for a sworn statement from each client stating that they have fully disclosed their assets, debts and income and that the Financial Specialist's report is accurate and complete. Alternatively, the lawyers will add wording to the separation agreement that states both parties are warranting that they have fully disclosed everything and that the Financial Specialist's report is accurate. Either way works. 

Full disclosure is essential. If you are trying to hide assets or income, we won't be your lawyer. We don't play those games. 

If you don't like having to provide full disclosure, we get it. You are not alone. Complain all you want. We have big shoulders. We want your agreement done right and made to last so just get it done. It’s for your own sake. 

 

"Divorce Happens, Now What?" A New Video About Collaborative Practice

I interview people who went to Family Court and those who chose Collaborative Practice instead. Clearly, Collaborative Practice is the better way. I hope you enjoy the video.

 

Family Court versus Collaborative Practice: You Choose

Ontario's Chief Justice Warren Winkler advocates for changes to the family court system to make it more efficient, less adversarial and more cost-effective, according to The Globe and Mail. He suggests that litigants should be diverted to mediation or an alternative process to the traditional adversarial process. While I admire the Chief Justice's ambition, frankly, I believe the family court is here to stay. There will always be certain people who just want a piece of flesh torn from the back of their ex spouse and certain lawyers willing to do it. The Family Court will always be a messy, bloody circus. 

We already have an efficient, effective process available to separating couples and it's called Collaborative Team Practice. We have many trained professionals willing and able to help separating couples resolve their issues in a mature, reasonable and private process yet our family courts continue to be overflowing with litigants, hell bent on revenge.

Why?  I think there is some sort of primal instinct in us all that just loves a good fight. Otherwise, why would sports like NHL hockey and professional boxing thrive?  

If you go to a traditional lawyer who loves to do battle, you will be lead astray and end up in family court, paying thousands of dollars to avenge yourself. In the end, you will feel raped and abused. You won't feel good about it. Nobody does.

I applaud Chief Justice Winkler desire to educate the public about alternatives to the toe-to-toe battle of family court. I believe if more people knew about Collaborative Team Practice, it would become mainstream.

There may be a primal instinct to fight but I also believe that deep down most people are reasonable and just want to get through their separation quickly, fairly and cost-effectively. Given the opportunity, they will do the right thing.

To put it another way, given a choice between the brawling, head-injury prone style of NHL hockey versus fast-paced, skill-oriented Olympic hockey, most North Americans will choose the Olympic style hockey every time, hands down. 

If you are getting a divorce, you decide. Court versus Collaborative. Are you a brawler or a reasonable person who just needs some help to get through tough times? 

Ten Myths About Separation and Divorce

Myth 1: Divorce is Too Easy

I have helped hundreds of families through separation and divorce and can say that none of my clients felt that divorce was "too easy". It is a painful process. Everyone struggles through it - whether the marriage lasted 45 years or two weeks (I have helped clients through both extremes). Even those who initiate the divorce ruminate over their decision for about 5 years before they actually move forward and they too go through the same emotional stages of divorce. Divorce is akin to a death in the family. It is tough. 

Resolution of the issues is not easy either. If you end up in Family Court, it can take 1 to 3 years to achieve a resolution and many, many thousands of dollars. If you use the Collaborative Team process, resolution is faster and cheaper but there are always bumps in the road. Separation and Divorce is not easy. Make sure you have a good lawyer helping you. 

Myth 2: Women Always Win in Family Court

Ask any woman who has been in Family Court and they will tell you they don't feel like the "winner". Most women financially suffer more than their husbands after the marriage and end up with more responsibilities caring for the children. More work and less money. It does not feel like a victory. 

Myth 3: Men Can Never Get Joint Custody in Family Court

There is a growing trend among judges to start with the assumption that it is in the best interests of the children to order joint custody. Except in high conflict cases or where the parties cannot communicate effectively ever, joint custody is becoming the norm. Joint custody means you will make decisions related to the children together. It is not about the children's schedule with each parent. That's a different issue altogether.

Myth 4: Children of Divorce Always Suffer

Children suffer when they are in the middle of the conflict between their parents, regardless of whether the parents stay together or get a divorce. In fact, often the divorce leads to less fighting by the parents which creates a better circumstance for the children. Children of divorced parents often develop greater resilience to change. 

Myth 5: Marriage has Always Been Part of The Christian Tradition

It wasn't until the year 1215 that marriage became part of the church "traditions". In fact, at that time, divorce was prohibited by the divorce except in circumstances of church-sanctioned annulments. A great book that includes a history of marriage is "Committed" by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Myth 6: Collaborative Process is Only For Simple Cooperative Case

The Collaborative Process (CP) is the best way to resolve family law issues. Even the most difficult cases can be resolved using CP. The advantage to CP is that you have a team of professionals committed to achieving a resolution. The Family Coach can help navigate you through the emotional stages of divorce and help resolve issues related to the children. The Financial Specialist can help resolve the financial issues without a battle. The lawyers offer advice and have special skills to overcome impasse. Mechanisms can be put into place to balance the playing field between clients. On the other hand, Family Court often fuels the fires of discontent between the parties. Collaborative Process works for even the most difficult cases. 

Myth 7: Common Law Relationships and Marriage Are The Same

When you live together in a relationship akin to marriage (but you don't formally get married), you are common law. That does not mean you share equally in the division of property acquired during your relationship upon separation, just like if you were married. Common law couples have to prove that that they contributed to acquisition, preservation or maintenance of property to obtain an interest in it. It certainly is not automatic and in fact is an "up hill battle" in most cases. 

Myth 8: I Will be Vindicated in Family Court Will

Judges don't determine whose fault it was that the marriage ended. This is irrelevant to the judge. They are just looking at the facts of the case and making decisions based on the state of the law at the time. Even if your spouse committed adultery, it won't affect the equalization of property or the issue of spousal support or child support. It won't even affect the issues related to the children. 

Myth 9: If I Leave the House, I Can Be Charged with Abandonment

There is no charge of "abandonment" for leaving the home when you separate. If you leave your baby at the mall, that is abandonment and you will be charged criminally. I recommend that either you or your spouse should leave the home as soon as possible after it is determined that you are separating. Leaving the home avoids a potential escalation of the tension. It is best you have determined a schedule for the children before you leave so that you can tell the children, together, when they will see each of you. Remember to take with you your personal items and any agreed upon items. If there is some disagreement about the household content, walk through the home with a video camera so you can remember what is in the house and you can negotiate the items later. If there is no agreement regarding the children's schedule with each parent, you may want to stay in the home until resolution is achieved. In any case, there is no such charge as "abandoning the matrimonial home" in Ontario. 

Myth 10: Lawyers Make Things Worse

There is a new type of family law lawyers who really want to help you get a resolution of your family law issues in an cost-effective, timely, respectful, confidential manner so you can get on with your life. These lawyers are called Collaborative Practice lawyers and they help minimize the pain of your divorce.  They don't make things worse. They make them better. 

 

  

A Good Divorce Can Fix a Family

Psychotherapist, author and speaker, Donna Ferber wrote an excellent blog called "Is There Such a Thing as a Good Divorce?"  I reproduce it in its entirety below: 

Imagine a marriage where both parties are unhappy and bickering all the time. Their values and goals are different. There is no chemistry between them. The children are exposed to awkward silences and all-out battles. There may be emotional, verbal or physical abuse. Everyone in the family is miserable. Should this couple stay together? Most of us would agree they would be better off apart.

Now what if those two people, without the stress of trying to get along in this marriage, found that they were happier separately? What if they could get along on parenting issues? What if, outside of the rigors of the marital relationship, they were able to consistently exercise respect and clear communication? As separate individuals, they could thrive, experience good viable relationships and perhaps, remarry. The children would also thrive, as there would be reduced stress between the adults. The children would be exposed to happier, calmer parents with different, yet high-functioning lifestyles. Now, that would be a good divorce!

Sometimes there are good divorces. There could be more good divorces, if we could get beyond the desire to blame and seek revenge. Also, if we would stop seeing divorce as anti-marriage or anti-family, people would feel less stigmatized and less like failures. There would be less hurt feelings, bitterness and acrimony. Divorce could be a good solution to a bad situation.

Marriage is not going out of style, but it is changing. Some say this is in response to the women’s movement, increased life expectancy, the sexual revolution or economics. Whatever the reason, we are marrying just as often, but divorcing more frequently. We try again and again. We keep trying because love, connection, and commitment have not gone out of style. They merely look different.

No one takes divorce lightly. It is a decision everyone wrangles with. Often, we take more time considering divorce than we do marriage. Divorce is not always a negative thing. It can be an opportunity for all parties involved to have a better, healthier life. It can be a gift to our children and future generations as well.

Consider the possibility that your family might actually thrive after your divorce. Maybe your divorce can be a good divorce. To that end, maybe you can work at improving your post-divorce communication in a way that was not possible in the marriage. After all the dust settles from the legal process, you may find that a bad marriage doesn’t have to lead to a bad divorce.

Donna is right. Many families are better off after their divorce than they were before their divorce. That's why I don't like the term "broken family".A divorce may actually "fix" the family. 

I am not advocating divorce. I know that the transition of divorce is painful for everyone involved. It sucks. I wish everyone could have loving, fulfilling, functioning, healthy family relationships but if you don't have one, divorce may be the only way to "fix" your family. 

So fix it. Don't destroy it. 

Family Court destroys families. Here is an article about the realities of family court. 

The Collaborative Process is a way for families to get through the transition of divorce in a humane, respectful and civil manner.  It gives you the best chance at having a "good divorce". 

Okay... maybe you won't ride off into the sunset, happily ever after... but a "good divorce" beats a "rotten marriage" every time.  

How Collaborative Practices Saves Money in NJ and Ontario

Linda L. Piff, a respected lawyer and blogger in New Jersey, writes in her blog, reproduced below, that Collaborative Practice is far more cost effective than litigation.

Although most family law cases do eventually settle, they do so on the court house steps after most of the damage of litigation has occurred. The inflammatory court papers have been filed and become a public record, large sums of money have been spent on litigation and the children become victims of the divorce process.

Collaborative divorce in a relatively new concept for New Jersey. It was approved by the Supreme Court as a way for parties to divorce on December 5, 2005. While relatively new, collaborative practitioners are experiencing a demand for this way to divorce.

In a collaborative case, the parties agree not to litigate from the onset. Unlike mediation, which uses a neutral as the only professional in the dispute resolution process, in a collaborative case each party is represented by an attorney. The value for clients is that they avoid the damage that is done through litigation and save the expense of the lengthy court room battle.

What can be said with confidence is that no other kind of professional conflict resolution assistance is consistently as efficient or economical as collaborative law for as broad a range of clients. While the cost of attorney fees cannot be predicted accurately, a rule of thumb is that collaborative law representation will cost from one-third to one-half as much as being represented conventionally by a lawyer who takes issues in your case to court.

Our experience in Ontario is the same. Collaborative practice is a far more efficient and cost-effective way of getting through your divorce.  Learn more about Collaborative Practice. 

Divorce Sucks.... A New Video

I put together this short video to introduce our firm to the public. I hope you find it interesting. The video is on You Tube. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fO7_9lWOaJU 

 

What is the cost of a divorce or separation in Barrie, Ontario?

 

My financial planner suggested to me that divorces are a better investment than weddings. “What are you talking about?” I asked curiously. She retorted “Well, as I see it, clients probably spend the same or more monGavel and moneyey on their weddings knowing full well that almost 50% end unhappily. On the other hand, divorces are almost always “forever and ever!”

I enjoyed a good belly laugh! She had a point!

Most families are happy to spend money on a wedding because it such a happy occasion. I remember my weddings (both of them) as two of the happiest days of my life. They were filled with optimism, love, friends and family. My first wedding (when I was in law school) was paid for by our parents but the second one was paid for by us. I do not regret a dime we spent on that joyous event.

On the other hand, I did not relish spending money on legal fees when I went through my own divorce. Yup. Even though I had been a divorce lawyer for 13 years at the time of my own divorce, I still retained my own lawyer. I took heed to the old adage “A person who represents himself in legal proceedings, has a fool for a lawyer”.

If you are facing a divorce, I bet you are afraid it will cost a fortune. I don't blame you. I have heard some horror stories too.

So, what are the costs of a divorce?

It depends on what process you use and the amount of time it will take for your lawyer to help you resolve all the issues. Lawyers and their staff bill on an hourly basis.  

Kitchen Table: Many people get legal advice and then negotiate a deal directly with their spouse. One spouse becomes my client and I offer advice about their deal. Assuming it makes sense, I will then draft a separation agreement based on their agreement. Most agreements are usually in the range of about $1,200 to $1,500 at our firm. This is an inexpensive process but requires that you and your spouse are able to negotiate together without the help of anyone. 

Mediation: The mediator is a neutral third party who will help facilitate you and your spouse negotiating a deal. Once it is completed, a mediation report is sent out to the lawyers. I review the report with my client so s/he understands the range of outcome according to the law. If the deal still makes sense, I will again draft a separation agreement based on the mediated agreement. The cost is usually in the range of $1,200 to $1,500.

Independent Legal Advice: Whether a “kitchen table” or mediated agreement, the other spouse should get independent legal advice (ILA) before signing the separation agreement. I always prefer my client’s spouse to get ILA so that s/he can’t attempt to wiggle out of the agreement in the future because s/he did not understand the terms of the agreement when they signed it. So, ironically, I want my client’s spouse to have ILA to protect my client, not so much to protect the other side. 

If the other spouse just refuses to get ILA, I will insist that they sign a waiver of ILA which simply says they were encouraged to obtain ILA but chose voluntarily to waive their right to ILA before signing the agreement and that they understood the meaning of the agreement before signing it.

Traditional Negotiations: If I represent my client in a traditional negotiation, the costs can range from $2,000 to $50,000 or more. I know. That's a pretty big range! Often traditional negotiations will lead to arbitration or court so the costs can spiral out of control.

Court: The court process is very costly. Even the simplest court case will cost at least $10,000 and most are in the range of $15,000 to $25,000. If the case goes to trial, the costs can be two or three times higher. I have heard of some cases where clients have paid over $150,000 in legal fees and these are normal local people like you and me... not Hollywood stars with money to burn. Some crazy cases can result in legal fees of over a million dollars but those are rare.

Collaborative Practice: A far more cost effective process than the court process is the Collaborative Team Practice process. In a Collaborative case, you and your spouse each retain your own lawyer to help you negotiate an agreement. Your lawyer will offer legal advice and ensure the resulting agreement is legally enforceable. At the beginning you and your spouse, and the professionals, sign an agreement that they will not go to Court. If one chooses to go to Court, both parties have to find new professionals including new lawyers.This has a huge impact as everyone is committed to negotiating an agreement.

To keep the costs to a minimum, the parties work with a Divorce Coach who will help the clients manage their emotions and case manage the process. As you can imagine, hot emotions often side track clients, especially in the court process, causing legal fees to escalate exponentially.

A Parenting Coach will also work with the parties to resolve the issues related to the children. Not only does the Parenting Coach facilitate the negotiations around time with the kids, the Parenting Coach is an expert in the needs of children so can offer sound, practical advice about what the children need in a settlement.

A Financial Specialist will help you and your spouse collect the various financial documents needed and facilitates a discussion of the financial issues.

The hourly cost of the Parenting Coach, Financial Specialist and Divorce Coach is usually substantially less than the cost of lawyers and the costs are shared by the parties so there are big savings to you. Clearly, two lawyers are far more expensive than one coach or one Financial Specialist shared.

In the end, most Collaborative cases are substantially less costly than court cases. In my experience, they cost between $2,000 to $6,000 per client. The cost is dependent upon the time necessary to negotiate an agreement but by using coaches and a financial specialist to do much of the negotiations, keeping the case out of the lawyers’ offices, you really minimize the costs.

Furthermore, by keeping the case out of court, costs are kept to a minimum. Court is very expensive due to the many forms and steps in the process, and the cost of waiting for the judge to hear your case. I have waited all day for a judge to hear my case and not been reached, costing my client thousands of dollars in fees. 

Upon the conclusion of the Collaborative process, a separation agreement is reviewed and signed by the parties with their lawyers. Over 85% of cases result in a full settlement of all the issues. It works well and is very cost effective compared to Court.  

I firmly believe that the Collaborative process is the best way of resolving divorce and separation issues. In fact, I no longer accept cases that are court-bound. Our four associate lawyers still take on court cases but after 21 years of litigating family law cases, I know clients are better off using the Collaborative process. So, no court for me or my clients! 

Divorce: The final step after an agreement has been signed is to complete the divorce. This is achieved by completing and filing some paperwork at Court. It takes about six months to get the divorce judgment back from the court and the cost for uncontested divorces in Simcoe County is $1,250.00 plus sales taxes. Our fee includes the filing fees which are over $500.00 and all the disbursements etc.

Of course, these cost estimates are the existing costs at the time of writing this blog. They will vary over time.

Retainers: We always require a retainer which is a deposit of money into trust for future legal fees. Presently, our retainers are: Separation Agreement $1,200; Collaborative case $2,000; Court case $3,000; Uncontested Divorce $1,250. Each month you will be billed for our time and you have to replenish the retainer.

Why is it so costly? One client who had a sense of humour, an especially unhappy marriage and very bitter divorce shared with me his “analysis” of why divorces cost so much. He said “They’re worth it!” I like his attitude! 

 

Why Should You Refer Divorcing Clients and Friends to Collaborative Lawyers in Barrie, Ontario?

Why should ysuper heroou refer your divorcing clients, patients and friends to a Collaborative lawyer?

Here is why….

Doctors, Dentists, Health Care Practitioners: You know that a divorce battle is one of the most stressful events in a patient's life, especially for their children. You give your patients the gift of a less stressful way to divorce, promoting good health,  if you refer them to a Collaborative lawyer. You will be a hero.

Marriage counselors, therapists: You know the destructive impact of divorce battle on families, especially children. You are giving your clients the gift of a healthier way of untangling their relationships with better prospects for a healthier relationship post-separation when you refer your clients to a Collaborative lawyer. You will be a hero.

Non-Family Law Lawyers: You know that a good referral to a client will solidify their trust in you. You can't give a better referral than to a Collaborative lawyer who uses a process that costs less, results in better settlements, is less destructive and is faster than the court system. You will be a hero.

Accountants, bookkeepers, financial planners, bankers: You know that a divorce battle can result in the destruction of the wealth you helped your clients accumulate and tear apart relationships between business partners. You give your clients the gift of a faster, more cost-effective way of resolving divorce issues thus preserving your client's wealth when you refer them to a Collaborative lawyer. You will be a hero.

Real estate agents, mortgage brokers: You know how difficult it is to facilitate a sale or purchase of a home when your clients are in a court battle. You give your clients the gift of a smoother resolution of divorce issues, including those related to the sale of their home, by referring your clients to a Collaborative lawyer. You will be a hero.

Priests, Rabbis, Ministers: You know that divorce is a reality for many in your congregations and can bring out the worst in them, leading them away from their faith. You give the members of your congregation the gift of a way of resolving divorce related issues that is more peaceful, respectful and dignified when you refer them to a Collaborative lawyer. You will be a hero.

Hairdressers, bartenders, personal trainers: You know all the stories of destruction and unimaginable costs to individuals, families and children by divorce battles. You give your clients the gift of a less destructive way of separating when you refer them to a Collaborative lawyer. You will be a hero.

Friends, family, acquaintances: You know the pain and costs of a divorce battle. You are giving a gift of a better way to resolve separation issues when you refer someone to a Collaborative lawyer. You will be a hero.

Heros... remember to make sure the lawyer you refer your clients, family and friends to actually has training in Collaborative Practice. Not all family law lawyers have the special training. They might say they are “collaborative” meaning they try to settle their cases before trial. Special skills, an intense commitment to settlement and an in depth knowledge of the process are necessary to be a true Collaborative Lawyer and that comes with training. Our association lists those with training in Simcoe County. The international association, the IACP, also lists criteria for practicing members.

Refer someone to a Collaborative lawyer.

Be a hero.

Barrie Collaborative Lawyers Help Overcome Anger.

Anger. Have you ever felt so angry at your spouse you could just scream? I remember being so angry I just wantedAngry Women to kick the furniture or throw something at the wall. I was furious.

I bet everyone who has gone through a divorce has been overwhelmed by anger at one time or another. It's normal. Our heart pumps fast, our face turns red, and we just want to lash out.

If our email is open, we might just send an angry, spiteful email. I did it a few times, regretfully. It didn't help.

In a recent blog at Collaborative Practice Canada , R. G. Harvie makes reference to a recent presentation that explains the impact of anger on our choices.  He says:

At our recent IACP Conference, Dr. Jennifer Lerner has explained that anger has some interesting effects upon our decision making ability. According to Dr. Lerner:

"Anger has been shown to bias perceptions of risk, which can fundamentally shape leaders’ most critical decisions. In one early experiment, we found that individuals who felt angry tended to engage in riskier behaviors than did individuals in a neutral emotional state."

In other words, when we are angry, we tend to minimize the risks of our behavior than when we are not angry.

A therapist once told me that underlying anger is  "sadness" or "fear". If you are going through a divorce you probably feel sad or fear most of the time. It's no wonder you might express it through an angry outburst.

You might feel sad that your dreams of a Hollywood "happily-ever-after" marriage won't be a reality. Maybe you are fearful, not knowing how your divorce will affect your wallet or your relationship with your children. It's normal.

Have your children ever had a tantrum? I remember mine would become so outraged that they would throw their toys, growl like a dog and say the most unreasonable things. Well, as adults, we don't do much better when we are overwhelmed by our anger.

I had a client who had just been ordered to pay spousal support become so upset he said "Take me away, I will not pay! " He would rather have gone to jail than to give some money to his former wife. Boy, was he was angry.

Some traditional lawyers will ignore emotions. They tell their client to simply get over their anger or "park it". Others will take advantage of it. I heard a story of a California divorce lawyer who used to say to his scorned clients, "Don't worry. I will nail his lying lips to the wall!" Of course, his bill for trying to do so was many thousands of dollars and for what benefit? 

Collaborative lawyers neither ignore nor take advantage of their client's anger. We understand that strong emotions are normal and need to be understood.

The challenge is trying to drill down within ourselves to understand the core cause of our anger. That's almost impossible without professional help yet remarkably many folks refuse help.

Our car breaks down, we call the mechanic. Our light bulb won't turn on, we call an electrician. Yet, if our marriage ends resulting in an emotional melt down, many don't seek help.

Why?  Maybe they fear being labeled mentally unstable. The truth is that everyone who goes through a divorce goes through the same emotional stages. You aren't crazy and you could benefit from some help of a professional.

Divorce Coaches can help. They are specially trained therapists and counselors who understand the emotional stages of divorce and can help you understand the source of your anger. I encourage all my clients to work with a Divorce Coach so they can work through their anger outside of the negotiation process.

I want my clients to be at their best when they are negotiating. I want them to be able to find creative solutions that work for their whole family. I want them to work through their anger. I want them to work with a Divorce Coach.

I certainly don't want them throwing their toys and having a tantrum. They might damage my computer. So I get them a Divorce Coach.

Divorce Fair in Barrie?

We need a Divorce Fair in Barrie, Ontario!

Recently, Halifax hosted it's first divorce fair. It was an opportunity to learn everything you need to know about getting carnivala divorce, and how to prepare for life after divorce. Wow! What a great idea.

The fair was two days: one day for men and one day for women. You wouldn't want to bump into your spouse, especially if your spouse doesn't know you are thinking about divorce, hence the division of days by gender. Makes good sense to me.

Michael Niren in his most recent blog at www.divorcesupport.ca suggests that with the divorce rate over 40% this sort of fair may become common place in Canada. I hope so.

A similar fair was held in the UK in the spring of 2009 for the first time, and it was well received according to article in  The Telegraph. A second one is scheduled for March, 2010. I like the name they are using in the U.K. It's called the Starting Over Show which of course makes the acronym SOS. Very appropriate.

There are exhibitors and speakers at these shows. For example, lawyers, mediators, financial planners, yoga teachers, dentists (to improve your smile), cosmetic surgeons, psychologists, real estate agents, counselors, dating agencies, life coaches and anybody else who might be of interest to people going through a divorce have booths or do presentations. It's a place to get more information, new contacts and get inspired as you begin your new life.

Oliver Moore in his article in The Globe and Mail about the Halifax fair quotes the main speaker at the Halifax fair, Justice Harvey Brownstone as follows:

Mr. Justice Harvey Brownstone, author of Tug of War: A Judge's Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles, and the Bitter Realities of Family Court, is speaking on both days. He noted in an interview that he's seen first-hand the “emotional carnage” that can result from divorce.

“It bothers me as a judge that by the time we see parents they're in front of me geared up for a fight,” he said. “I have long thought that I'd like to be able to reach them in advance. These people need counselling, they need financial advice, they need help coming up with parenting plans.”

The divorce fair provided the kind of information Justice Brownstone suggests, so people can make an educated decision about their choices. Too often people considering divorce end up meeting with traditional divorce lawyers who simply urge them to go to court.

I believe divorce is not just a legal problem. It has emotional, financial, parenting and many other aspects to it. An interdisciplinary approach to divorce best meets your needs. A divorce fair sounds like it would give the public the perspectives of many different disciplines and professionals which is a good thing.

We suggest clients use Collaborative Team Practice to resolve their divorce-related issues. It is an interdisciplinary approach to divorce. Financial specialist help with the financial issues; Divorce coaches help with the emotional aspects; and, parenting coaches help with the parenting issues. Lawyers deal with the legal aspects, offer their help resolving difficult issues and ensure the resulting agreement is legally binding. It works well. Both parties and professionals agree that they won't go to court and will put all their energies into reaching a mutually agreeable settlement.

"Divorce Fair"... I even like the name! Fairs always have roller coasters and everyone who has been through a divorce knows it can be like a roller coaster ride some of the time! 

So, who wants to help me organize a Divorce Fair for Barrie? 

Is Your Divorce Driving You Crazy?

Are you going through a divorce? Do you sometimes feeling like you are losing your mind? Maybe you can't concentrate or you are constantly feeling like you are about to cry? Maybe you are drinking too much? Or working too hard? Or shopping too much? Maybe you have been willing to try anything to cope and now you worry you might have a problem... maybe even an addiction.

I remember when I went through my own divorce I felt all alone and  my whole world had been turned upside down. I was scared and sad and I am a divorce lawyer! I remember meeting with clients and struggling to keep myself from exploding in tears. To say the least, it was a tremendously stressful time. I thought I was going crazy.

It is normal to resort to unhealthy coping techniques when going through a divorce. Almost everyone does it at least once so don't beat yourself up. When you drink too much or shop too much or do some other behavior, it distracts you from the pain of your divorce. Nobody can blame you for slipping off the wagon once in a while. When it becomes an addiction, you have a bigger problem though. Either way, you need help and you need to develop healthy coping techniques.

If you fear that you have a addiction problem, Robert L. Mues has put together a list of links to 26 different assessment tools in his recent blog. Check it out! He lists assessment tools for depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, compulsive shopping and 22 other issues. They are all available on the internet and are a good start to dealing with any issues you might have in your life. Get professional help if you feel you may have an addiction. You can't deal with it alone. Start with your family doctor. You can't conquer addictions alone. Alcoholics Anonymous is classic example. They use peer support (meetings) and the buddy system to support those who want to kick their addiction. 

Maybe you don't have an addiction and you just are struggling through the normal emotions of your divorce. It's a difficult time for anyone.  We recommend to all of our clients they work with a Divorce Coach. It is normal to grieve the end of your marriage and a Divorce Coach will help you work through the normal emotions inherent to your divorce faster, so you can get on with your life.

Lawyers are not trained to help you work through the emotional journey. We want you to get the support you need so you can get through the emotional journey more quickly and efficiently. 

Your Divorce Coach will help you find healthy coping techniques that will work for you. Maybe it's getting exercise, eating good food, searching out support from friends and family, reading inspiring books, journaling or some other technique. Your Divorce Coach will give you ideas, homework and help you move though the emotional stages of divorce so you can get on with your life faster.

A Divorce Coach is not just if you are suffering from mental illness. That's a therapist. A Divorce
Coach is for anyone going through a divorce who is human and experiences emotions. Hmmmm Does that fit you? 

From a lawyer's point of view, I want all my clients to work with a Divorce Coach so that the emotions inherent to your divorce won't sidetrack the negotiations. I want you to have the best chance of negotiating an excellent settlement.

Your Divorce Coach will teach you the stages of divorce, ways to close the door on the past, how to cope with the transition, ways of communicating effectively with your spouse and help you look forward to a new life.

The bottom line: I have never had a client say they regret the money or time they spent with their Divorce Coach. Everyone has thanked me for the recommendation. Now, just take a deep breath and do it.

International Academy of Collaborative Professionals

IACP Logo

I just returned from an amazing conference of the IACP held in Minneapolis. It was a fantastic learning opportunity and chance to meet some of the best collaborative practitioners from around the world. I believe there were about 550 people in attendance, 48 of whom were from outside of North America.

The outgoing president is Canadian Nancy Cameron. I was so proud that we had a Canadian at the helm of this great organization and she served us well. I met Stu Webb who is the founder of the whole process when he decided that the Court process was not helping separating and divorcing parties. What a great visionary. Stu was honoured at the Saturday banquet. A video biography of him was shown which I understand from past president of IACP Ron Ouskey, will be available for purchase through IACP. I can hardly wait to show it to our practice group in Simcoe County.

There were many, many presentations and workshops - too many for me to highlight them all - but here are a few comments about some I attended.

Canadian and IACP Board Member Victoria Smith and IACP President Sherri Goren Slovin did an outstanding workshop called "Advanced Collaborative Negotiations". They gave us insight into the theory of Collaborative Practice, the nature of "interests" and tools we can use as we practice the art of collaborative negotiations.

Cat Zavis of Bellingham, Washington taught a full day workshop on Compassionate (Nonviolent) Communication. She taught us so much. I especially enjoyed learning how to express empathy by exploring with our clients how they are feeling and what unmet needs are causing such feelings. 

Daniel Shapiro from Harvard Law School and director of the Harvard Negotiation Project outlined the main principles of the book written by him and Roger Fisher called  Beyond Reason. I bought the book and am really enjoying it. They show how to use emotions in a disagreement to turn a disagreement into an opportunity for mutual growth.

The next conference will be in Washington, DC on October 28 to 31, 2010 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

I certainly intend to attend. Put it in your calendar too!

 

Why Dads Suffer in Court

Susan Piggs recently had an excellent article in the Toronto Star entitled "Divorced Dads Can't Catch a Break" . She outlines the many grievances of fathers who feel mistreated by the Ontario Court systemgirl clutching man. It's sad to read the stories of so many aggrieved fathers.

Many of these fathers believe that judges are intentionally against men and will do everything in their power to keep men paying support and keep men away from their children. I don't blame the judges: I blame the adversarial system. And I certainly feel sorry for the fathers who have suffered.

When it comes to children, judges are mandated to ensure that the best interests of the children are paramount. Judges struggle with their decisions. They truly want to do what is best for the children and generally start with the principle that it is in the best interests of the children to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents. If they are faced with overwhelming evidence that limited access or supervised access is the best approach for the children, what would you want them to do? I would prefer they err on the side of protecting children rather than risking harm to them. No doubt, the judges get it wrong sometimes leaving fathers without access unjustifiably.

The adversarial process assumes that both parents will put forward their best case and the judge will somehow miraculously determine "the truth" and will dispense "justice" accordingly. Often parents don't intentionally lie but rather see the world from a different perspective than the other parent. The judges have to discern the truth. It isn't an easy job. Sometimes they get it wrong.

The whole adversarial process pits one parent against another. It creates an atmosphere of "winner take all" which exacerbates the conflict. Increasing the animosity between the parents often leads children to suffer. Ironically, judges are supposed to be looking after the best interests of the children yet the adversarial system itself can make things worse.

I believe that most cases can be resolved without going to court. In my experience having mediated hundreds of family law cases and helped many families resolve their situations using the Collaborative Process, I believe parents are usually able to resolve their parenting issues on their own with just a little help and advice from well meaning collaboratively-trained professionals and mediators.

In the Collaborative Team Process, parents  work with a neutral Parenting Coach who will help them craft a parenting plan that is best for their children having regard to the children's needs, the research on the developmental needs of children and the ability of each parent to meet those needs. The parents are empowered to problem-solve in the Collaborative Process instead of being encouraged to fight as is the case in the court system.

I have met many men who blame judges for their plight. Maybe some of them have legitimate grievances but having appeared before many judges over the years, I believe most are well-meaning men and women who are just doing the best job possible given the restrictions of the adversarial process.  Frankly, I don't believe it's the judges' fault... it's just that the adversarial system is not the best way of resolving parenting issues.  

Interview with Financial Specialist Jackie Ramler

JacJackie Ramler photokie Ramler is a financial specialist. She helps clients who are going through a separation or divorce resolve the financial issues. We have used her many times and find she does excellent work, saving our clients thousands of dollars in fees and helping them attain a resolution in a timely manner.

She is the owner of Divorce Choices Inc.

She also works with me and Sue Cook in our business called The Divorce Team. We teach financial specialists,  lawyers, parenting coaches and divorce coaches how to work together in the Collaborative Team Process.

Jackie is very good.

Here is my interview with her.

 

Continue Reading...

Resolving Your Divorce Sitting Next To Each Other?

Sitting together at a table 3 peopleThe Toronto Star did a great article about clients wanting to cut the costs of divorce by staying out of court. I especially like the introduction:

"Alex Crookes knew he was in for a divorce with a difference the minute he walked into a lawyer's office with his ex-wife, Lynne Maclennan.

The couple instinctively sat at opposite sides of the table, until one of their lawyers, trained in the relatively new concept of collaborative family law, set a more comfortable tone for the talks.

"The first thing the lawyer said was, `Sit next to each other,'" says Crookes, 37."

I can't say I actually insist that clients sit next to each other during four way meetings but I certainly do my  best to help them understand that they should be working from the same side of the table - figuratively speaking.

What I mean by that is that clients sometimes think that divorce has to be a battle. I try to help them realize that they actually share the problems with their spouse, everyone wants to resolve the issues and they can work together to find a resolution that works for both of them.

Court is a battle. Each side is supposed to show the strengths of their own position and the weakness of the other.  The judge is then asked to choose between the two sides or do his/her best to come up with a just resolution. Often neither party is happy with the results and the costs can be staggering.

In the  Collaborative process, the clients work together to find a mutually acceptable agreement. The power to make decisions stays with the clients instead being given to the judge.

The International Association of Collaborative Professionals has an excellent description of the Collaborative process.

I won't ask you to sit next to your spouse in the Collaborative process but I like the way this Toronto lawyer is thinking.