Smart Divorce Options

people wonder... what are my options for divorce?

Most separations and divorces are stressful and painful. You can choose to make it better or worse by the process you choose to use. The following are your choices. 

 

Collaborative Practice

Collaborative Practice is a future-focused, efficient, cost-effective, creative, problem-solving process. It is not about fighting or finding blame. With the help of professionals, you work together to find a unique resolution that meets the core concerns of both you and your spouse. You will find a resolution to the issues through a series of meetings. You’ll get the expert help and information you need to make the best decisions. You will not go to family court. It he hard work but in the end you will have the help you need to negotiate a fair deal that works over the long term. Even

 the most complicated cases can be resolved through the Collaborative Process. In most cases, Collaborative Practice is the best way to minimize the cost and pain of divorce normally associated with the court process. 

Mediation

A neutral third party will help you negotiate the terms of an agreement that works for your whole family. You will review the agreement with your lawyer prior to signing a legally binding separation agreement. Mediation works for many families but some prefer Collaborative Process where your lawyer is present throughout the negotiations. If the issues are less complicated and you just need a bit of help to negotiate an agreement, mediation is an excellent choice. 

Lawyer to Lawyer Negotiations

Negotiations are better than litigation. Lawyer negotiations often result in an agreement. Some negotiations are conducted by an exchange of emails or letters, but we sometimes have four way meetings to discuss the issues face-to-face. In Collaborative Practice cases, there is a commitment that the case will not go to court but this is not so with case negotiated by lawyers. It is possible for the case to end up in court if resolution is not achieved during lawyer to lawyer negotiations. Family court is the place of last resort. It is  slow, costly, difficult to predict and you are giving the power to decide the issues to the judge. So, we like Collaborative Practice more than lawyer negotiations because of the risk of landing in court. 

Arbitration

The court process and arbitration are similar. The difference is in arbitration, the parties and their lawyers choose the arbitrator (who has the powers of a judge) and determine the procedure.  As a result, in arbitration closure is achieved which most clients welcome. The problem with arbitration is that you are giving the arbitrator the right to decide your case and it must be based only on the law. A more creative solution that meets the core concerns cannot be considered if it deviates from the law. Arbitration is better than going to family court but it is very expensive and you are giving the power to make important decisions about your life to the arbitrator.

Family Court

Family court is a last place we recommend cases be resolved. Most clients complain that it is an expensive process. It is often slow and how the judge will decide the case is difficult to predict. The adversarial nature of the court process often increases the level of animosity between you and your spouse. The judge will make decisions about your family based on the law without regard to your core concerns. The judge simply is not allowed to be creative. We regularly help clients by representing them in the court process but we do our best to keep you out of court if possible. 

Next Step For You

Now that you know some of the basic process choices, you should contact our office and book a consultation with one or our lawyers. We can help you determine which process is the best one for you. Whatever process you choose, we will help you all the way through to resolution.

 

Post-Secondary Education and Child Support

Does child support end when a child reach age 18 years? Our lawyer Lynn Kirwin answers this question in detail. 

The courts have recognized that financial dependency does not end upon a child turning 18.  Under the Divorce act and the Family Law Act there is no upper age limit under which support automatically terminates. As a result, child support may extend beyond the age of 18 years of age. 

“Child” under the Family Law Act for child support purposes includes an adult child who has not voluntarily withdrawn from parental control and is enrolled in a full time program of education.

"Child of the Marriage," as defined by the Divorce Act, includes children over 16 who are still pursuing their education, including post-secondary education. 
 
The Child Support Guidelines do not provide any termination of child support when a child reaches a certain age rather child support is payable for a child that is over 18 years old as long as that child is in full time school attendance.
 
Most courts have followed a flexible approach to the determination of what constitutes a full-time program of education. A full-time program does not necessarily mean full-time attendance at school. A child can be found to be enrolled in a full-time program of education while taking less than a full course load, so long as his or her participation is meaningful and consistent with the program's purposes and objectives. It is not uncommon for university students to require an additional school term to complete the necessary credits to obtain a degree. This does not necessarily disentitle them to support under the Family Law Act. They are still in the process of completing a full-time educational program. A full-time educational program does not necessarily equate to requiring a full-time course load each term. The additional time that a student might have available to them to work part-time (as a result of not having a full course load) can be a factor in determining whether the guideline amount is appropriate and what the appropriate amount of support should be. The entitlement to support is not automatic. The court must be satisfied that the educational plan is reasonable in terms of the child's abilities; that it meets the plans and expectations of the parents in regard to the child's post-secondary education; and that it is within the needs and means of the child and the parents. 
 
A hiatus in studies does not necessarily end the obligation to pay child support.  A child who has withdrawn from his studies may be reinstated to his support entitlement by bringing himself back within the definition of “Child of the Marriage” under the Divorce Act or “Child” under the Family law Act.. If the child was enrolled in a transitional program then the parent may not be relieved from paying support. For example if there is a transition time where the child finishes high school and starting university and he/she continued in school to upgrade high school credits and worked part-time then this would constitute a transitional program and Child Support Guidelines Table amount may be appropriate.
In cases involving child support for second and third degrees, the court will consider the financial circumstances of the family, the ability of the child to contribute to his post-secondary education expenses, the child's education and career plans, the child's age, the child's academic performance, the family's educational expectations, the parents involvement in the decision making process, the accountability of the child, and the extent to which the program prepares the child to become financially independent.
 
Most courts now find the guideline amount inappropriate when a child attends university out-of-town and only returns home during the summer and school breaks. Although each case must be examined on its own facts, most courts will order the full table amount in the months the child is living at home with a lesser amount when the child is away at school. Providing the court with evidence of the costs required to maintain a home for a child who is away at university is important in cases of this nature.
 
The Child Support Guidelines provides that for children over 18 years the table amounts are presumptively applicable unless the court considers that approach inappropriate. Where a child attends university away from home and only spends the summer and other vacation times with a parent, some reduction of the table amount of child support is used and the child's post-secondary expenses are treated as extraordinary expenses. The expenses are shared by the parents with some contribution by the child. A base amount of support recognizes the primary resident’s obligation to pay for the upkeep of a home used by the child during vacations and the summer months. 
 
In addition to basic child support, the court can order the sharing of a child's post-secondary education expenses. Such expenses include reasonable costs for tuition, accommodation, meals and groceries, cellphone, books, etc.. The court will take into consideration that adult child has an obligation to contribute towards their own costs of study.  The amount of a special expense is shared by the parents or spouses in proportion to their respective incomes after deducting from the expense the contribution, if any, from the child.  Most courts are reluctant to allow the payor parent to avoid child support obligations by requiring that the child rely on student loans, since student loans are just costs that must be repaid when the child finishes school. 
 
A student loan is not a "benefit" within the meaning of the Child Support Guidelines. Student loans are not to be equated with bursaries, grants, or scholarships. The adult child should not be inordinately saddled with a huge student loan, particularly in light of each parents’ financial circumstances. As well, the courts will not require a student to contribute all of his or her earnings to their post-secondary expenses and may order a certain percentage of contribution of these earnings towards their post-secondary expenses. 
 
It is also important to note that, despite the terms of a separation agreement that support terminates when a child completes his or her first undergraduate degree or becomes 23 years of age, the court may determine it is not bound by this term.  Child support is the right of the child and cannot be bargained away by a recipient parent to the detriment of the child.
 
photograph of brian galbraithLynn Kirwin has authored a number of books dealing with family law issues. Lynn uses her academic aptitude to be a strong advocate for clients going through a separation or divorce. She also represents children in divorce on behalf of the Office of the Children's Lawyer and privately. Lynn can be reached at Lynn@GalbraithFamilyLaw.com or by calling her at 705 727-4242. 
 
Visit our website to learn more about our lawyers and  to book a consultation. 

How to Get an Annulment of Your Marriage in Ontario

Obtaining an annulment of your marriage means a judge has declared that your marriage was not valid from the start. It is extremely rare. Most marriages in Ontario end in a divorce.

You may be able to obtain an annulment if you did not have the capacity to marry such as being married already to someone else, being so intoxicated you did not know what you were doing, being a minor,  being forced into marriage by reason of fraud or duress, or lacking the mental capacity. 

The more common reason for an annulment is if the marriage was not consummated. That means that you did not have sexual intercourse together after marriage. For example, if your new "spouse" is unable to have sexual intercourse and you did not know of their incapacity before marriage, you can seek an order that the marriage be annulled. 

Marriages of convenience such as those entered into for immigration purposes will not be annulled simply because of the motive. You need to prove a lack of capacity to enter into the marriage or the fact that it was not consummated. 

Although you may not be able to obtain an annulment through the court system in Ontario, you may be eligible for a religious annulment. You will need to consult with your religious leader regarding a religious annulment. Even if you obtain a religious annulment, it does not mean you will necessarily receive a civil one. You may have to obtain a divorce through the court system. 

If you have circumstances where you think you might be able to obtain an annulment, start the process by contacting our office and having a consultation with one of our lawyers. We can help you determine whether an annulment is possible or if you have to use the more traditional process of obtaining a divorce. 

Should I Spy on My Soon-to-be Ex?

We often hear clients say things like the following....

“Last night, I searched through Anne’s emails on her computer, and this is what I found...”  

“I found these letters between Frank and his lawyer...”

“I installed spyware on Sue’s computer, and I’ve been recording her phone calls to Holly and Aiden, and you should hear them...”

Our lawyer Toni Nieuwhof offers some advice about whether you should be spying on your spouse. Here is Toni's blog: 

In today’s electronic age, when a marriage deteriorates into battle, these are typical things people say to their family lawyers.  Most families are surrounded by various  electronic devices with  passwords  that are shared or easily guessed.  There is a strong temptation to take matters into one’s hand by secretly collecting evidence.   Most are not aware that there could be legal consequences associated with accessing private information or conversations.  A recent case known as Jones v. Tsige provides one example of the possible consequences of invasion of privacy.

In this case, the ex-wife examined the banking records of the current partner of her ex-husband, as both of the women worked at the same bank.  The banking records were accessed 174 times by Ms. Tsige, without Ms. Jones’ knowledge or consent.  The reason Ms. Tsige gave for examining the bank records was apparently to find out whether support payments were being made by the ex-husband to the Ms. Jones.  Although there was no money lost and none of the banking records were published, copied or stolen, the Ontario Court of Appeal awarded damages to Ms. Jones simply because her privacy had been wrongly invaded.  This ruling was not based on a breach of privacy legislation, but simply on the common law expectation of privacy under a new heading. 

In order to sue a spouse for this new privacy invasion known at law as “intrusion upon seclusion”, the following must be proven by the one making the claim:

That the other person’s action was intentional, which may include recklessness;

That the other person invaded private affairs or concerns without lawful justification; and

That a reasonable person would regard the invasion as highly offensive, causing distress, humiliation or anguish.

The Court of Appeal wrote that damages for this type of privacy invasion, without proof of financial harm to the one whose privacy was invaded, could justify an award of $20,000.

Judges are increasingly faced with information collected from social media, text and email messages, and so on, but are also called upon to make rulings where a party claims their privacy was invaded or a criminal offence occurred in collecting the evidence.  While it is okay to collect account statements or financial records that one has access to, following activities may put you at risk:

- Snooping through the private letters or computer records of your spouse; 

- Accessing or copying correspondence between your spouse and his or her lawyer; 

- Installing spyware or secretly recording conversations (these are criminal offences).

Check with your lawyer first if you have any questions about collecting evidence for your family law matter. Taking matters into your own hands may make your separation more messy than you expected. 

Toni Nieuwhof has a passion for family law and helping her clients navigate through the challenges of a separation or divorce.

Toni's attention to detail, articulate and persuasive writing style and her sharp whit make Toni an excellent advocate. 

You can reach Toni at Toni@GalbraithFamilyLaw.com or call her at 705 727-4242.  

Visit our website for more information about our lawyers. 

How to Resolve Your Separation or Divorce

Most clients have three goals: They want: 

1. A peaceful and fair resolution; 

2. A resolution achieved as soon as possible; and, 

3. To keep their financial and emotional costs to a minimum. 

Are these your goals too? 

When I went through my own divorce, I shared these goals. I too wanted to achieve a fair resolution in a timely manner and cost-effectively. As a result, our law firm treats our clients the way we would like to be treated if we were in your shoes. We help our clients achieve their goals. 

Generally, there are three steps to resolution regardless of the process you choose. 

First, you exchange the facts. Regarding property and support issues, this means exchanging proof of your assets, debts and incomes. Regarding parenting, you share your history of parenting roles, your future plans for the care of your children and other relevant facts. 

Second, you need to negotiate a resolution. If you go to court, the judge may make some decisions but 97% of court cases are eventually settled by negotiations. If you are in Collaborative Practice you will share your core concerns and work to find a resolution that meets the core concerns of both parties. 

Third, you need to put the agreement into a legally binding form.  If you are in court, you will obtain a court order usually on consent. If you are out of court, you will sign a Separation Agreement. 

There are six processes available to you. All of the processes include an exchange of facts, negotiations and creating a legally binding document. The best process for you depends on your circumstances. The process choices are as follows: 

1) Kitchen Table: You and your spouse negotiate an agreement on your own. You then bring the terms of agreement to us. To make it legally binding, you still need to exchange disclosure. We can then create a legally binding separation agreement. Both spouses obtain independent legal advice before signing the agreement. This process works well if the issues are simple and your level of cooperation is high. It is the least costly process. 

2) Mediation: You and your spouse work with an neutral third party who assists you to negotiate an agreement. Prior to commencing the mediation, you exchange financial disclosure. The mediator is neutral so cannot offer legal advice or express an opinion; the mediator assists you with negotiations. Once an agreement is reached, each party will receive independent legal advice and one of the lawyers will create a separation agreement. Mediation is a great process if you are willing to negotiate an agreement without your lawyer at your side and the issues are not too complicated. It is a cost-effective and efficient process.  

3) Collaborative Practice: You and your spouse each retain your own lawyer and commit to negotiating an agreement without going to court.  You jointly retain a family coach and a financial specialist so as to minimize your legal costs. The family coach will help you navigate through the emotional issues and develop a parenting plan. The financial specialist will help you exchange disclosure and resolve the financial issues expeditiously and cost-effectively.

The Collaborative Process is able to handle all levels of conflict and complexities. It is much more cost-effective than the court process and results in better, longer-lasting settlements. You keep control over the decisions being made and work together to find resolutions that meet the core concerns of both parties. At the end of the negotiations, you sign a Separation Agreement. 

4) Lawyer Negotiations:  You and your spouse each retain lawyers. Through the lawyers, you exchange disclosure and attempt to negotiate an agreement, eventually signing a Separation Agreement hopefully. The problem with lawyer negotiations is that there is no commitment to staying out of court. If your case settles, it is cost-effective. Often these cases end up in court which is very costly, slow and unpredictable. 

5) Arbitration: You and your spouse each retain lawyers. You also jointly retain an arbitrator who is usually a senior lawyer. S/he is empowered to make decisions regarding your case just like a judge would do. The advantage to this process over court is that you can choose the arbitrator and you can stream line the process. The disadvantage is that you are empowering the arbitrator to make decisions affecting you and your family forever. 

6) Family Court: You and your spouse each retain lawyers. You will usually attend court on several occasions before it is resolved. The Court Process can take 1 to 3 years to resolve. It is the most costly process and pits you and your spouse against each other. A Court battle can be harmful to you and your children. If you want to find a peaceful and fair resolution, in a timely manner and cost-effectively, you should avoid the court process. At Galbraith Family Law, we consider Family Court the place of last resort. If no other process works, we will represent you in court. 

Conclusion

At Galbraith Family Law Professional Corporation, we have experienced lawyers and clerks who are focused on helping you achieve a fair and peaceful resolution to your divorce and separation. We do so as quickly as possible while keeping the financial and emotional costs to a minimum. We can represent you in any process you choose and help you achieve your goals. 

We treat you the way we would like to be treated.

Please visit our website  to learn more and book a consultation with one of our lawyers. 

Uncontested Divorce: How To Get Yours

Obtaining a uncontested divorce is the final step in the dissolution of your marriage.

Usually we resolve all of the issues of your divorce including issues related to the children (custody and access), child support, spousal support and property issues before we proceed with the divorce. We settle these issues in a separation agreement or, if necessary, obtain a resolution through the court process. 

A divorce can only be granted by a judge so it requires the completion of the appropriate court documentation, serving them on your spouse and filing them at court.. You won't have to appear in court to obtain an uncontested divorce. Many people consider doing their own divorce and find it is too complicated.  As a result, we do many uncontested divorces. 

There are some conditions you must meet before you can proceed with your divorce. 

1) You or your spouse must be living in Ontario and have lived in Ontario for at least one year if you want to obtain a divorce in Ontario.

2) You also have to file the documents in the court located in the area where one of you live. 

3) Another requirement is that there must be an agreement or order to pay the proper level of child support according to the Child Support Guidelines. If the proper amount of child support is not being paid, you will have to explain what other financial benefits are being paid in lieu of child support payments. For example, if the person who ought to be paying child support gives their spouse their equity in the matrimonial home in lieu of paying child support, a judge may allow the divorce to proceed. 

Some people resolve all their divorce-related issues without completing the divorce. I remember one fellow who was about to get married and then realized he was still married. We had to rush through his divorce so he could tie the knot again.

The benefit of completing the divorce now is the sense of closure you will feel when you have it in hand. Our clients often return to complete the divorce when they start dating again. New romantic partners may be repelled by the fact that you are still married. Obtaining a divorce takes six to nine months to complete so you don't want to wait until it becomes an issue in your new relationship. 

If you would like us to assist you with your divorce, please contact us. We can help.

What is the Difference between Joint Custody and Sole Custody

The term custody refers to how parents make decisions for their children. Joint Custody means that the major decisions are made by the parents together. Sole custody means that one parent makes the major decisions. If the other parent has sole custody, you have a legal right to access information about your children from caregivers, health care professionals and educators but you don't have the ability to give them instructions regarding your child. If you share joint custody, both parents need to make decisions together and instruct caregivers, health care professionals, educators and anyone else involved in your child's care together.

A common mistake is thinking that Joint Custody means the children are with both parents about an equal amount of time. The term used to describe an equal time sharing of the children is "Shared Custody". "Joint versus Sole Custody" is not about how much time the children spend with each parent but rather how decisions are made. 

Day-to-day decisions related to the care of your child are made by the parent in whose care the child is at the time. Only "major" decisions are governed by the "joint or sole" designation. For example, major decisions related to health care, spiritual upbringing, education are made together. Of course, deciding which decisions are "major" can sometimes be a source of conflict. 

If you are unable to make a decision together, you can try working with a mediator to resolve the issue or you can go to court. A third option is to hire an Parenting Coach to help you work out a resolution. A Parenting Coach can work with you to resolve the issue without going to Court. Unlike a mediator who must remain neutral, a Parenting Coach can offer advice as to how best resolve the issue for the sake of your children. 

The Courts of Ontario tend to assume it is in the best interests of the children that both parents are involved in decision-making but if there is clear evidence that joint custody would result in the children being in the middle of constant arguing and fighting they will order sole custody. 

When you need help determining custody issues, please contact us for a consultation. We are here to help. 

 

Divorce Apps: "There's an app for that!"

Yes, there are apps to help make divorce go more smoothly. Edward Weinstein's most recent blog introduces some new ones that can help make divorce less stressful and more functional. In addition, I encourage you to use Skype or Google Hangout. These are great ways of doing video conferencing with your children when you can't see them easily. 

Communication with your ex is often a challenge. I like emails because you have a written record of your communications and if you get a nasty one, you can take a day to ponder your response. Here is an article by Bill Eddy that he allowed me to put on my website regarding how to respond to hostile emails. It is a good place to start. The advantage to email is that you avoid knee-jerk reactions and can use strategies like Bill is suggesting in his article when you eventually respond. 

Other apps to organize the schedule are Our Family Wizard and Google Calendar. Here is an article about maintaining your schedule for the children after divorce that describes these apps. 

At Galbraith Family Law, our team of lawyers can help you minimize the the stress of divorce.  

 

What's Trending in Divorce?

Avvo recently did a survey of 890 consumers and 447 lawyers. Their results are in the infographic below. The number one concern for consumers going through a divorce is cost. Not surprising. Yet so many people end up in Family Court. Here is a good comparison of the costs of Ontario Family Court proceedings versus Collaborative Practice cases. In most cases, it is substantially less costly to proceed by way of Collaborative Team Practice.  

In article an published in Forbes regarding Avvo's research, the author suggests that the best plan is to start secretly saving if it looks like you are heading for a divorce. I guess the author does not know about Collaborative Team Practice. Of course, saving money is usually prudent but saving money for a court battle is silly. Just find good Collaborative lawyers for you and your spouse. Our lawyers have Collaborative Training. We are also members of Collaborative Practice Simcoe County. Their website lists the other Collaborative professionals in our community and offers great articles about the process. 

It is also to note that more and more consumers are finding their lawyer "online". Hmm. I guess that's why you are reading this blog. Makes sense! 
 

Doomed Marriage Before the 'I do's': Premature Signs of Divorce

Julia, a paralegal with a firm in Philadelphia, was tired of looking for (but not finding) Mr. Right. That is, until she realized she was continually choosing Mr. Wrong. By finally seeing the red flags and figuring out exactly what she needed/wanted, she had a better chance of finding a man who was ready and able to commit. How can you tell if someone is ready to be a good long-term partner? According to the CDC, almost half of all marriages end in divorce. No one wants to be a part of that grim statistic. The emotional turmoil and financial havoc of going through a divorce can be devastating and destroy a family. Ask yourself honest questions and be true to yourself before you say "I do." With some honest introspection, you, like Julia, can dodge Mr. or Ms. Wrong, and avoid a tumultuous legal separation down the road. 

Just for the Wedding

If all of your friends are getting married, you may start to feel the pressure. You have more bridesmaid dresses than a bridal shop. A desire to be the one who finally gets their day can be overpowering. Make sure you want a marriage and not just a wedding. Are you really ready to commit to one person forever? Or do you just want to be the star of the show called your own wedding? If you're more excited about the wedding plans, party, dress and cake than your potential spouse, you could be headed for trouble. Every bride-to-be is excited about her wedding, but if you're not thinking seriously beyond the ceremony and reception, then you may need to re-evaluate your priorities.

Too Young

Your age can actually have an effect on the outcome of your marriage. According to Divorcerate.org, 36 percent of women who get married when they are between the ages of 20 and 24 have a higher divorce rate than any other group. The likelihood of divorce drops as the potential bride and groom age and mature. Young marriages can and do flourish, but if either of you are under 24, you may want to evaluate your needs and wait for the wedding day.

The Bank

Money and debt are major stressors in a marriage. When you get married, your income will go up (if both spouses work), but any existing debt increases as well. While debt is not a reason to avoid or delay marriage, make sure to communicate openly about money and household finances. Review your debts, expenses and financial goals. As a couple, you'll know what to expect, so engage in timely and in-depth conversations about money— before popping the big question. Perhaps it's unfair, but money may just give you a reason to call it quits.

Ex-Spouses & Kids

You want to marry your boyfriend, not his ex-wife, right? Your significant other's ex may play a role in your life, whether you like it or not. If your new matrimonial partner has children with a former spouse, you can certainly expect a wide range of issues, from child custody to acceptable bed times. Are you open to these outside forces that can impede on your marriage and the family you're trying to create? Also, it's not uncommon for someone with kids to not want any more with a new potential partner. If you see kids of your own on the horizon, make sure your significant other is on the same page before legally committing. 

Addictions & Red Flags

You love him unconditionally, but you can't seem to shake that gut feeling telling you he may not be the one. Little things you dismiss can grow exponentially into triggers for divorce. Does he borderline on suffering from alcoholism? Does he become emotionally closed off? Does she have terrible spending habits? Say in tune with your instincts. Ending a relationship and enduring a broken heart is hard, but a divorce is unimaginably worse. 

 

Children and Divorce - How You Can Help Your Child Adjust

A child of divorce writes on how to help your child during divorce. What better source? Thanks to Melissa Farrell a freelance writer who lives in Kansas for her insights.

Speaking as a child of divorce, every situation is different. My parents were high school sweethearts and were together for over 10  years before they decided to call it quits. And when they finally divorced, they tried their best to make sure it didn't affect me negatively. I was too young to really remember anything, at four years old, but I do remember they were always nice to one another around me.

So how can you help your child adjust to divorce?

Explain the Situation

If at all possible, both of you should sit down and explain in the simplest, most straightforward way why you decided to get divorced. Explain that it is in no way the child's fault, but that you don't work together any more. A possible conversation could be "Mommy and daddy fight all the time, which isn't good for anyone. We've decided to live in different houses and not be married any more." Calmly answer any and all questions your child might have and reiterate the fact that it was not his or her fault and you both still love your child.

Throw Around the Idea of Therapy

Sometimes children feel more comfortable expressing their feelings to a third party, someone who will listen to them and not judge. Find someone who can help them express their feelings and work through their struggles. It may be your pastor, a family coach or someone else who is trained to work with children of divorce. 

Don't Let Your Child Be the 'Middle Man'

Although parents know it's not healthy to put the child in the middle, sometimes they just can't seem to help themselves — they roll their eyes or sigh when they talk about their ex, they make negative remarks about the other person in the kids' presence, they ask the children to relay messages to the other parent. DON'T be like those people.

Allow Substantial Time At Both Houses

As a kid, I lived with my mom during the school year and visited my dad once a week and stayed with him every other weekend. During the summer months, I lived with my dad and saw my mom once a week and every other weekend. Every situation is different, but making sure you allow equal time between the both of you is important. Split school breaks and holidays. If it's not your weekend but there's a fun event going on you think your child would love, talk it over and switch weekends. Communication is key.

Avoid Fighting

Children remember when parents fight, argue and yell at one another and it mentally effects them. Although seeing parents fight helps the child understand why the parents can't stay together any more, it is hard on them when they're surrounded by it all day long.

 

Thanks to them I have a  healthy outlook on relationships and marriage and I never saw divorce as this horrible monster. But there are many out there who have the opposite feeling, especially in children who are old enough to understand the situation. Divorce is not easy on anyone and children often feel anger and resentment towards their parents unless you commit to helping your child through your divorce like my parents. 

 

5 Mistakes Made in Divorce Proceedings

Today's guest blogger is writing about the 5 mistakes made by people who are in family court. While the advice is sound, it reinforces to me how undesirable it is to be in Family Court. It really is an awful experience. But, alas, if you are in Family Court, heed the following good advice... or better yet, find a lawyer who specializes in Collaborative Practice and get out of the litigation process.

At Galbraith Family Law, all of our lawyers are trained in Collaborative Practice. We do our best to keep you out of Family Court and support you to resolve your divorce issues efficiently, minimizing the pain. Thanks to Ken Myers for the following article. 

Although it's never our intention to file for divorce when we say our vows, sometimes people just can't be together in matrimonial bliss. Sometimes, the divorce proceedings can get a bit messy which could cause great strain on one or both parties. Of course, this all centres on why the divorce is happening in the first place.

Too many times have the actions of one during a divorce severely crippled the other financially and/or emotionally. When talks of this stressful time become a serious situation, there are things you need to do in order to prevent your significant other from taking advantage of the situation.

1. Financial Evidence - One of the most important pieces of evidence in a divorce proceeding could be the financial activities of your household as a whole. Any record and receipt of monetary transactions and bank accounts should be copied and safely stored. Any amounts in joint bank accounts should be closely monitored and recorded as well as one spouse may have to pay the other as per the final judgement.

2. Settlement Proposals - During divorce proceedings, a spouse's lawyer could provide a settlement proposal in order to reduce the time spent in courts which can increase your budget for your legal fees. Out of anger or frustration, many of these proposals are thrown out by the party for a variety of reasons. When dividing the assets, you should expect to lose something. Dismissing these proposals too quickly could cost you more in fees than you would have lost in the proposal in the first place.

3. Children as Weapons - Many times, a spouse will threaten the other to deny visitation to the children during a divorce. What you need to realize is that this is an empty threat that will not be upheld if you are indeed a good parent. Regardless of how much the threat may cut you to the bone, keep your cool. During the proceedings, the courts will determine if that threat has any validity. Unless you are a parent who constantly endangers your child, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Let the spouse blow off as much steam as they want.

4. Debts - Sometimes, dividing debts accrued by a couple can be a difficult task to manage. Neither one of you want to pay the bills of the other. A compromise may need to be acknowledged or the courts may assign what is paid by whom. This could greatly depend on the income of each spouse and the total number of bills. You will need evidence that shows a specific bill would have been accrued by your spouse regardless of your marriage. At any rate, the bills will need to be paid and someone will need to pay them.

5. Life After Divorce - Before you have committed yourself to a divorce, you should have taken the time to evaluate if you are able to survive on your own or not. You should never assume anything and having a plan for re-building your life can save you a great deal of trouble in the short-term. The most important aspects to consider are home and income.

Divorce can feel like hell on Earth to some and a blessing to others. In order to prevent the former, you should always protect yourself the moment a divorce is inevitable. If the situation is created from a bad set of circumstances, timing could be very important. Don't let your significant other take advantage of you.

Guest Author Bio:

Ken holds a master’s in business leadership from Upper Iowa University and multiple bachelor degrees from Grand View College.  As president of  morningsidenannies.com, Ken’s focus is helping Houston-based parents find the right childcare provider for their family. When he is not working, he enjoys spending time with his three children and his wife.

Build Trust in Divorce and Avoid Family Court

Trust is essential for every relationship and is often damaged when people are getting divorced. It can be damaged many different ways. An affair, a lie or a betrayal can damage trust. Trust may also be broken when people change and no longer understand each other. They just grow apart. 

In my life, I know how disorienting it is when I have lost my ability to trust someone who I once trusted implicitly. Equally uncomfortable is when someone no longer trusts me. If the relationship is important, I feel frustrated and want desperately to repair the relationship and the loss of trust. Without trust, we can't have a relationship. 

Have you had a loss of trust in your marriage? Maybe there was an affair. Maybe you feel that your spouse has given up on the dream you once shared. Maybe you feel like you or your spouse have done or said too many mean things to each other that you have become like strangers to each other – strangers who can’t trust each other.

Some of our clients want to go to Family Court because they don’t trust their spouse and can’t imagine negotiating an agreement with them. Family Court can’t ensure your spouse will become trustworthy again and you are giving up the power to make decisions about your life to the judge. Court is slow, costly and the results are often difficult to predict. Often, the court process itself increases the animosity of the parties. Court is the place of last resort. Family Court won’t solve the trust issue.

If Family Court is not the answer, is there a better way? How can we build sufficient trust that our clients can negotiate an agreement, keeping the power to decide important issues, rather than go to Family Court?

I came across some interesting research that is helpful. You can use Confidence Building Measures to build trust. You offer unconditional and unilateral gestures of goodwill to your spouse so that your spouse can see you are genuine about wanting to negotiate a deal.

Our lawyers know how to help you to develop and offer effective Confidence Building Measures so that you and your spouse can engage in negotiations. It won't save your marriage but you can build sufficient trust that you can begin to negotiate an agreement and avoid the pain of Family Court. We can help.

No Child Support for Adult Children Living in the Basement?

More and more children are no longer able to leave home when they become adults, or are returning home to live with their parents even after completing post-secondary education. There are fewer "empty nests" these days.

There are many reasons for this new trend. What is alarming for divorced parents is that in Ontario you cannot get child support for an adult child living at home unless the child is unable to obtain employment because they are ill or are in school full time. The adult child who is under-employed and is a costly boarder does not warrant child support. So, if your child returns to your home after graduating from university and  is only able to get a job at McDonalds, you are stuck paying the bills. 

We have several articles dealing with the issues of child support, custody, and the sharing of expenses on our website. But, alas, there is nothing about seeking child support for the under-employed adult child sleeping in your basement. Sorry. There is no relief for you. 

 Here is an interesting graphic about the impact of adult children living at home. Thanks to www.CollegeAtHome.com for this graphic. It is amazing! 

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

Divorce and Financial Planning

Sandra Ramos is a financial planner who has helped many clients who are going through a divorce make good financial decisions about their future. Sandra graciously agreed to offer a guest blog with her insights. Here it is. 

Following any marriage breakdown there is a time of emotional healing, but there is also a need for financial healing. During a marriage we have often comingled our assets, income, goals and dreams. And when divorce occurs, it seemingly all unravels right before our eyes, leaving us feeling unsure about our financial future.

It is easy and somewhat naïve to suggest that all you need is a new Financial Plan. The reality is divorce can result in some significant changes financially and this can lead to a tremendous amount of stress for both parties. In extreme cases some individuals will not be able to meet their current obligations, let alone think about saving for the future.

 

The first and best financial decision you can make is to commit to the collaborative process during your separation and divorce negotiations. This process is designed to minimize feelings of animosity and therefore promote cooperation, communication and of course collaboration. From a financial point of view, the result is financial savings of potentially thousands of dollars.

 

The collaborative process is something that I promote in my practice because, I know that it will save my clients money, undue stress and create an environment of cooperation to ensure both parties walk away with what they need to start their new life on their own. This is even more important when there are children involved.

 

When the collaborative process is over and we have a written and signed a separation agreement and all of the details around finances and children have been agreed to, it is time for the next step. This is where the services of a Professional Financial Advisor are needed.

 

The first step for my clients is the budget. Most people dislike budgeting and cringe at the word. However, it is the essential first step in moving forward. We must identify with accuracy what are your regular monthly income and your necessary expenses. The difference between these two numbers will be your discretionary income; it is with this income we can re-plan and re-design your financial future.

 

There are many factors to organize and understand:

 

-
Tax Planning – understanding the changes to your Personal Taxes
-
Retirement Planning - RRSP’S, TFSA’S & Pension Plans
-
Estate Planning - New Will and Powers of Attorney & Life Insurance
-
Education Planning - RESP’S
-
Employer Benefits

 

I have 20 years of experience in the Financial Planning Industry and I have also experienced Divorce personally. I know how overwhelming this period in your life is; however by re-establishing your goals and taking control of your financial situation you will be on the right path toward financial independence.

 

If you are interested in learning more about how I can assist you please do not hesitate to view my website www.sandraramos.ca. Or contact me at 1-866-949-1027 x 235.

Sandra Ramos, CFP

Senior Executive Consultant

Investors Group Financial Services Inc.

138 Commerce Park Drive

Barrie, Ontario

L4N 8W8
















 

Forensic Accounting and Divorce

image of couple pulling rings apartThe role of a Forensic Accountant in a divorce is not well known. Erin Palmer offers great insights into this valuable professional who can help uncover hidden assets or income of a deceptive spouse. Here is Erin's blog: 

All’s Fair in Love and War, Except in Divorce – That’s What Forensic Accountants Are For

You aren’t alone. Many couples considering divorce find themselves in a predicament they never expected to be in and begin to look at each other in a new light. Here’s one scenario: One spouse may be shuffling money around and squirreling it away. The other is offered a piteous settlement and is none the wiser, but instinctively feel that the numbers just don’t add up. Here’s a second scenario: One spouse offers the other a blunt settlement with no questions asked, without a way to alter the settlement later on. Both scenarios should be considered cautionary tales. If your intuition is telling you something isn’t adding up, or your divorce lawyer recommends getting a forensic accountant, you should listen. Large corporations aren’t the only ones guilty of moving and hiding assets these days.

Three Things You Should Know About Forensic Accountants

1.       Why You Need a Forensic Accountant

It’s such a simple question to ask, “Why?”, but the answers can vary greatly. An article posted, April 30, 2012, on the Wall Street Journal’s website gave staggering data from several studies…

·         31 percent of U.S. adults who join their earnings and savings with their spouse or significant other admitted they have been deceptive about money at times. – National Endowment for Financial Education

·         58 percent from the same study (mentioned above) admitted they hid cash, as well. – National Endowment for Financial Education

The Wall Street Journal article goes on to report something else of significance – technology is playing a larger role in discovering deceptive financial practices between couples.

·         During a 2010 survey, members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers were asked if in the past five years had they had seen an increase of information and evidence used that was gathered from social media/social networking websites (think Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). Can you believe that 81 percent of the members said yes?

·         Two years later the members were polled again with the same question and the number of lawyers answering yes climbed to 92 percent. That’s an increase of 11 percent in just two years.

2. What Forensic Accountants Look For

Forensic Accountants are highly trained professionals who may also possess a CPA license as a result of passing the Uniform CPA Exam. These financial professionals have received specialized training in locating financial information through research and technology. When a forensic accountant is assisting with a divorce, one of the first things they review are tax returns belonging to both parties. Believe it or not, a forensic accountant can learn a lot from a tax return such as real estate information, investments, partnerships and businesses, trusts and estates, and much more. Once they’ve reviewed this information, the forensic accountant can branch out and continue digging.

Other items forensic accountants look for are things like unreported retirement funds and decreased earnings being reported by the main bread winner. An unreported retirement fund is a deceptive practice. And decreased earnings may not be a red flag to most lay people, but to a trained professional this could lead to much more. They will look to see when the earnings first started to decrease and study as to whether they can put a tangible reason to the decrease or if it looks like money is being funneled in another direction.

Another task a forensic accountant may perform requires the use of specialized computer programs that can sift through all the data that is currently living on a hard drive or had once been there. Yes, even if data has been deleted from a drive, the information remains deep within the heart of the hard drive and these professionals have the ability to try and retrieve it.

The work of a forensic accountant isn’t always structured around finding a deceptive spouse. They also help lawyers create financial statements based upon their review of the couple’s assets. This has proven to be very helpful in creating an accurate financial picture that presiding judges can utilize to make his or her decision on the separation of assets.

3. If You Want It Done Right (Legally), Hire a Professional

When it comes to divorce, emotions can run high. And it’s natural to have your anger and frustration build. However, trying to take matters into your own hands is not advisable. If you have decided to Google or follow your spouse’s trail online and started finding information pertinent to your case, discuss this with your lawyer first.

The Wall Street Journal article “Why Hiding Money From Your Spouse Has Gotten a Lot Harder” mentions the grey area between following your soon-to-be former spouse’s online history versus putting a key logger on their computer. A key logger can be a piece of hardware or software installed on a computer that records the actions of whomever is using it.

If you are considering going rogue and ‘bug’ your spouse’s computer, it is very important that you talk to your lawyer first. More than likely they will advise against it and the information obtained may not be admissible during your legal proceedings. Not to mention, you could end up in legal trouble of your own.

If you are considering divorce and want to allocate your assets properly, or suspect your family’s assets have been mis-handled or-represented by your spouse, a forensic accountant will be your best line of defense next to your attorney. There are various reasons why you would hire this type of legal representation but for those who may not know the benefits to hiring a Forensic accountant or  how to hire the right CPA for your situation, it is highly suggested you research or interview multiple professionals in search for the best fit for your situation.

Erin Palmer writes about CPA exam review and CPA continuing professional education for Bisk Education.

Divorce and Debt: Tips to Get Out of Debt

Sophie Kinsella wrote an interesting blog about dealing with debt after divorce. Although the Oak View Law Group is not Canadian,it is  found in many of the states of the US, her comments ring true in Ontario too. It just makes good sense. Thanks Sophie.

 

Here’s is her blog…

 

Tips to follow in order to come out of your divorce debt

Many people believe that divorce is the beginning of a fresh new chapter in life, but that’s far from being true. Years of marriage often lead to years of accumulated debt, especially on the recent economic surface. Almost more than 50 percent of the divorce couples are under knee-deep debt and looking for a solution to come out of it. In this situation, it is generally not recommended to enroll on a debt settlement program as it sometimes becomes an intimidating task and hurts credit score. Instead, it is usually suggested to follow a few simple tips that will help you dig out of your divorce debt soon.

 

1. Budgeting:

 

One of the most important tips to come out of your divorce debt is to make a budget plan. Make a list of all the sources of your income and expenditures, and determine where your money goes out. You may do it on a paper or in a spreadsheet. Either way is good, but you have to see which one is more convenient for you.

2. Modify your spending habit:

Being a girl, you might have a few bad habits when it comes to shopping. You might often end up buying unnecessary goods and doing impulsive shopping. But now when it is crucial for you to come out of the debt, you must have a control over your spending habit. Always carry your budget along and abide by it. Every time you go for shopping, list down the items that you need to buy and are of utmost important. Make sure, an item which is not there in the list, should not be there in the cart.

3. Prioritize your expenditures:

When you are by yourself, you might wish to text your friend or log in to Facebook. But now it’s time to prioritize your expenditures. You must understand that now it’s time to focus on debt repayment rather than paying the bills.

4. Make some wise decision:

When you have come half the way of budgeting, make some wise financial decision. Think twice if you can do without the basic voice service on your cell phone in order to save $40 per month. Also think if you can bathe your dog by yourself instead of keeping a groomer. These are a few important questions that you need to ask yourself in order to determine how to reduce monthly expenses.

Also take a decision in regard to a debt payment plan. Determine how you are going to pay your bills. You may either pay the bills on a monthly budget cycle or may pay on a bi-weekly cycle, depending on your unique financial situation.

5. Snowball:

Consider repaying your debt in a snowball method. Aim at paying off your lowest balance first while making small amounts to the highest balance. This will help you pay off your debt and will boost your moral support.

In conclusion, afore mentioned are some effective tips to follow in order to get rid of your divorce debt.

Determining Income for Support Purposes

Determining income is the first step toward determining the proper level of child support and spousal support. This is easy to do for employees. We just look at line 150 of their personal income tax return. The challenge is determining the proper level of income for those people who are self-employed or are employed by a corporation they solely own. 

Self-employed people often write off various expenses for tax purposes that have a personal component to them. For example, the monthly costs of the cell phone might be written off as a business expense but that cell phone may also be used for personal calls. Some self-employed people will write off meal expenses, some of which are with family members or friends. Those meals are really of a personal benefit and not considered a legitimate expense for determining your income for support purposes. As a result, the portion of the expense that are of a personal nature are added back to the self-employed person's income for determining support. Since taxes are not paid on this income, it must be grossed up to take into account the taxes that are normally paid on it.

For those people who are the sole owners of the shares of a corporation, the issue is whether there is a legitimate reason for the earnings to be retained by the corporation. For example, a corporation that has to make major capital purchases periodically may have good reason to retain their earnings. They will need them to buy new equipment or other capital and will need the money. On the other hand, if a corporation is retaining earnings as a tax savings shelter for its only shareholder and there is no legitimate business reason to retain the earnings, some or all of the retained earnings can be added to the shareholders' income for the purpose of determining his or her support obligation. 

These are often complicated cases. There has to be a careful analysis of the business and the purpose for the earnings being retained. We sometimes use an outside expert such as an accountant or business valuator who has experience looking at these issues. 

If we are working through these issues using the Collaborative process, both parties might jointly retain an expert to help determine whether some or all of the retained earnings should be considered income for determining support obligations. This is better than the court process where both parties retain experts who fight it out. 

Once we have determined both party's incomes, we put the numbers into our computer and determine the likely range of support appropriate. It's easy once we have the incomes. 

 

Fairness in Your Divorce: Court Compared to Collaborative

The other day the judge in Family Court said "We can't consider "fairness" when deciding cases." I was shocked but then I realized that she is right. Family Court is about rules and process. Like cases are to be treated alike according to the law. The law is a set of principles that the judge uses to prescribe the rights and responsibilities of the parties. Judges have a lot of discretion when applying the law to the facts so we speak in terms of the likely "range of outcome". Fairness in family court means applying the rules and principles impartially to each party. The resolution is not necessarily seen as "fair" to both parties. In fact, neither party may feel it is "fair".

One of my clients, referring to Family Court, said "It's not a justice system, it's 'just a system'." How true. Family court is a system intended to resolve disputes. That's all.

This is not in any way to impugn our Family Court judges. We have brilliant judges who care about the parties before them. It's just that the court system is an adversarial system. It isn't intended to meet the core concerns of each party.

Of course, in a sense it is "fair" to impartially apply the same rules and principles to all parties to resolve their disputes. That's what courts do.  

What most people want is a resolution that takes into consideration their core concerns: their underlying needs, desires, concerns and fears. Courts are not allowed to take into consideration the core concerns or interests of the parties. Courts take into consideration only those facts that are logically related to the applicable principles of the law. Judges' discretion is limited by the law.

Collaborative Practice is a process that involves interest-based negotiations. The professionals help the parties discover their core concerns. We then help the parties brainstorm solutions that take into consideration both party's core concerns. It's hard work but in the end the parties have a "win-win" resolution: a resolution they both feel is "fair". At Galbraith Family Law, all of our lawyers are trained to help clients using Collaborative Practice. We also go to Family Court but if we can help you reach a win-win resolution using Collaborative Practice, we do it.

Surviving Holidays Without Your Children

Suchada, also known as Mama Eve, did an excellent blog  about what to do when you don't have your children for the holidays, especially for the first time.

She is honest, insightful and offers hope about how to cope without your children. 

Divorce sucks. You have a choice how you respond to its challenges. You can make it worse or you can take Mama Eve's good advice and make the most out of a difficult situation. 

In time, it gets better. Truly... it does. Hang in there. 

Here is her blog

 Acouple of days ago my children left on their first trip without me.

 

My husband and I separated earlier this year (I will write more about this later, and yes, it’s one of the reasons I didn’t keep up with my blog for a while). While much of this has been difficult, nothing has been harder for either of us than being away from the kids for the holidays. I got them for Thanksgiving, and he took them to see his family in Ohio for Christmas.

It sucks.

However, I try to make the best of even the worst situations, so here goes: my top 5 ways to survive being away from your kids for the holidays.

1. Stay busy

There was no question that when my boys got tickets to Ohio, I was getting a ticket to somewhere. I didn’t want to stay at home by myself and be lonely. So I’m flying to Florida to see my parents, and I’ve packed my schedule full of activities I love to do. If I’m bored I know I will wallow in my loneliness and guilt, so my goal is to not let it happen. And on the positive side, it’s been more than three years since I’ve had time to myself anyway, so I’m going to take full advantage of it with things that aren’t easy to coordinate with two little ones – like scuba diving and sailing and some nighttime fun.

2. Be flexible

While I would love to get on the phone and Skype with my little ones during the times it’s convenient for me (when I wake up, before I have dinner, a quick minute between errands), I have to remember they’re busy with their dad and his family. They have their days filled up with relatives who haven’t seen them in years, and grandparents that want to play with them, and sightseeing trips to all kinds of exciting destinations. If I want to talk to them and see them, I need to remember to be ready for when they have a moment, and not count on them to squeeze in regular appointments during a special trip like this.

3. Make memories

Since I know it isn’t easy to coordinate regular phone calls and Skype sessions, I decided to port myself to where they are, on demand. I made video recordings of me reading a stack of their favorite books, and then posted them to YouTube, and also a video just to tell them how much I love them and miss them. It’s not the same as interacting with them, but at least if they get lonely they can see my face and hear my voice reading something familiar anytime, anywhere (thanks to laptops and smartphones). Another benefit is it allows them to keep up part of their bedtime routine in an otherwise unfamiliar environment.

4. Remember it’s not all about you

This was the hardest thing for me as this situation unfolded, but once I accepted it, it’s been the most freeing. My kiddos are having a big adventure with a capable parent, surrounded by a big family that adores them and is thrilled to see them for the holidays. I miss them terribly, and I want to cuddle with them and smother them with kisses, but they don’t need to know how painful this is for me. What’s going on between their dad and me is an adult problem, and my boys don’t need to feel the weight of it. While I would do anything to be with them, I can’t change it, and moping and reminding everyone of how sad I am doesn’t make it a better holiday for anyone (including me).

5. Find joy in what’s around you

While my ideal situation would be to spend the holidays with my boys, I can’t pretend there aren’t a lot of positives to my Christmas plans. I will be with my parents, and my sister and her family, in a beautiful location with many friends. I will be able to go on adventures that aren’t easy to coordinate with two little ones, and I have friends and family who love me, and are thinking of me and praying for me. I know not everyone is so fortunate when they’re away from their children, but I believe something good can be found in even the dreariest circumstances. Even if it’s rock bottom, it means better days are coming.

I hope you all have restful holidays with people that love you, and I will see you again in the new year. Merry Christmas and lots of love!

 

 

Your First Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzza Since Divorce? Ugh.

Santa letterAre you dreading Christmas? Will it be your first  special holiday since your separation?  Are you depressed about not having your children for New Year's Eve, or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or some other special day. Whatever the holiday, you are not alone.

I remember the first Christmas that my three boys were with their mother Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I cried and felt depressed most of the day. The time seemed to creep by so slowly. I felt all alone and like a failure.

I should have taken my 6 year old son's advice.

A few days before Christmas, he knew he would spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day with his Mom because that's what we agreed. So, he asked me to write a letter to Santa and ask him to come to my house on December 26th instead of the 25th. My son said that Santa comes to Steve's house (Steve is my friend who is divorced with kids too) on the 26th so he was sure he wouldn't mind coming to our house then too!

Of course, Santa did come on December 26th, even without a letter, but I think the message my son unwittingly was giving me was that it does not matter when we celebrate Christmas...lets just make whatever day we have together full of love, gratitude, Santa and fun. He knew Santa (and joy) would arrive whenever we wanted them to arrive. We just had to schedule it.

To help make your holidays special, here are ten things you can do:

  1. Ensure your schedule is specific. You and your ex spouse should confirm well in advance when each of you will have the children. If you don't have specific times already agreed, negotiate the days and times as soon as possible. There are too many other sources of stress in December so try to nail down your times with your children now.
  2. Don't fight over which days you have your children. Whenever you have them, make it special. If you really need particular days, offer to trade days with your ex spouse or give your ex spouse those special days next year. Treat your ex they way you would like to be treated, even if it isn't reciprocated.
  3. Do something special for yourself. I make myself some of my favorite food, pour myself some wine, watch some basketball in front of the fireplace and wrap presents all day on December 25th. Actually, I look forward to my day spent all by myself. I am totally relaxed and ready when the boys come over on December 26th.
  4. Support your children having a good time with their other parent. If you need to speak to someone about your sad feelings, talk to a friend or therapist - not your kids.  The children don't need to hear it. They need to hear that it is okay to have fun with their other parent too.
  5. Create new traditions. This is a new beginning for you and your children so don't try to replicate the past. Find new ways to celebrate the event. You can preserve some of the past traditions but find new ways of celebrating too. My parents always put a maraschino cherry on the top of our grapefruits Christmas morning so I continue to do the same now. Change things up too... I started singing Christmas carols after our Christmas dinner.
  6. Get outside. Go for a walk or ski or snowshoe. There is nothing more rejuvenating than being outside with nature and your family. When your kids are with you, take them outside too. A good snowball fight can really build up an appetite.
  7. Give of your heart. If you have just recently separated, money is likely short so don't try to spend like you did in the past. Do something special for the people you love. Maybe you can write a special little poem for each of them or list twenty ways you appreciate them. Gifts often don't have lasting meaning. Can you even list five gifts you received last year or the year before? It is the feelings of love and appreciation that last forever.
  8. Stay sober. If you over-drink,  you run the risk of crumbling into a pile of self-pity and depression. Nobody wants to see that and certainly your kids don't need to see it. Have fun but be careful so you can keep it together emotionally, especially during your first Christmas since your separation.
  9. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. If your family or friends are negative, remind them the season is all about gratitude, love and appreciation. Park you own negativity and search for the positive in everything and everyone, even your ex spouse.
  10. Relax. Know that in time the holidays will become easier to get through and more fun. Just take a deep breath and get through your first set of holidays. Next year, it will be better. Trust me.

There are several wonderful blogs about surviving the holiday season after divorce. 

Now, my youngest son is 12 years old and he says the best thing about Mom and Dad having separated is that he enjoys "two Christmases, two Easters and two Thanksgivings!" He says "if you like that kind of food, it's great!" Let me assure you... he certainly does like "that kind of food!"

So make it a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa or whatever special holiday you are celebrating this year. Joy will come whenever you schedule its arrival. It is up to you.

Kids in Divorce. What Do They Need?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a link to a fantastic set of articles about children and divorce. It includes the following:

  • What children of divorce need
  • Age level reactions to loss
  • 10 Commandments of Divorce
  • Steps for Recreating a Strong Single Parent Family
  • Four Types of Parental Relationships Post-Divorce
  • Plus more..... 

It was put together by Rainbows which is a non-profit organization committed to helping children and teems grieve and grow after loss. Go to www.Rainbows.ca

Rainbows offers peer support for children of all ages who are grieving a loss. Since 1983, it has served over 2.5 million kids working through schools, faith communities, agencies and other organizations. There are 7 age-specific programs that really help kids express their feelings, learn and grow through their parents' divorce. It is an amazing program. 

I recently met the founder of Rainbows, Suzy Yehl Marta, at the Annual General Meeting of Rainbows Canada. She is an amazing person and Rainbows is a great organization. I am so proud to be on the Board of Directors for Canada. 

If you have children and you are going through a divorce, let Rainbows help them get through it. Learn more at www.Rainbows.ca

Galbraith Family Law Partners with Starting Over Show

Barrie ON Divorce 'Expo' Eases Stress of Breaking Up!

“The Starting Over Show,” an event dubbed as Ontario's first Divorce and Separation Expo is being staged to give separating and newly single people access to the professional services needed to move on with life.

Advice, Seminars and Professional Expertise all in one place. This is the occasion to have access to all of the experts all in one place.

Galbraith Family Law will be joining a team of Professionals addressing every aspect of the Divorce and Separation Process.

                                 www.StartingOverShow.ca

"When I first separated, it was horrible! I didn’t know where to turn, who to talk to and how to move forward. Along with my self esteem, my finances were devastated and my credit was severely damaged. I was seeing a lot of my friends going through the same as me and yet there was very little help available. What shocked me was that there was really no one place to seek out help for ALL of the issues I was facing!!”


“The Starting Over Show” will offer information on coping with stress, dealing with children and legalities and advice on various issues such as finances, credit counselling and property issues. It will be held at the Allandale Community Centre in Barrie Ontario on Saturday Nov 5th and Sunday Nov 6th 2011.

“Divorce and Separation is not just about the obvious legal documents and child custody issues,” says Carol Matthews, event coordinator, but it is also about financial issues, coordinating the move, maintaining your credit, and ultimately reinventing yourself as a single person again.”

According to Stats Canada almost 80,000 Canadian couples divorce each year, as well as many thousands of co-habiting couples. People are needing to extricate themselves from joint finances, real estate, investments and lives.

Divorce is one of the top contributors to Bankruptcy, credit damage and stress induced health issues. The Starting Over Show will host hourly Seminars addressing such issues. “Often people who are separating or divorcing think they need a lawyer, but they don't think about the need for a home appraiser, tax planner, moving company, realtor etc.,” says Ms. Matthews. “The goal of the fair is to bring together all kinds of professionals and services that people WILL need when they are facing a divorce or separation,”

“It's the first-time such a forum has been held in Ontario,” said Darren Gingras, President of Canadian Separation Services, a sponsor of The Starting Over Show. "We are most certainly not promoting divorce or separation, instead we recognize that Divorce and Separation is a very stressful period in individual’s lives and we are making the professional services and options available to individuals in one location.” "It is about bringing together experts who will help people get through a break-up in the best way possible."

The Starting Over Show will be held Sat Nov 5th and Sunday Nov 6th at the Allandale Community Centre, 190 Bayview Avenue in Barrie ON. Show hours are 10am to 6pm both days. Entrance to the Expo and seminars is $20.00 at the door.
For more information contact: the Galbraith Family Law, Darren Gingras at: 1(866) 748-6363 or Carol Matthews at ccmatthews@rogers.com. www.StartingOverShow.ca
 

The Story Of Your Divorce: Blue Valentine

If you are separating or divorcing, you have a story to tell. It's a story that starts with happiness and hopefulness and ends in sadness and separation. 

When I separated, I wanted to tell my story but, frankly, it seemed nobody wanted to hear it. My friends and family felt awkward and uncomfortable yet I needed to tell it - over and over and over again. Nobody wants to hear a broken record so I guess I can't blame them. My point is I felt all alone with my story. 

As a divorce lawyer, I hear stories from my clients every day. 

Do you have a story about your separation and divorce? Maybe you have friends and family who will listen. Another great way to tell your story is to journal it. Write it out as many times as you want.

Of course, you don't want to get stuck in your story. Eventually you need to let it go. I remember one person who told me the story of their divorce. They were very passionate, full of anger and visibly in pain. What was remarkable is that their divorce had occurred over ten years ago. Clearly, they were stuck in the past. They had not let go. 

Maybe you can try creating a time line of your life, highlighting the major events or turning points. Try to understand your mistakes, and your spouse's mistakes, and then forgive both your spouse and yourself.  When you are ready, shred or burn those stories so you can put them behind you. 

I suggest you find a Family Coach to help you. These kind people have training in therapy with a focus on the impact of divorce. They will listen to your story and help you move through it. 

I watched this movie over the weekend. It is all about the telling of the story of divorce. It's kind of sad but it also reminded me that we all have stories. It is worth watching. I hope you will somehow feel you are not alone. 

Common Law Relationships and Property Division in Barrie, Ontario

divorced couple tearing moneySo, you lived together in a common law relationship but now it has come to an end. Your friends say "When you separate, it's just the same as if you had been married. Everything is 50/50!"

This is an urban myth. In Ontario, it is more complicated. 

Of course, the starting point is that you keep the assets and debts in your name and your partner keeps the assets and debt in their name. The question is whether either of you have to share the value of your assets with the other. 

A recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) known as Kerr v. Baranow, radically changed how we look at the rights of common law partners upon separation regarding property division.

The SCC has now said that if there is a “joint family venture” there should be a fair division of the assets acquired during the relationship.

In lower court decisions since the SCC decision, if there is long term relationship, especially with children, and there has been an joint effort to work together for the betterment of both parties and an intermingling of the finances, there tends to be an equal division of the assets acquired during the relationship.

Although we don't have many cases decided since the decision at time of writing this blog, I think we will see a trend toward an equal division of property upon separation when the parties have been living together in long, stable relationship, especially if there are children, the parties have intentionally became financially intertwined and they worked collaboratively toward mutual goals. 

If you have lived together for a short period of time and you kept your finances and financial goals separate, you might not have a right to a share in any of your partner's assets at all. It may be that each party just keeps that which is in their own name and that jointly owned property is shared equally. 

Of course, your case may be in between the two extremes. You might have a right to some of your partner's assets.  It all depends on on the facts of your relationship whether you have a claim and the extent of your claim. 

Of course, another issue is spousal support. If you have lived together for more than 3 years or you have a child together and your incomes are different you may have a right to spousal support. Check out this article for more information. 

You are wise to seek the advice of a family law lawyer, just to get an idea whether you might have a claim to your partner's property when it is a common law relationship. It's murky water. 

 

New Wife and Ex Wife: A Complicated Relationship

All relationships are trying at times but perhaps one of the more difficult ones is between a "new wife" and the "ex wife". (Probably this is true for the "new husband" and "ex husband" too.)

Donna Ferber (pictured on the left) offers another great blog in which she explores this challenging relationship.

Donna writes: 

Judged as guilty before even tried, these women are pitted against each other by circumstance. Stereotypes abound; the first wife was a “crazy nagging bitch” and the second one “a cheap slut”!

Unfortunately, these stereo types often eclipse the potential for a positive relationship; these women are preprogrammed not to like each other by societal misconceptions. In truth, had these women met under different circumstances they might have been friends. 

Donna has it right. 

There is a natural inclination to think poorly of the new spouse by the former spouse and vice versa. In most cases, the dislike is petty and without merit. But, alas, emotions are without logic. Emotional responses to other people can overwhelm our logical side. Intellectually, we may want to judge the other person on their merits but our emotional side won't let it happen. 

Donna explores various reasons why the "ex" and the "next" may have challenges making their relationship work. 

Here is a surprising story about a woman who was accepting of her ex husband's new life partner. 

I once represented a woman whose husband had discovered that he was gay and left her for man. This other man was involved in the lives of their children yet my client was not at all bothered his new role. I asked her how it was that she was so accepting of this new relationship and person. Her response was interesting. She said something like "I am a woman. I can't compete with a man. It's apples and oranges. Now had he left me for another woman, I would have hated the bitch and wanted to scratch her eyes out!" 

Who knew? 

Relationships are complicated, surprising and challenging. 

If you are an "ex" or the "next" know that you are not alone in your struggle to maintain a positive relationship with the other. It's a challenge. 

If you are the one in the middle, understand that the relationship of the "ex" and the "next" is not an easy one for anyone. Don't fuel the fire. Just be understanding.

This too shall pass... hopefully. 

"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. 

Older Couples Getting Divorced in Barrie, Ontario

Are you over 50 years old and thinking about getting a divorce? You are not alone. More and more older couples are getting divorced. Deborah Moskovitch, author of The Smart Divorce writes an interesting blog in the Huffington Post about this phenomenon. She says we shouldn't be surprised because the reasons for marriage have changed and the stigma of divorce has diminished.

Deborah writes in her blog the following: 

 Women wanted someone to take care of them, men wanted to be in a position of power. Today, as more women become financially independent, looking to be taken care of is no longer what many are seeking. Rather, both women and men want an equal partnership in the relationship, and a best friend. Of course, there are many other factors resulting in the breakdown of the marriage, I don't want to over simplify it. But, if you consider how expectations surrounding marriage have changed over the last few decades, and the thought of no longer becoming a social outcast upon divorce, these are some influencing factors behind the increasing divorce rate amongst couples in long term marriages.

Of course, another factor is simply that as the baby boomer generation grows older, of course, the number of divorces of older people grows greater too. Baby boomers represent about 29% of the population of the United States. 

Deborah points out that the stigma of divorce has diminished which suggests it is an easier decision for older couples to make now than it was in the past. While it is true that the stigma has diminished, I have never met anyone, especially those in the baby boomer generation, who have taken divorce lightly. It continues to be an isolating, painful process. 

In the past, there was great admiration given to those couples who stayed married "till death". I feel that if two people can find a way to stay happy together for many years, it is wonderful but if they are miserable and "stick it out", I don't see what there is to celebrate. Frankly, I never understood why staying in a relationship that was terrible was worthy of admiration. What's the point? 

People change. The challenge is to find ways to change together and to give each other the room you need to grow and renew. This can take a lot of work and patience. Sometimes it just is impossible. 

My parents were married 54 years when death separated my father from my mother. I think they were happy together throughout their marriage. I hope to reach the same plateau. I look forward to 50 more years of matrimonial bliss. I'll be 99 years old! Wow! 

How To Tell Adult Children About Your Separation

Separation and divorce is hard on children. Frankly, it's hard on everyone, adult children included. Often separating couples see their adult children as being more able to cope with their parents' separation than younger children. I am not sure this is true. 

Erica Manfred is the author of "He's History, You're Not: Surviving Divorce After Forty." and recently authored an interesting article in the Huffington Post about how to tell adult children of your divorce.

She offers eight "rules": 

  1. Give the news in a compassionate way. Don't just email, text or phone them. Do it in person. 
  2. Don't lie. Tell them the truth about your marriage. 
  3. Show empathy. Try to support your children.  It's hard for them too. 
  4. Don't put them in the middle. Don't ask your kids to take sides. 
  5. Don't depend on your children for advice. This is another way of putting them in the middle. Let them love both parents. 
  6. Don't ever tell them "you're the reason we stayed together". This can make your children feel guilty and feel that their whole childhood was a sham. 
  7. Call a truce with your Ex. You will always be connected with your spouse through your children so try to get along. 
  8. Don't shove your new boyfriend or girlfriend down your kids' throats. It is just too awkward and could lead to resentment. Give them time to adjust. 

I agree with all of these suggested rules except for the second one. Erica suggests that you should tell your adult children the reasons for the divorce. She says if there was an affair, be honest about it. 

I feel that telling your children about the reasons for the marriage ending will likely cause the children to take sides. This is not helpful to your children. They ought to be able to maintain a relationship with both parents. The problems you two had has nothing to do with their relationship with each of parent. Telling them about the affair can only lead to more strife and the children feeling caught in the middle. 

Some may argue that adult children are better able to cope and understand their parents' separation yet I argue they are still your children. Let me give you an example. Intellectually, your adult children know that you have a sex life whereas when your children were young, they had no idea. Young children walking in on their parents making love is shocking. Walking in on mom and dad having sex would be just as awkward and disturbing to the adult child. Just imagine it for yourself! Yuck!

Likewise, learning the sordid facts around the breakdown of your marriage would be at the very least awkward and at the worst, repulsive. Simply put, I don't see how it could benefit your children. They will tend to take sides and "divorce" one of their parents. Don't make your adult children casualties of your divorce. 

Otherwise, I like the advice offered by Erica. Be sensitive to your adult children when you tell them you are getting a divorce. Treat them the same way you would if they were still your cute little bundles of joy even if they are now your adult, money-sucking, know-it-all children. Either way, they are still your darling children.

How to Schedule Summer Access

Summer is fast approaching. Now is the time to begin to work on your summer access schedule. 

Some separated families have the summer schedule set for every summer. Mom will have certain weeks every year and Dad will have other weeks. There is very little negotiation or planing involved. This is a nice arrangement, if you can manage it. The disadvantage is that life is not static. Sometimes the opportunity to negotiate the children's schedule gives you a chance to accommodate the varying schedules and attend special events that arise each summer. 

For most families, there is a lot of negotiation and compromise involved in scheduling the summer schedule.

Here is how to do it. 

Find a clean calendar you can work with to develop a plan. 

First, write down any dates on the calendar  that are carved in stone. For example, if your holidays are determined by your employer and you can't change them, write those dates on the calendar. If your children have any activities that cannot be changed, write those down too. 

Next, write down the preferred dates or activities you would like to have but can live without. Use a different color so it is clear that these are not "carved in stone" dates. 

Then do the same for your ex spouse. If you know of any "carved in stone" dates for your ex, write them on the calendar. If you are aware of any preferred dates for your ex, write those down too. 

Now you just have to start carving up the time. Remember, you are trying to reach an agreement so you have to try to come up with something you think your ex spouse can live with too. You both can't get every favored date. So make some compromises. Share the favored dates. 

Get your ideas for the summer schedule over to your ex spouse as soon as you can. 

I always suggest that you send to your ex spouse a couple of options so they have something to consider. If you send just one choice, it may feel like you are trying to impose your wishes on your ex spouse. Put a short explanation for the dates you have chosen and the compromises you willing to make. You don't need a long narrative. Short, factual and clear is best. 

Google calendar is a free internet service and is an excellent way of sharing a calendar with your ex spouse. You could create one that is only accessible to you and your ex. You could put your suggested schedule for the children over the summer on it and then seek input from your ex. In fact, the Google Calendar is a great way of keeping track of busy kids all year long. You can get alerts when changes are made to it. 

When you get  a proposal for the summer schedule, respond in a timely way. Waiting to hear just causes unnecessary stress for everyone. I know trying to figure out the summer schedule is frustrating but just do it anyway. 

Once you have it nailed down, stick to it. Don't be changing it except in the event of some urgent arising. The idea of setting these dates in advance is to allow both parents to plan in advance. Last minute changes makes planning impossible. 

If you can't resolve it, don't just run off to court immediately. Court is too expensive, slow and you lose control over the outcome. Court will take the fun out of summer. I suggest you work with a mediator or a Family Coach to find a compromise that works for the whole family. 

One last thing... enjoy the summer time. This is when you have a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your kids. But don't forget the suntan lotion! 

"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.

 

Who Drives The Children For Access Exchanges?

When you become a parent, nobody tells you that you will become a personal taxi driver for your children! You will drive them to their sports activities, their music lessons, their friends' homes and, if you have separated from the other parent, you might have to do some driving to and from their other parent's home. 

I enjoy driving my children around to their activities. I view it as an opportunity to talk about everything going on in our lives. Sometimes we talk about something they hear on the radio (news, sports or opinion pieces). Sometimes we talk about the daily events of their lives. Sometimes we just talk about the weather or maybe someone will say "hey, that's a nice looking car". It doesn't matter what we talk about... the point is we are talking. 

When parents separate, the question often arises: who should do the driving when the children move from one parent's home to the other?

If you and the other parent cannot work out an agreement on your own, here are the general principles used by most judges in Ontario: 

  1. If the children reside primarily with one parent, the other parent should do the pick up and drop off of the children. The reason for this is that it is assumed that the primary parent does more driving of the children to their activities since they are with them more often.
  2. If the parents share about equal time with the children, they should share about equal driving responsibilities.
  3. If one parent, moves far away from the other parent, the moving parent will usually have to do most of the driving for access exchanges.

Often clients argue about who has to do the driving. Neither wants to do it. At the high price of gasoline these days, I can understand their desire to minimize the amount of driving. On the other hand, the opportunity to spend time with your children, without the distraction of the television and the computer, is precious. I say "Don't argue too hard."

Take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with your children. Soon they will be leaving home and you will long for hours spent together going somewhere.... anywhere..... together. 

 

Stay Connected With Your Children After Divorce With Facebook

Communication with teenagers can be difficult at the best of times. When you are separated, it can be even more difficult. 

I am always looking for ways to be part of my teenagers' lives. I enjoy Facebook and am friends with my three teenage boys on it. It gives me some insight into their lives without having to ask awkward questions. The key to staying their friend is to not make comments on anything they post. If you do, you will quickly embarrass them and will soon be de-friended. (One son blocked me from reading his wall. Yikes - that hurts! ) 

I have also taken the bold step to invite my sons' friends and even girlfriends (past and present) to be my friend on Facebook and, surprisingly, I have never been turned down. This gives me even more insight into the lives of my children and teenagers in general. 

I think the boys are a bit more careful about what they post knowing I am their friend which, frankly, is a good thing. It prevents them from posting something that could bite them in the butt down the road when they apply for a job. 

The New York Times has a great article about how Facebook can be used as an excellent conduit for communication with your teenagers. An interesting comment about the article is found at  www.allfacebook.com. They have some great stories from other people's experiences. 

I text with my boys. I email them. I speak to them on the phone. I Skype with them. And I spend as much time with them as possible. It's great being a dad in the 21st century. There are so many ways to stay connected with my kids. 

Ooops.. Gotta go. My Blackberry is buzzing and vibrating... now just to figure out how it works so I can respond!! 

10 Most Infamous Acts of Infidelity in Modern History

Just read an interesting blog. I have copied it below but check out the original at BestCollegesOnline.net (Reproduced with permission).

10 Most Infamous Acts of Infidelity in Modern American History
 

Henry Kissinger, one of our nation's most accomplished secretaries of state, said it best: "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." Given his homely looks and reputation for womanizing during his younger years — "younger" referring his 50s when he had the most power — he knows as well as anyone. It seems that American politicians, actors and athletes have a penchant for "making the rounds," even when they've apparently settled down and married. Some do it more recklessly than others, leading to public relations nightmares when news of their dalliances hits the back pages. The following 10 infamous affairs were committed by famous Americans who ultimately fell victim to their own carnal weaknesses. Read on to refresh your memory on how it turned out for them.

  1. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky: Never before or since has an extramarital affair received more press attention. The actions of the commander-in-chief are always under intense scrutiny, and people expect him to perform his duties in a dignified manner. That's why when the Lewinsky story broke, Clinton swiftly denied it, uttering 11 words that defined his presidency: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." But as the evidence became overwhelming, including the presence of the infamous blue dress, he was forced to admit to the relationship. Clinton was held in contempt of court for apparently lying during deposition for the Jones lawsuit, and the Republican-controlled Congress issued Articles of Impeachment against him, with many believing he was guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury. Clinton was acquitted of the charges and ironically, the highest approval rating of his presidency came on the day of his impeachment. Despite the outcome, rumors of Clinton's constant infidelities plagued his presidency and served as a lesson — usually not followed — to other horndogs in office.
  2. John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe: You could also add the Robert Kennedy/Marilyn Monroe affair to this list — she, as did many women during the '50s and '60s, adored the Kennedys. Although there's never been a true smoking gun to confirm with 100 percent assuredness that the JFK/Monroe affair occurred, some people seem to think Monroe's seductive singing of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" is enough evidence. Judith Exner, another of JFK's reputed mistresses, described an affair he had with Monroe, and journalist Anthony Summers studied the affair in two books, one of which mentions her deepening depression after he ended the relationship. Of course, conspiracy theorists like to speculate that JFK was responsible for her death, but that's just crazy talk.
  3. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: Brad Pitt has never explicitly admitted to cheating on Jennifer Aniston with Angelina Jolie, but he has implied that he was guilty of emotionally cheating on Aniston by stating that he fell in love with Jolie during the filming of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Not coincidentally, Pitt and Aniston divorced during the production of the film, and a month later, Pitt and Jolie were photographed together in Kenya. The two then morphed into one, at least according to the press, becoming known as "Brangelina," and the rest is history. Cheating is bad and all, but you've got to admit — Pitt is one lucky son of a gun.
  4. Tiger Woods and Rachel Uchitel, etc, etc.: The salacious details of Tigers' numerous trysts cascaded through the press after it was revealed in late November 2009 — thanks to his front yard car accident — that he had an affair with New York City nightclub manager Rachel Uchitel. It was Jaimee Grubbs who did the most damage, releasing voice and text messages from Tiger that occurred during their two-and-a-half year relationship. As a result, Tiger issued a vague apology, but as more of his mistresses came forward, he was forced to unequivocally fess up to his deeds. He took an indefinite leave from the PGA tour and sat idly by as several of his endorsements were either terminated or suspended. Since the months-long ordeal, Tiger's wife Elin filed for divorce and he lost his world number one ranking for the first time in 623 weeks.
  5. Hugh Grant and Divine Brown: Like a couple others on this list, it's mind-numbingly difficult to understand why a huge movie star would cheat on his seemingly perfect girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley, with someone so undesirable — for Hugh, it was a Hollywood hooker named Divine Brown (just Google her pictures). The scandal occurred a couple of weeks prior to the release of Nine Months, when he was arrested for misdemeanor lewd conduct in a public place. Famously, Grant appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno later that week and took responsibility for his actions. Fortunately for Grant, Hurley didn't kick him to the curb.
  6. Gary Hart and Donna Rice: In Gary Hart's case, his extramarital extracurriculars resulted in the ruination of his political aspirations. Entering the 1988 Democratic primary as the frontrunner to win the nomination, he was prepared to overtake the Republican dynasty George Bush was hoping to continue. Hart was so confident in himself that, when rumors surfaced that he was having an affair, he dared the press to follow him around to find dirt. The Miami Herald, which had already been investigating his womanizing, took him up on it and kept a close eye on his townhouse, where reporters spotted a woman later identified as 29-year-old model Donna Rice. Hart's support in New Hampshire, the sight of the first primary, decreased drastically. When photos were published of him and Rice aboard a yacht fittingly named Monkey Business, he decided to drop out of the race. He briefly returned, however, when it became apparent the public felt he was unfairly treated by the media. But his candidacy was already dead, and he was forced to retreat from the forefront of the political arena. It was a steep price to pay for a good time with an attractive blonde.
  7. John Edwards and Rielle Hunter: Twenty years after Hart's misdeeds, another Democratic presidential candidate was caught in an affair, though this time, he wasn't the frontrunner to win the nomination. Rumors of John Edwards' infidelities with former campaign worker Rielle Hunter emerged three months before primary season officially kicked off and lingered somewhat on the backburner until after his candidacy was finished during the summer of 2008. He admitted to the affair during an August interview but denied being the father of her young son. For a while, campaign aide Andrew Young claimed, at Edward's request, to be the father, but later admitted that Edwards is the father — Edwards came clean in January 2010. The worst part about the whole episode: his wife Elizabeth was battling breast cancer during it all.
  8. Kobe Bryant and Katelyn Faber: Professional athletes simply shouldn't marry until after they retire. There's just too much temptation — unless, of course, you're the unrecognizable guy who sits at the end of the bench. Kobe Bryant certainly isn't a bench warmer, and he's certainly susceptible to temptation. Such was the case during his 2003 visit to The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera hotel in Eagle, Colorado prior to undergoing knee surgery, where he met 19-year old hotel employee Katelyn Faber. Their very brief relationship ended with a sexual assault accusation against Bryant, which he denied. The ordeal caused significant damage to his clean reputation. Like Tiger, he was dropped by some of his endorsers and issued a public apology, but unlike with Tiger, his wife was at his side. Vanessa opted not to file for divorce, possibly because of the dazzling $4 million dollar, 8-carat purple diamond ring she received from Kobe as an "I'm sorry" gift. Faber settled a civil lawsuit with Bryant in 2004.
  9. David Letterman and Stephanie Birkitt: The tables were turned on Letterman in 2009 when he became the butt of jokes pertaining to his marital infidelity. Famously, Letterman admitted to having affairs with members of his staff in response to an extortion attempt by Joe Halderman, a fellow CBS employee who worked as a producer for 48 Hours. Three weeks earlier, Letterman discovered a package in his car from Halderman threatening that he'd write a book and screenplay if Letterman didn't pay him $2 million. Halderman eventually pleaded guilty to attempted grand larceny and spent six months in jail after Letterman and the Manhattan District Attorney's office set up a sting operation. Letterman apologized to his staff and wife on the air, and Stephanie Birkitt, an assistant of Letterman who was romantically linked to him and Halderman, was subsequently removed from the show.
  10. James McGreevey and Golan Cipel: James McGreevey is the one person on this list who, to many Americans, is solely remembered for his infidelities because of the way he has faded from public view. In 2004, an election year, the then-New Jersey governor, a married man with kids, confessed that he is "a gay American" and to engaging in "an adult consensual affair with another man" during a press conference announcing his resignation. The sudden revelation came as a response to threats of a sexual harassment lawsuit from Golan Cipel, whom McGreevy appointed as homeland security adviser. Cipel later claimed that he never had a true romantic affair with McGreevy and was just one of his many victims.

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. 

 

  

How To Divorce in Barrie, Ontario

Is your relationship over? Have you moved out and now want to resolve the issues? Maybe you have been apart for a while and just want it finalized? You want a divorce!

A divorce is a piece of paper signed by a judge that terminates the marriage. You need it if you want to get married again but before you get a divorce, you first need a separation agreement. It is a legally binding contract between you and your spouse settling all of the issues: the children's schedule, the support and the equalization  and division of property.

The separation agreement is binding even after the divorce so is a very important document indeed. It will govern your relationship forever.

There a few steps to take immediately but eventually, you need to tackle the big issues. Resolving the issues can be challenging. There are six processes you can use to achieve a settlement:

1. Kitchen table: You negotiate an agreement on your own. You bring it to your lawyer who then creates the separation agreement. This process is for very amicable separations.

2. Mediation: You and your spouse work with a neutral mediator who helps you negotiate an agreement. You bring it to your lawyer who then creates a separation agreement.

3. Collaborative Process: This is a very effective process that keeps you and your spouse out of the clutches of the court system. The entire process is focused on settling the issues. This process works extremely well and is my favorite process. Even difficult issues can be resolved Collaboratively. It is cost effective and clients really love the results. There are a lot of advantages to this process.

4. Cooperative Process: You and your spouse each have a lawyer and you work together to resolve the issues.  This process can work effectively but runs the risk of leading to court (not good). Some times it can be cost effective if settlement is achieved but other times the costs can spiral out of control when you end up in court or arbitration. In Collaborative, court is not an option.

5. Arbitration: This process is similar to going to court except that you and your spouse choose the person who will be the judge (called the arbitrator). S/he has the same powers as a judge. The process is more expensive than the others (except court) and you give the power to resolve your family's issues to the arbitrator. Wouldn't you rather resolve them yourself?  

6. Family Court: Court is the most expensive process, takes the most time, is the least predictable and increases the conflict and animosity. Ultimately, a decision will be imposed on you by the judge.  Most clients are unhappy with the process and the results. Here is a full explanation of the court process in Ontario. We see Court as the last resort  so we only go when the other side just won't negotiate in good faith.

Once you have settled the issues by way of court or a separation agreement,, you can get a divorce. We do dozens of divorces for clients each year so we can do this for you. If you want to try to do yourself, here are the steps.

The first step: The first step involves completing an application for divorce (court papers). The application has to be issued by the court so that you have a court file number. The application is then served on your spouse. Assuming s/he does not contest it (if a separation agreement is in place, there is nothing to contest), then after 30 days you can file an affidavit for divorce (more prescribed court papers) asking the judge to issue the divorce. The file will then sit in the court house and wait for a judge to review it. At the time of writing this article, it is taking about 6 to 8 months to get a divorce because the court system is so backed up. Once the judge has reviewed and approved it, you are divorced. You can then get a certificate of divorce issued thirty days later.

When can you divorce? In Ontario, most people get a divorce on the basis of having been separated for one year. The date of separation is the date when one of you told the other that the relationship is over. This can occur prior to the actual physical separation. It is also possible to get a divorce on the basis of adultery or physical or psychological abuse.

One word of caution: A judge does not have the power to grant you a divorce unless there is proper child support being paid in accord with the Child Support Guidelines.

There are many reasons why people proceed with a divorce. Are you ready to seek a divorce?

Whew... now you are divorced... and you can try it again! Good luck. Second time is a charm! I know from personal experience! (See how happy I am now!!)

Financing Your Divorce Litigation

The New York TimesCan you afford to sue your ex for your share of the property in your divorce? 

There is an article in the The New York Times  about a new business in Hollywood that will finance your divorce in exchange for a piece of the settlement. It is intended for people with substantial assets but poor cash flow. This enables the cash-poor person to pursue their fair share of the property. 

I was at first shocked by this by why not? I don't think it will cause frivolous law suits. 

Computer Game for Children of Divorce: A Great Tool

There is a new website for kids whose parents are going through a divorce. It's called Changeville.  It teaches kids what happens when their parents separate in an entertaining, online way. The tour says "A walk through Changeville will tell you what to expect and help you deal with all the different feelings you might have and along the way there's all kinds of fun games and activities!"  

Legal words and how kids are looked after is explained on Legal Street. On Break Up Street, kids learn what can happen during the process when their parents are going through rough times. There also is a section where kids can create some art.

What a great tool for kids.

 

How Can We Help Our Children Emotionally Get Through Our Divorce?

Every parent going through a divorce wants to minimize the emotional pain and struggle for their children. The challenge is recognizing that your child  is suffering and then knowing what to do. Suzy Yehl Marta, an expert on children going through divorce, offers some advice.

Suzy, a divorced mother of three boys, gave up the security of her three jobs to do something she knew in her heart had to be done for our youth who were grieving a life-changing loss.  She established Rainbows, now the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated solely to helping families cope with loss. Over the last 27 years, Rainbows has served nearly 2.5 million youth throughout Canada, the United States and 17 countries. Suzy has conducted 100+ media interviews and her book, Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope, was published to help guide youth through times of divorce, death or crisis. For more information about Rainbows go to their Canadian website www.Rainbows.ca or the US site www.Rainbows.org

Suzy has answered some questions about how to support your children through your divorce. 

1. If a child’s performance at school begins to suffer, how can a parent best deal with this? How can it be prevented in the first place?

The school is a great resource for parents and too many are embarrassed to reach out and ask for help. Discussing the divorce with the child’s classroom teacher and school counselor will help create a safety net when a parent is not around. As a result, parents will be informed on how their child is doing academically and socially. Undoubtedly, your child will be hurting from the family changes and it will show up in school, but over time and with support, the child will incorporate the changes into their life. It is extremely helpful if kids have structured opportunities to talk with other kids who are experiencing the same changes in their families. A program like Rainbows offers support groups for kids in their communities at no cost to the family. 

2.  What are the main behavioral issues children going through a divorce may exhibit? How can these be identified quickly and be dealt with?

Denial, anger, confusion and fear are the main causes of behavioral issues. Each child has a different story and relationship with divorce and we can’t assume that each child will respond in a similar pattern. Behavioral issues can range from drop in grades, being alone more often, or withdrawing from friends, sports and activities that they were involved in earlier. Some kids do not want to sleep alone, they are clingy or their appetite might change. Teens and young adults with built-up grief might turn to drugs and alcohol to temporarily forget the reality of the divorce.  If these changes become extreme or long lasting, the parent is wise to seek out a counselor who understands grief and the impact of divorce on kids A parent must take the time to work through their own grief, but also make sure that their children have a program to turn to like Rainbows, where support and love is still given. Compassion and willingness to make time for a child are the two most critical elements of helping a grieving child. The divorce of one’s parents is woven into each child’s personal history. While the divorce may be the best decision for the health of the family, it takes a long time for the children to recover. Parents need to have patience and understand that divorce impacts their children twice as much as their mom and dad. When the divorce takes place, not only does one parent move out, but both parents change and often remarry which creates even more change for the kids.

3. Other insights/advice on the subject?

Each parent has the power to add to their children’s lives and can help them develop into the best adults possible. As a parent, no matter what the situation is, it is critical to be dependable; children will begin to feel comfortable enough to talk to a parent about the most important decisions. Life will never be perfect and there many things that parents can’t predict or control, but that does not mean that a parent cannot instill a wonderful life for their child. Spending quiet time with each child every day will continue to make the relationship stronger. The parent should listen without judgment, letting the child feel the care

4.  How can a parent help his/her child’s best friend during a divorce?

The best way to help a child’s best friend is through compassion for the family. All too often, divorcing parents and their kids are shunned. Reaching out to the parents and offering assistance helps them realize they are not alone. Also, inviting the little friend over to spend time with your child and family from time to time can give the parents alone time to process their own grief, while taking stress away from the child. If the relationship with the child is close, asking how they are doing or setting time aside to listen is appropriate. What the child usually needs is the continued friendship of your son or daughter, a fun place to hang out, and perhaps an adult they can trust and turn to if the need arises.

Thanks so much to Suzy for her insight and thoughts. I fully support the work of Rainbows and in fact I am presently serving on the Board of Directors of Rainbows Canada. All children whose children are divorcing can benefit from Rainbows.

Continue Reading...

Break Ups According to FaceBook

 There is an interesting article in Mashable Social Media. It quotes David McCandless's research as to when people break up according to their status changes on FaceBook. Apparently Mr. McCandless looked at the status changes of over 10,000 people who claimed a break up or separation. It is a  very interesting article. Here are the results graphically: 

 

 

Mondays are popular. Christmas Day is not. Generally break ups occur just before major holidays. It looks like April Fool's Day is a popular day to end relationships. Even Valentine's Day sees many break ups. Interesting research. 

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Why Is the Date of Separation Important?

Do you remember the day you separated? How did it happen? Was a note left or an email sent to say it's over? Maybe a text? Maybe it was a screaming match? Maybe it was just a sad mutual realization that your marriage was over?

Regardless of how it happens, the date of separation is a painful memory, whether you are the one leaving or the one being left. 

I remember my "date of separation". It was over seven years ago but the memory of that day remains vivid in my heart and mind today. Each year, when the anniversary of it comes around, I cannot help but think of how dramatically my life changed since the date of my separation. 

From a lawyer's perspective, we need to know the date of separation for three main reasons. This first reason is we use it to determine the equalization of property. Here is an article about the equalization process.  Secondly, you can obtain a divorce one year after your separation. The clock starts ticking from the date of separation. Lastly, if support is owed, it likely will begin from the date of separation. 

You can still be living under the same roof but considered separated so determining the date of separation can sometimes be difficult. 

Property Issues

Some times the date of separation can have a huge impact on the equalization of property. I remember one client who had some shares in a business. If he used one date, he would owe his wife about $10,000 related to the value of his shares. If he used a date three months later, he would have to give her $30,000, because the value of the shares had rapidly increased over that three month period. 

The reverse is sometimes true. You might prefer an earlier date because the value of your spouse's asset was much higher than it is at a future date. This certainly has been the case recently with some businesses and real estate investments that have been dropping in value. 

The value of jointly owned assets is less relevant because any increase in value or decrease in value from the date of separation is shared. 

Divorce

Although it is possible to get a divorce on the basis of adultery or physical/emotional abuse, the vast majority of people seek a divorce simply on the basis of a one year separation. It is easy and does not involve any blame. 

Support

The date of separation is relevant to support issues too. Support is owed from the date of separation unless there are other payments being made in lieu of direct support payments. 

Here is an article about child support and another one about spousal support

Determining the Date of Separation

If there is some ambiguity about the true "date of separation", the law says you should look at the circumstances of the parties. For example, when did one of the parties communicate their intention to end the marriage to the other; when did the parties start to hold themselves out to family and friends as being separated; when were finances separated; when did sexual relations stop; when were chores were no longer shared; when did the parties physically separate (two beds or two homes); when did the parties stop doing social activities together such as eating meals together or attending events together. This is not an exhaustive list but gives you an idea of the factors taken into consideration.  You don't have to have all of these factors to say there has been a separation. It just depends. 

If you are not sure which date to use, consider whether it will impact the bottom line. Maybe compromising on the date is better than fighting over it if the impact is fairly small. 

Regardless of what date is called the Date of Separation for the property and support issues, no doubt there will be a day you will always remember as the day you knew your marriage was truly over. Perhaps that is the "emotional date of separation". That date is important because it marks the beginning of the healing process. It is the first day of the rest of your new life. 

What is the divorce rate anyway?

How often has someone said to you "Isn't it amazing how many people are getting divorced these days? The divorce rate sure is rising!"

As a divorce lawyer, I get the comment all the time but frankly until recently I did not have a clear picture of the trends and actual divorce statistics. Now I do, thanks to Dr. Anne-Marie Ambert of York University. She wrote an excellent article for the Vanier Institute of the Family called "Divorce: Facts, Causes and Consequences". I recommend you read her full article for her insights and the details. 

Here are just some of the facts from her article. These statistics are generally about the Canadian experience unless stated otherwise. 

 

Percentage of all relationships (married & common law) that end in separation 50%
Percentage of marriages ending in divorce before 30th anniversary in Canada 38.3%
Percentage of marriages ending in divorce before 30th anniversary in USA 44.0%
Rate of divorce for first marriages 30%
Province with highest divorce rate Quebec
Province with lowest divorce rate NL
Average length of marriage 14.2 years
Average age of men who divorce 43 years
Average age of women who divorce 40.5 years
Divorces per 100,000 population in 1921 6.4
Divorces per 100,000 population in 1987 (peak year) 362.3
Divorces per 100,000 population in 2003 224.0
Rate per 1,000 population in 2003 in Russia 5.30
Rate per 1,000 population in 2003 in USA 4.30
Rate per 1,000 population in 2003 in Canada 2.23
Rate per 1,000 population in 2003 in Mexico 0.56
Percentage of men with custody of children 11%
Percentage of women with custody of children 47%
Percentage of parents with joint custody 42%
Percentage of divorced men who remarry 70%
Percentage of divorced women who remarry 58%
Percentage of common law relationships that end in separation within 3 years 50+%

 

 

 

Should You Retain an Aggressive Lawyer for Your Barrie Divorce?

One of the questions I am often asked by people who are seeing me for an initial consultation, particularly if their matter involves litigation, is “are you aggressive?” to which I always respond “No.”

When people are involved in family court litigation their greatest fear is that the lawyer who represents their spouse will succeed at intimidating their lawyer, or outshining their lawyer in front of the judge, and this will lead to an unfair result for them.  While this fear is very understandable, it is a mistake to conclude that an “aggressive” lawyer is necessarily a good lawyer and that hiring an “aggressive” lawyer to represent you in court will necessarily lead to a better result for you.

A lawyer’s job is to provide you with information and advice about the law that governs your family law matter and the court procedure, to present your case to the judge accurately so that the judge can either give you suggestions regarding how to move your matter forward or make a determination on an interim or final basis and, most importantly, to assist you in negotiating a settlement with your ex spouse.

Most cases involving litigation are settled prior to any judicial determination having been made. Only about 2% of matters involving family law proceed to a trial. This is largely because a lot of emphasis is being placed by our family court judges on settling matters, rather than having a judge make the decision for you. The “Family Law Rules” that govern the procedure in family court also heavily emphasize settlement of issues prior to trial. Because of these rules you are required to have a Case Conference before you can bring a contested motion before the court. One of the main goals of your Case Conference is to discuss options for settlement of your matter before you proceed further and incur more costs.

Once you have had a Case Conference, you can proceed to bring a motion to seek interim relief such as an interim order for child support, an interim order for spousal support, an interim order for custody and an interim order for access. However this is not as simple as it appears on the face of it, as the family motions court in many jurisdictions is overwhelmed with litigants, many of whom are unrepresented. As a result, the judge may not even be able to hear your case on the date that you scheduled your motion for, and may make you come back another day after having waited all day to be heard. This is not an uncommon experience in Barrie where I practice.

After your Case Conference, the next required step is a Settlement Conference where a judge once again will give you suggestions on how to settle your case. If you cannot settle at the Settlement Conference the judge will schedule a Trial Management Conference. At the Trial Management Conference there is usually another attempt to settle the case. If the case does not settle, the judge will make a Trial Management Endorsement which lays out all of the steps for each party in preparing for trial and sets time lines for serving and filing your materials for trial. There is then a trial scheduling court when you would be scheduled to be heard during a specific “trial sitting”. However, there is no guarantee that your trial will be heard during those sittings, as matters are often not reached and are adjourned to the next trial sittings. It can easily take up to two years from the date the litigation commences for your trial to be heard.

At every step in the proceedings you will likely be encouraged by the judge to settle your matter prior to returning to court. There are many ways of negotiating a settlement of your family law issues, even when you are involved in litigation with your spouse. You can still attend mediation, have four way meetings with your lawyers and negotiate at court prior to and after having seen the judge. There have even been some cases that I have had where the parties have agreed to put the litigation on hold and have signed a collaborative agreement that they will attempt to resolve their matter out of court.

There are many advantages to negotiating a settlement rather than allowing a judge to make a decision for you. These advantages include, but are not limited to the following:

a)      Costs- the cost of litigation, if you have a lawyer of record, is prohibitive. This is mainly due to the time spent waiting with your lawyer to be heard. Each day in court can cost you as much as $2,000 to $3,000. By settling your matter early on in the proceedings, you are potentially saving yourself thousands of dollars in future legal costs.

b)      Dissipating conflict- it is widely known that conflict between parents can have very adverse effects on their children. Litigation, particularly contested litigation, has a tendency to inflame conflict between the parties as things are said in court documents about the other person  that are very hurtful. The children can feel this tension between their parents and it affects their sense of security and stability. Sadly, some parents use litigation to alienate their children from the other parent and this can have devastating effects on the children’s future development. As an old African proverb states- when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers. Similarly when parents fight, it is their children that suffer most from the conflict.

c)       Having more control over your life- it is a mystery to me why anyone would ask a complete stranger, i.e. the judge, to decide for them what will happen to their children, their finances, their property, etc… No matter how good your lawyer is at presenting your case, the judge has very little information before them from which they can make these decisions and often there is a lot of conflicting evidence that they have to weigh in making a decision. Some people think that the judge will punish their spouse for their bad behavior (eg. Having had an affair and abandoned their family). This never happens as the judge’s role is not to assign fault for the marriage breakdown. They are simply trying to put each party on a relatively equal footing as they start their new life and to ensure that children are properly cared for.

Very often, the result of the litigation is very predictable and a lawyer with experience in family law can give you an idea fairly early on about what will likely happen if you went to trial. If you are wise you will heed their advice and settle on this basis.

The danger of hiring an “aggressive” lawyer is that that lawyer will take control of the litigation and keep it going when it would actually be in your best interest to settle the case. You should always be doing a cost-benefit analysis for yourself to determine whether pursuing the litigation may end up costing you more than settling the litigation. Also, keep in mind that there are other costs to litigation that are not pecuniary in nature such as the stress that it causes for you and your children and the time that it takes away from your other activities. 

Should Equal Parenting Time be Presumed?

 Hilary Linton, LL.B., LL.M. (ADR), Acc. FM.Hilary Linton is a well respected mediator, trainer and lawyer in Ontario. She writes a provocative blog about whether there should be a presumption of 50/50 in custody cases. I have reproduced her blog for you below. The Riverdale Mediation Blog always is an interesting read. 

In response to Hilary's blog below, I feel the movement toward a presumption of 50/50 in custody cases is in response to the traditional, unspoken presumption held by some traditional judges that mothers are best suited to care for children.  Of course a true "best interests" test would be best but unfortunately it seems the pendulum is, once again, moving in the opposite direction.  Thanks Hillary for your excellent, thought-provoking blog.  

Here is Hillary's blog. 

Should equal parenting time be presumed?

The always-hot topic of post-divorce parenting time is once again in the news.

The Canadian Bar Association is speaking out against a Conservative bill that seeks to make 50-50 time sharing for children of divorce the norm.

Such a presumption, of course, puts the rights of parents ahead of the best interests of their children, but is hard to get the advocates of such legislation to understand this.

Without question, a 50-50 time sharing arrangement is often best for the child. But not so in all cases. The only way to arrive at the best possible plan for each child is to look at all the circumstances, in each separate case, of both parents and the child and tailor the parenting plan to meet that child’s needs.

To legislate any particular parenting plan as the presumptive norm would eliminate the “what is in the best interests of this child” analysis. And that would put children at risk of not having their needs met.

There are many cases where a 50-50 is not the best for the child. This does not make one parent better than the other. Nor does it mean the child will be estranged or alienated from the parent who is less involved in the day to day upbringing. Research is clear that a child’s bond with his or her parent is determined more by the quality of the time spent together than by the amount of time.

To presume that it will always be in the child’s best interests to live equally with each parent could seriously jeopardize the stability and well being of a child, especially a young one, who has formed different kinds of attachments to the parents. A presumption of a 50-50 arrangement ignores the possibility that what will be best for the child is a gradual change to allow the child to develop the kinds of safe attachments necessary to be parented differently from what the child has grown accustomed to.

It is unfair to the child that the onus of proving that any particular arrangement is NOT in the child’s best interests should fall on the parent who may in fact understand the child better but not have the resources to fight a legal battle. That is why mediation is almost always the best way for parents to determine, together, what will be in their child’s best interests.

The system is not broken. The “best interests of the child” test is the only one necessary and it works. Leave it be.

Sudden Divorce Syndrome: Reality or Myth?

Sudden Divorce Syndrome: If you are shocked that your spouse wants a divorce after many years of marriage, you may be a victim of SDS. Chip Hues and Donna Ferber debate the topic in Chip's excellent blog called Ohio Family Law Blog Chip has permitted me to reproduce his blog below for your reading pleasure. It's worth a read. Thanks Chip! 

I am pleased that Donna Ferber, a psychotherapist and a frequent contributor to the Ohio Family Law Blog has agreed to co-author this article with me! Our goal is to present both the legal and emotional perspectives of a trend that we are seeing in our professional practices: long term marriages ending by divorce when the wife has come to the conclusion that she has just “had enough” and that the husband is seemingly caught “blindsided” by the situation. The intent of the article is not a male versus female point and counterpoint, but rather a collaborative discourse that can provide insight into the complexity of the issues.

My legal analysis is in regular black font and Donna’s perspective as a psychotherapist is in blue italics

Having been a divorce lawyer for over 30 years, I see recurring themes in many of my cases.  Statistics show that there will be about a million divorces in the United States this year.  About 75% are filed by women.  More of my male clients are telling me that they are completely “blind-sided” by the divorce situation.  These are individuals in long-term marriages who have honored their wedding vows, are not abusers, and had not been separated.  This scenario is becoming so common that some lawyers and psychologists have given it a name: “Sudden Divorce Syndrome.”

 

While it is true that women may file more often than men, it does not necessarily follow that they WANT a divorce. They simply have surrendered the hope that the marital relationship can change. It is only after years of feeling ignored, devalued, invisible and unheard, do women finally pull the plug and file for divorce. The term, “Sudden Divorce Syndrome,” implies that women throw out their marriage as impulsively as they change shoes. A man may be shocked by the news that his wife wants “out” but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t given plenty of warning. It usually means he wasn’t listening. “Sudden Divorce Syndrome” assumes impulsive behavior on the part of the woman. Nothing is further from the truth.  Perhaps a better term would be “Shocked Divorce Syndrome.” That certainly is an accurate description of these men who find themselves blindsided.

 

I have represented both the man and woman in these situations.  Here are my impressions of what I am seeing.  Men and women think and react very differently.  Often, the woman will monitor the relationship for a period, and will by nature attempt to fix it.  The man may perceive this as nagging or complaining.  The man then may become more distant and withdrawn.  As time passes, without counseling, neither party is happy and their needs become unmet.  The wife may suppress her feelings for a period in hopes that the situation will change.  Ultimately, the wife concludes that her only choice for happiness is to separate and to file for divorce.  The man is caught unaware of the situation, and even if he offers to change, he has missed that opportunity.  The woman says that she has become tired of “talking to the wall.”  When I inquire of her what is wrong she will answer, “Everything.”

 

As a psychotherapist in private practice for 25 years I see this happen with regularity. The struggle and ambivalence women experience about leaving their marriage cannot be overstated. And often they struggle for a really long time. When I ask women “how long have you been unhappy?” I find that most respond with a time line that represents roughly half the life of the marriage. In other words, a woman who is married for 20 years will often say she has been unhappy for 10 years. Again, there is nothing sudden about these decisions. Women don’t leave on a whim. On the contrary, many of them stay too long.

 

Prior to seeking a divorce, they frequently show up in my office on the referral of their family physician. They have headaches, digestive problems, insomnia, depression or anxiety. These can be symptoms of living in an untenable relationship for years. These physical ailments are manifestations of what happens when we live our lives in a way that goes against our value system. It puts us “ill at ease” or in “dis-ease” and when we make change to remedy the situation, these ailments often abate. I have heard countless women exclaim, “I had no idea how much stress I was living with, until I ended my marriage.”

According to an article, Sudden Divorce Syndrome, written by John Sedgwick in BestLife Magazine, one in four men who were divorced in the previous year said they “never saw it coming. These statistics are supported by an AARP poll.  Only 14 percent of divorced women said they experienced the same unexpected shock. Dr Lori Buckley says, “The warning signs are usually there, but the male mind is simply not very adept at recognizing them.  When women make up their mind that the relationship is over, they stop talking about the relationship.  Men interpret a woman’s lack of complaining as satisfaction.  But more often, it’s because she’s simply given up.”  And just because a man has been married for a long time and has been a good financial provider, there is no reason to assume all is well.  That is exactly when divorce statistics swell.  Many women, as they approach age 40, believe it’s now or never for getting their life back on track.  It’s the same phenomenon as older wealthy men trading in their long-time partners for trophy wives, only it’s the women who are dropping their men. To read more of Mr. Sedgwick’s opinions on this topic and how he believes that men pay a premium in emotional cost in divorce, click here.

 

I can’t agree more that men interpret a lack of complaining as satisfaction. However, if we examine those statistics they are, in fact, not very different. One in four is actually 25% which is not so dramatically different than 14%! In truth, women are as likely to overlook their husband’s dissatisfaction. Frequently men feel ignored and replaced by their wife’s dedication to children. The women is then blindsided when the man decides to divorce or she discovers an affair. Men and women often take each other for granted, minimize problems, over focus on career, money issues or child- rearing. It is well documented and obvious to the casual observer that most couples spend more time watching television or on the internet than engaging in dialogue. Both sexes hold responsibility for this lapse in connection.

Dr. Ned Hostein, MD., a Harvard-trained public health specialist and the Board Chairman of Fathers and Families, explains that there is a physical toll from divorce brought on by excess stress.  He notes: “The top 5 causes of human stress are: 1) the death of a child 2) the loss of a spouse 3) the loss of a home 4) serious financial woes and 5) losing a relationship with a child…Four of these five are involved when someone goes through a divorce…  According to a study done by the American Journal of Psychiatry, blood pressure and cholesterol levels rise and the risk of heart disease and coronary failure increases sharply.  Other problems associated with Sudden Divorce Syndrome include diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver, in part because distraught people may turn to unhealthy behaviors, like drinking, after a break up.  Statistically, divorced men are nine times more likely to commit suicide than divorced women!”

 

I question the above statistics. If Sudden Divorce Syndrome is not even a recognized diagnosis then how can we attribute diabetes or cirrhosis to its existence? Diabetes is clearly related to obesity and poor diet choices and cirrhosis often occurs after years of abusing alcohol.

I also would like to provide another resource regarding life stressors. According to Answers.com

, the top 10 stress situations are:

 

Death of spouse
Divorce
Marital separation
Jail term or death of close family member
Personal injury or illness
Marriage
Loss of job due to termination
Marital reconciliation or retirement
Pregnancy
Change in financial state

 

 

While divorce is stressful, I think we do a disservice to all involved when we skew the information. All parties feel badly enough without frightening them with distorted statistics. Furthermore, if you look at the above list, you will see that stress also results from “happy” occasions. Stress is a part of life. We cannot avoid it, but we can learn to deal with it in healthier ways. Excess food and abuse of alcohol are examples of unhealthy coping choices.  Let’s be clear- people have choices in their behavior. It is not a foregone conclusion that everyone who divorces gets cirrhosis or diabetes! Let’s not paint pictures of victims of divorce. Let’s encourage healthy choices and support empowerment and resilience.

Typically, the husband will often believe it is fundamentally unfair that the wife should receive half their married property and retirement account, and often spousal support.  His entire plan for “enjoying retirement” is dramatically altered.  These cases are very difficult for the abandoned spouse.

 

Each partner actually experiences two divorces. One is the legal divorce and the other is the emotional divorce. While the couple experience the legal divorce on the same time line, the emotional divorce happens on individual time lines. So, the woman who says” I am done” is emotionally divorced before she begins the legal process.  She may present as logical, cool and “all business”. Her husband may see her as unfeeling and heartless.  Her detachment indicates she is emotionally divorced. He may, on the other hand, not even have begun to work on the emotional process of divorce. I have seen this in reverse as well. The man has emotionally “moved on” and the woman doesn’t know what has hit her. The chasm created by the gap in their emotional process can often play out in the legal area. In short, the further apart a couple is in their emotional uncoupling process, the more likely an acrimonious legal divorce

The best advice I can offer is to seek the services of an excellent marriage counselor as early as possible if you have any suspicion that your spouse has become disenchanted or withdrawn.  Discuss it candidly, and with professional help you may be able to work through the issue. If your wife is bringing up the same recurring marital issues, you had better pay attention. And my advice to men is to stop living in a fantasy world.  The complaints may or may not be valid, however they are real to your wife, and you’re going to have some major problems if you ignore them. Don’t wait until the process server slaps a divorce complaint in your hand!

 

Over the years in my practice I have heard “Marriage counseling doesn’t work”. The problem is not that it doesn’t work, but that marriage therapy is not a miracle cure. If you have physical symptoms, the sooner you seek medical help, the less drastic, prolonged, painful and costly your treatment will be. The same is true for a marriage showing symptoms of distress. The sooner you address the problem, the more likely the marriage can be saved. One final piece of advice, if your partner says he/she is having a problem, just because you don’t think there is a problem, doesn’t mean you should ignore the situation. In a marriage if one person is unhappy, then something is wrong and help from a professional should be sought out as soon as possible. Don’t wait until you are dragging the corpse of your marriage into a therapist’s office.

 

Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, is a licensed psychotherapist in Connecticut and the author of From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce, which won an Honorable Mention Award by the Independent Publishers Association. To read more about the author and her work, please visit www.donnaferber.com

 

 

Attorney Robert L. Mues is the author of "Divorce in Ohio", featured in "Who's Who in American Law", and is also the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues.

 

 

 

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. 

Do You Really Need a Divorce Lawyer?

Many people who are separating want to avoid paying legal fees as they feel they cannot afford a lawyer. While it is very understandable that people feel this way, as lawyers generally bill at a high hourly rate, there are some very good reasons why you should at the very least consult a lawyer if you are going through a divorce. Not doing so could potentially cost you a lot more than the legal cost you will incur in consulting or retaining a lawyer to assist you with your separation.

When clients come see me for an initial consultation they tell me that their “friends” have told them various things that have sent them into panic mode. Very often the information that they have obtained from their “friends” is inaccurate or has been exaggerated or twisted in some way. Some of the common “myths” that I hear almost on a daily basis are as follows:

  • If parents have joint custody of children then neither parent pays child support;
  • If a spouse leaves the matrimonial home he/she will lose all of their rights to the home;
  • If a parent is an “access parent” they do not have the right to information about a child from schools, doctors, etc…
  • Common law partners share property in the same way as married people;
  • People are considered “common law” for family law purposes after only one year of living together;
  • All people have to do to “equalize” their property is to share their assets equally when they separate.

All of the above statements are inaccurate and misleading. If someone was to follow this advice it could leave them in a position where they enter into an unenforceable separation agreement with their spouse, only to end up in court several years later and having to start from square one.

I always encourage people to settle the issues arising from their separation as expeditiously as possible and to minimize the involvement of lawyers if they want to keep the costs to a minimum. That being said, in order to have a valid and enforceable separation agreement, you need to first understand how the law applies to your family’s situation. You also always need to exchange full and frank financial disclosure of your income and all assets and debts as of marriage and as of the date of separation as any agreement done without disclosure is liable to be overturned by a court if it is ever challenged at a later date. I have even seen agreements overturned at the request of the party who drafted the agreement on the basis that there was insufficient financial disclosure exchanged at the time of the drafting of the agreement !

It is also wise to obtain “Independent Legal Advice” and to have a certificate attached to your agreement to verify that legal advice was obtained. It is also important for your spouse to have independent legal advice. This way, neither party can later argue that they were not aware of their legal rights when they signed the agreement. Another advantage of having independent legal advice is that if the lawyer has failed to properly advise you about your legal rights and responsibilities or the agreement is poorly drafted, and you have economic damages as a result of the lawyer’s failure to give adequate legal advice, you can sue the lawyer and obtain compensation from the lawyer’s professional insurer. This is very similar to “title insurance” in that it your agreement is in effect insured if you have a lawyer review it and give you independent legal advice.

If you want to minimize your costs, try negotiating an agreement “in principle” with your spouse either directly, or through mediation and get a lawyer to draft up an agreement based on your agreement in principle. There is also the “collaborative practice” model where you come to an agreement by meeting with your lawyers in four way meetings without going to court which is usually far less expensive and more efficient than litigation.

If you want to save money,  going to court should always be a last resort. Going to court with a lawyer is especially expensive because so much time is spent waiting outside the court room to be seen by a judge. On occasion people go to court, spend the entire day waiting to be heard and are told at the end of the day to come back another day as the judge has run out of time to hear their matter. If you have a lawyer with you waiting, you may have already spent up to $2,500.00 waiting for nothing just for that one day.

Many people at court are unrepresented (as much as 60% of the litigants). These people find themselves waiting hours to meet with duty counsel who can only assist them if they are “financially eligible”. The test they use to determine eligibility is a stringent one and is meant to limit the service to those who are truly below the poverty line. People who have a full time job are most often not eligible. Trying to understand the court process without legal advice can be incredibly frustrating as there are a myriad of court forms and procedures that you need to know in order to be prepared for court. If you do not come prepared, the judge could simply refuse to hear your case or may not have the facts s/he needs to make a proper decision or to direct your matter properly.

The bottom line is that it pays to spend a few dollars to have a consultation with a lawyer before you make any decisions regarding your separation and divorce and to retain a lawyer to draft an agreement or give you independent legal advice. That way, you may only have to do it once and can likely avoid the terrible experience of having to go to family court only to end up with the same result.

How to Change Child Support in Barrie, Ontario

child supportIn Ontario, child support can be changed if there is a change in circumstances such as a change in income or a change in residence of the children. Here are the steps. 

The first step is to determine the payor's income. (The "payor" is the person who has the children less than 40% of the time and is paying child support.) For employees, use line 150 of the income tax return. If they have recently changed jobs or your income has changed, you have to use the actual present income.

If the children are with each parent more than 40%, different rules apply. This is called "Shared Custody". Here is an article that explains the process. 

If the payor is self-employed, determining her or his income can be more complicated. Here is an article for you.

If you have  "Split Custody", child support is calculated differently. "Split Custody" means that each parent has one or more children residing primarily with them. For example, Dad and Mom have three children. Frankie and Tommy live primarily with Dad and see Mom every second weekend whereas Suzy lives primarily with Mom and sees Dad every second weekend.  

Here is how you calculate child support if you have split custody . 

If the children are with one parent more than 40% of the time, then the other parent pays according to the Child Support Guidelines. It is a grid that prescribes the amount of support to be paid.

To look up the amount of child support according to the Guidelines, go here.  

When you look it up, you  have to ensure you are using the correct grid for the province where the payor lives, the payor's income and the number of children. It's pretty easy to look up.

In addition to the base amount of child support according to the grid, if your children have "extraordinary" costs related to extra curricular activities, these costs are shared in proportion to the gross annual income of the parents.

For example, if your child is on an elite competitive swim team, competing in swim meets across the province and receiving coaching, the costs of this sport will be shared but if your child is just taking some swim lessons at the YMCA, the costs are not shared. The recipient of child support is to pay the costs of the swim lessons from the child support.

In addition, the cost of medical expenses, the after-tax cost of daycare, summer camps and post secondary education costs are among the costs shared. There are other costs that are considered "extraordinary" and are shared.

Once you have determined the amount of child support, you can change the existing agreement by consent. If you can't reach an agreement, you may have to go to Court.

You are wise to speak to a lawyer to ensure you do the variation correctly. You can do either a Variation of Separation Agreement or a Variation of a Court Order. If is it not done correctly, it won't be legally enforceable. It is easy to do it with a little help from a lawyer. 

If you have to go to Court, we can help. We frequently meet with clients and help them create all of the legal documents necessary to do a variation. It usually takes our lawyers about two hours to complete all of the documentation. Clients tell us this is a very good investment.

A lawyer can represent you in Court if you wish. Of course, having a lawyer at your side is best but it is costly. You have to weigh the costs versus the benefits.

In some cases, you can retroactively adjust child support. Generally, the Court will go back 3 years depending on the circumstances.

Much of family law is "shades of gray". Child support is more straight forward than many areas of the law. It really is not an issue that needs a judge to determine. With some legal advice, you should be able to resolve the amount of child support by agreement. If you are unsure, meet with a lawyer and get some advice.

Winners of the Virgian Collaborative Professionals Divorce Video Contest

The following is a hilarious video about  the Collaborative Team Process. I love it. This video is more entertainment than informative but a refreshing change from the usual "talking heads". Well done. It is the winning video from the Virginia Collaborative Professionals video contest. It is a real inspiration. Congratulations!

 

This next video received an Honorable Mention. It has a story line and appeals to the emotions of the viewer. Another great video. Congratulations!

 

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 

 

"It's Complicated" - An Interesting Divorce Movie

Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin star in "It's Complicated". I thought it was a comedy but discovered it was much more.

Here is the trailer....

 

Meryl Streep's character is a middle-aged divorced woman who falls for her ex-husband, played by Alec Baldwin, ten years after having divorced him. She has three adult children who are caught in the middle, again. Steve Martin's character is recently divorced and pursues Meryl romantically. It sounds comical, and there were moments that made me laugh, but the profound moments outnumbered the giddy ones.

The lasting message I took from this movie is that sometimes you can't completely find closure after a divorce, even after ten years. Divorce is like a death in the family except you keep bumping into the other person, reminding you of the possibilities, the guilt and the consequences of the divorce on your kids. A negative feeling lingers on long after the dust has settled.

Although Alec Baldwin's character had an affair, Meryl Streep's character realized that she had made mistakes contributing to the end of their marriage too. Both characters regretted their mistakes, acknowledged their magnetic attraction to each other and their desire to make right those things that went wrong ten years earlier. It was poignant, thought provoking and interesting.

If you are looking for a laugh, don't watch this movie. If you are willing to look at the challenges of life after divorce with children, watch this movie. You will soon understand why it is called "It's Complicated."

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! 

 

Should Step-Mom Sandra Bullock Start a Court Battle for Custody or Consider a Collaborative Lawyer?

Have you ever believed that Hollywood stars live charmed lives? They seem so powerful, beautiful, rich, and confident. Yet, Academy Awardreal pain and disappointment can creep into their lives - just like it does in our lives. They have choices to make, just like you and me.

Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock must have felt thrilled when she won an Oscar for her performance in the blockbuster "The Blindside". Yet, within a couple of weeks of her big win, her husband admitted to acts of infidelity.

Wow! Can you imagine the impact; she went from being on top of the world to the depths of despair all within a few days. But that's life. Whether you are a Hollywood or just regular guy or gal.

The question for Sandra Bullock is whether she will be able to maintain a relationship with her husband's children. According to a story in Jeffrey Cottrill's blog at the Divorce Magazine website, Sandra relished her relationship with Jesse James' three children. She was especially close to his six year old daughter Sunny.

Micheal in Niren and Associates Blog explains what would happen if Bullock and James were living in Ontario and Sandra Bullock sought an order for custody of Sunny in Court here:

If Bullock and James were Ontario residents and Bullock requested custody of Sunny,  the courts would look at whether Bullock provided financially for the child, the nature of their relationship and whether Bullock had maintained in both private and public life that she was Sunny’s parent and acted in such a manner. After determining whether Bullock was indeed a parent to Sunny, the courts would have to look at other factors to determine how custody between Bullock and James would play out. His behavior may not make him an unfit parent by default, but it may be considered if it hurt Sunny in any way or affected his ability to act as a parent.

Both Bullock and James would then have to make their case as to their relationship with the child, their willingness to raise and take care of the child and how they plan to do so, the stability of their homes and other factors. Blood relations are also considered, as is the choice of the child herself.

Frankly, the outcome is difficult to predict. Biological parents are generally preferred over step- parents but if the Court believed it was in Sunny's best interests that Bullock have custody, it is possible she would win. Surprisingly, Sunny's biological mother is rumoured to be willing to support Bullock if she starts a court battle.

Court is a battle. As a former litigator, I remember I was either "chucking or ducking". Chucking mud at the other side or trying to duck from the lobs coming my way. Everyone hated Court. The animosity between the parents usually escalated and in the end often the parents could not even imagine parenting cooperatively . It was a mess. The biggest loser was the childreTug of Warn. Kids suffer when their parents are fighting whether face-to-face or through lawyers in Court.

Mr. Justice Harvey Brownstone, is in his stunningly brilliant book entitled "Tug of War: A Judge's Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles, and The Bitter Realities of Family Court", strongly attacks the court system declaring it should be the place of last resort to resolve custody and access issues... and this is from a judge who has been presiding over family law cases for over 14 years. 

Justice Brownstone asks in his book "how can two parents who love their child allow a total stranger to make crucial decisions about their child's living arrangements, health, education, extracurricular activities, vacation time, and degree of contact with each parent?"

If Bullock and James take their case to Court with traditional lawyers, it will be a huge mess. It will take months or even years to resolve. Can you imagine the turmoil, pain and grief for their little girl? She will be in the spotlight for months as the matter creeps through the court system. Her biological mother, a former Penthouse model, is presently in jail for tax evasion. What a start to life for little Sunny. Fighting. Pain. Anger. Jail. Court. Ugh.

If Sandra Bullock came to me, I would recommend the Collaborative Team Process.

Mr. Justice Brownstone describes the Collaborative process in his book as follows:

In the Collaborative family law process, the parents and their lawyers work together as members of a settlement team, rather than working against each other as opposing parties....The parents learn to focus on their common interests, understand each others perspective and concerns, exchange information, treat each other with respect, and explore the widest possible range of choices.

I would represent Ms Bullock's interests and Jesse James would retain his own Collaboratively trained lawyer. We would find a Divorce Coach for them who would help both parties work through the huge emotional issues related to the end of their marriage.

I would want Bullock to work through her emotional issues with the Divorce Coach so they won't create an impediment to the resolution of the parenting issues. Many times anger about an affair fuels a fight about the children in court. I would not want that for my client.

Bullock and James would then jointly retain a Parenting Coach who is a social worker with special training in the needs of children going through a divorce. The Parenting Coach would probably meet with Sunny to get to know her needs and meet with Bullock and James together and separately. The Divorce Coach would then discuss resolution of the parenting issues with the parties, sharing the recent researcpuzzle piecesh into the best interests of children in these situations. The negotiations would be difficult, no doubt, but they would be future-oriented, respectful, private and all about finding the best solution for Sunny's future. As in most Collaborative cases, I would expect we would achieve a negotiated settlement.

If there is some aspect of the parenting arrangements that Bullock and James cannot reach agreement on, we would jointly retain someone to act as an arbitrator who would resolve the issue. The arbitrator's decision would be final and binding - just like a court order. No need to go to Court for difficult issues.

The Collaborative Team Practice process has many bumps in the road to settlement but eventually, like in most cases, Bullock and James would work out an agreement that they craft. It wouldn't be decided by a stranger (a judge) but rather by the clients with the help of their team of professionals. It would be a resolution that meets both party's core concerns. The cost would be less than if they went to court and the resolution would likely be achieved faster.

What do you think Sunny would prefer happen: a huge bloody, drawn out, public court battle or a private, respectful Collaborative settlement?

I think Sunny would be proud of her parents if they were able to negotiate an agreement for her sake so if you are speaking to Sandra Bullock... give her my number. I am here to help.

Barrie Divorce Lawyer Explains Parental Alienation

parents stretch childWHAT IS PARENTAL ALIENATION AND WHY IS IT SO BAD?

There is an old African proverb that states “when two elephants fight it is the grass under their feet that suffers”. Similarly, when parents fight over custody and access of their children after a separation it is the children that suffer. In many cases the parents are not even aware of the effect that their custody battle is having on their children and they do not intend to hurt their children. Nevertheless, research shows that children who have lived through a high conflict divorce have a greater tendency to develop mental health issues, addiction issues, are less likely to obtain a post secondary education and have a whole host of other social problems that develop later on in their lives as a result of their negative experience.

In some of the more extreme high conflict custody cases, a dynamic develops whereby one of the parents sets out to sever the children’s ties to the other parent. The American psychiatrist who first coined the phrase “parental alienation” described it as, “a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.”

Some of the symptoms of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) which will be added as a diagnosis under the DSM in 2010, are as follows:

The alienated child:

·         Sees one parent as all good and other parent as all bad;

·         Appears to really hate “bad parent” and hates their family and even their pets

·         Feels no guilt about hating parent or treating him/her badly

·         When they talk about alienated parent appear to be putting on a show – affect does not match their words

·         Worries about non alienated parent and is protective of them

·         Blames alienated parent for the divorce

The alienating parent:

·         Allows child to make decisions regarding access

·         Does not encourage access or contact with alienated parent and gives child silent treatment after access visits

·         Tries to delete memory of other parent by taking away pictures of other parent and not speaking about them.

·         Will not let alienated parent come to door or speak with them alone- treats alienated parent as if he/she is dangerous

·         Does not tell alienated parent about special events or school activities involving child

·         Withholds gifts, mail and voice messages from other parent and will not tell child about it.

·         Rewrites family history sometimes to involve stories of sexual and physical abuse by other parent

·         Involves child in litigation by reading court documents to him/her and or using child as messenger

·         Puts child in position where he/she is forced to choose between their parents

As with most things in life, there is a wide spectrum of severity and the blame usually does not fall on one person’s shoulders only. The “alienated parent” often contributes to the problem by making the child feel guilty, rejecting the child, acting aggressively towards the child or to the other parent or by simply giving up hope and abandoning the child. Also, some children are estranged from a parent prior to the separation and it only gets worse after wards. The alienating parents often act the way they do because they feel that they have been abandoned by the other parent and are very hurt by the separation. They themselves may have been abandoned or abused as children.

Richard Gardner and some of his followers are of the view that the only cure to this problem is to take the child out of the custody of the alienating parent, subject the child to intense counseling to de-brainwash the child and then place the child in the alienated parent’s custody. 

Not surprisingly, there are many family court judges who do not accept that this is the only solution to the problem. Instead, they try to affect a change in the dynamic by making access orders enforceable by the police, making a parent who is withholding access pay a fine or even ordering that the alienating parent go to jail if they breach the access order again.

In the US there are some residential programs available for families with this problem. In Canada, there are therapists who specialize in assisting families with this problem, but there are no residential programs that I am aware of.

In my view the essential thing is to prevent the alienation from happening in the first place. This can be done by identifying the early symptoms and ensuring that there is an access plan in place very shortly after the separation that is strongly enforced by the court. It is also essential that all parties involved get counseling to identify the issues that are at the root of the problem and bring them to the surface and that professionals involved in helping parents who are separating and divorcing are trained to recognize the early symptoms.

There have been recent amendments made to the Children’s Law Reform Act to reinforce the idea that maximum contact with both parents is generally in the best interests of children and that parents have an obligation not only to allow access, but to facilitate that access.

If you are fearful that this dynamic may be occurring in your family, please don’t wait for things to get better. Parental alienation is like cancer- if left untreated it will grow and kill your relationship with your child. Children in families where there is this dynamic are “victims” of abuse and end up exhibiting the same symptoms as children who are physically and sexually abused by their family members. You have a responsibility to protect your children from this abuse, as do all the professionals who are involved in your case.

The new provisions of legislation in Ontario are as follows:

34 (2) If the court is satisfied that the responding party wrongfully denied the moving party access to the child, the court may, by order,

(a) require the responding party to give the moving party compensatory access to the child for the period agreed to by the parties, or for the period the court considers appropriate if the parties do not agree;

(b) require supervision as described in section 34;

(c) require the responding party to reimburse the moving party for any reasonable expenses actually incurred as a result of the wrongful denial of access;

(d) appoint a mediator in accordance with section 31 as if the motion were an application for access. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 83.

Period of compensatory access

(3)  A period of compensatory access shall not be longer than the period of access that was wrongfully denied. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 83.

What constitutes wrongful denial of access

(4)  A denial of access is wrongful unless it is justified by a legitimate reason such as one of the following:

1. The responding party believed on reasonable grounds that the child might suffer physical or emotional harm if the right of access were exercised.

2. The responding party believed on reasonable grounds that he or she might suffer physical harm if the right of access were exercised.

3. The responding party believed on reasonable grounds that the moving party was impaired by alcohol or a drug at the time of access.

4. The moving party failed to present himself or herself to exercise the right of access within one hour of the time specified in the order or the time otherwise agreed on by the parties.

5. The responding party believed on reasonable grounds that the child was suffering from an illness of such a nature that it was not appropriate in the circumstances that the right of access be exercised.

6. The moving party did not satisfy written conditions concerning access that were agreed to by the parties or that form part of the order for access.

7. On numerous occasions during the preceding year, the moving party had, without reasonable notice and excuse, failed to exercise the right of access.

8. The moving party had informed the responding party that he or she would not seek to exercise the right of access on the occasion in question. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 83.

Motion re failure to exercise of right of access, etc.

(5)  A person in whose favour an order has been made for custody of a child and who claims that a person in whose favour an order has been made for access to the child has, without reasonable notice and excuse, failed to exercise the right of access or to return the child as the order requires, may make a motion for relief under subsection (6) to the court that made the access order. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 83.

Order for relief

(6)  If the court is satisfied that the responding party, without reasonable notice and excuse, failed to exercise the right of access or to return the child as the order requires, the court may, by order,

(a) require supervision as described in section 34;

(b) require the responding party to reimburse the moving party for any reasonable expenses actually incurred as a result of the failure to exercise the right of access or to return the child as the order requires;

(c) appoint a mediator in accordance with section 31 as if the motion were an application for access. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 83.

How a Barrie Divorce Lawyer Divides Up The Household Contents

Household contents fighing over a roller pinHave you ever fallen in love with something only to have it break, get lost or stolen? Maybe it was a special coffee mug, a favorite blanket or a stuffed toy. Gone forever.

I remember having an emotional attachment to special belt buckle. When it was lost, I was at first angry and then I almost cried. Eventually I felt silly for becoming so attached to a "thing".

In hindsight,  I now realize that it wasn't the belt buckle that was special but rather it was the memories it represented.

It was the first buckle I ever won showing horses. It represented hours of hard work and dedication to achieve a goal. As a teenager, it was very special to me.

The division of household contents is often a contentious issue when clients are separating or divorcing. Normally clients lament the cost of replacing items but, in most cases, if you drill deep enough, it is an emotional loss that fuels the fight. It's not really about "the thing".

For example, spending thousands of dollars on legal fees fighting over a used electric kettle worth $2.00 does not make sense on the basis of the value of the item but if that kettle represents the hopes and dreams of domestic bliss or memories of happier days, its value is priceless.

Perhaps fighting over your kettle is your way to avenge the hurt caused by your spouse. There are many reasons for steamy conversations about a kettle but ask yourself "what is the real issue here?"

I encourage clients when thinking about the division of household contents to ask themselves "In five years, will it matter to me if I have this item or not?"

"Fifteen years from now, will I be proud to tell my grandchildren about how we resolved the division of household contents?"

This helps you make priorities and keep things in perspective. Things of a lesser priority can be bargained away to get things of greater importance. Deals can be made and settlement achieved, cost-effectively.

Jason Brown in his blog at Minnesota Divorce and Family Law Blog has an excellent article in which he lists some great methods for dividing up the household contents. He suggests the following:

* Two Lists: One of you makes two lists of items, of roughly equal value. The lists are presented to the other. The person who didn't draft the lists gets to pick which list they want. There is an incentive for the person drafting to fairly and equitably divide things or they'll get burned during the selection process.


* Silent Auction: This is my favorite. A master list of all of your personal property is created. Each party blindly puts a dollar value next to each item. The high bid takes the item at the value listed. Once all items are bid on, the totals for each party are added up. The party receiving the higher dollar value pays the other a cash equalizer to make up the other's shortfall. Parties are free to place a high value on items they really want, but won't list a ridiculous bid out of fear of paying a large offset.


* Arbitration: An arbitrator is basically a private judge. You pay this person, usually a lawyer, to listen to your side of things in an informal conference setting. Then, your spouse does the same. The arbitrator is given the authority to divide the entire list of items as they deem fair and equitable. Costs are saved because the parties attend the arbitration without counsel and divide the arbitrator's fee. Most couples submit to binding arbitration so that the decision of the arbitrator is final.


* Rotating Lists: Make a master list and take turns going back and fourth until all of the personal property is divided. Flip a coin to see who goes first.

However you divide up your things, remember you won't get everything you want and that's okay.  It just creates the new challenge of finding replacement items for reasonable prices. You can always go to garage sales or look online for bargains at Craigslist or  Kijiji. Shop around. You'll be surprised how little it will cost and how much fun it is to replace those missing items.

In ten years most of the stuff you are arguing about will be safely lodged in a dump somewhere, rotting away to eternity. It really isn't worth the cost or energy to fight over them now.

So save yourself from paying legal fees. Don't fight about your household contents. Just go replace your old junk with other people's old junk... and make them part of your "new home"... a place for "new memories".

... but if you see my belt buckle, shoot me an email. I still miss it!

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 Divorce Courts and Fathers

puzzle pieces and peopleQuestion: Will a father in Divorce Court in Barrie, Ontario get a fair hearing? 

Answer: Not always but I agree with the general sentiments of Michael Niren in his blog entitled "A Father's Right's in Divorce" when he says the following: 

The idea that courts will generally side with the mother comes from the court attempting to rule for what is best for the child while remaining practical. Generally, the mother may be the primary caregiver, has remained home with the child since birth, or the father has been the one to leave the marital home in the event of a marriage breakdown. These factors influence the court’s custody decision, but they are not always a standard representation of each family situation, and circumstances can often be the direct opposite or both parents can be equally loving, responsible and fit to be a welcomed part of their children’s lives.

Michael is responding in his blog to an article in the National  Post which characterizes the Courts as having fallen prey to the rants of radical feminists. The newspaper article suggests these radicals can be found primarily in the Women's Studies programs at Canadian universities and is happy to see the demise of these programs. In essence, they argue that the the Courts favour women because the judges have been corrupted by radical feminists.

It is a polemic intended to catch people's attention but does not reflect reality.

A few weeks ago, I did a blog called "Why Dad's Suffer in Court" in which I argue that it is not judges who should be blamed for any injustices that may occur to fathers (and they do occur from time to time) but rather it is the judicial system itself that is the cause. I stand by that blog.

I believe that clients are best served when they use the Collaborative Team Process to resolve the outstanding issues related to their divorce.

Collaborative Team Process is a radical new way of resolving divorce-related issues. All parties and professionals commit to resolving the issues without going to Court. Should one of the parties choose Court, everyone must start all over with new professionals.

The clients have the additional cost of starting over so have an incentive to negotiate in good faith. The lawyers lose their clients if the matter proceeds to Court so they put 100% of their energy into settling the case.

In Ontario, as in most of North America, we are moving toward a team model. The Divorce Coach helps both of you prepare for meetings by moving you through the emotional stages of divorce and case manages the process. The Parenting Coach will help you develop a parenting plan. The Financial Specialist will help you work through the division of property and support issues. The lawyers help resolve any issues that arise, offer the range of legal outcome, help analyze the settlement options and ensure the final agreement is legally binding. The whole process works very efficiently and empowers you to make your own decisions.

The research shows that about 85% of cases result in settlement. What is remarkable is that even if clients are not able to resolve their issues through the Collaborative Process, they will still recommend it to their family and friends! Wow! Isn't that amazing?

In over 20 years of practicing family law, none of my clients have been pleased with the Court process, win or lose. The Court process is slow, costly, inefficient and you are giving the power to resolve issues to a stranger: the Judge. They do their best to dispense "Justice" but, as one of my clients said "This ain't a 'justice system'... it is 'just a system'"

The judges do their best to dispense justice but it isn't easy. You know what is best for yourself and your family. With the help of professionals walking with you through the process, you can resolve the issues yourself. Not only will the results be better, it will be less costly and take less time to resolve.

I love Collaborative Team Process... can you tell?

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? 

$150,000 Per Month Paternity Suit

Can you imagine receiving a $150,000 per month, tax free? Karen Sala certainly could and sued Keanu Reeves hoping he would be ordered to pay that tidy sum to her. She was not successful.

A recent article in The Star declares that the paternity case against Keanu Reeves by Sala was dismissed by the Ontario Courts. According to The Star, Justice Graham declared that the allegations against Reeves were "so incredible" that no reasonable judge would accept them.  The judge said having a trial would be a waste of limited judicial time.

Karen Sala was seeking $3 million a month in spousal support and $150,000 a month in retroactive child support. She alleged that Reeves was the father of her four adult children.

It is remarkable that she pushed the case this far. DNA tests had been done which indicated that Reeves was not likely the father of the children. DNA tests cannot say with full certainty if somneone is the father but they are accurate 99.9999% of the time. Usually, that's good enough for the judges to dismiss the case as happened in this case.

As Ms A.J. Jakubowska notes in her blog, child support payments in Ontario are not tax deductible for the payor and the recipient does not have to claim them as income. Sala would have been able to pocket $1.8 million dollars per year, tax free, had she won her case.

How is the amount of child support determined? 

Child support payments are set in accord with the Federal Child Support Guidelines. For Ms Sala to have received $150,000 per month, she would have had to prove that Reeves' income was about $8.5 million annually. I guess that's possible...

As Ms Jakubowska, a Newmarket family lawyer, notes in her blog, spousal support is tax deductible to the payor and must be claimed as income to the recipient. So, if Sala had been successful, Reeves would have been able to deduct the spousal support from his income but not the child support.

Certainly there is an incentive to sue for child support when the stakes can be this high but DNA tests constitute a mountain too high to overcome. You can't just allege someone is the father of your children these days expect to get away with it. If you are lying, science will prove you wrong. How DNA tests work is a sample of hair from the father, mother and child are analyzed in a lab. The DNA of the child is compared to the DNA of the "alleged" parents to determine if paternity is possible. Courts like the certainty of DNA tests.  They normally end the case one way or another.

Ms Sala was tenacious. She persisted in court. She lost. Case closed. Next? .....

New Year's Resolutions and Divorce

2010Did you make a resolution this year to stop smoking, lose weight, reduce your debt? Or maybe you resolved that this is the year to get a divorce.

The origins of New Year's resolutions, according to Gordon North in his ezine article goes back to ancient Babylon and Roman times about 2000 BC. For just as long a time, people have been breaking their New Year's resolutions.

Anja Pujic in her blog at Suite 101 has good advice about how best to keep your resolutions. She  offers the following: 

When setting your New Year's goals, use these guidelines to start you off on the right track:

1. Don’t be afraid of failure. The trick is not to put so much pressure on yourself that you start doubting your ability to achieve your goal. Tell yourself that this is something you would like to achieve one day. Doing so will make it seem less like a chore and more like a hobby.
2. Don’t put a time limit on your resolution. If it takes one year, that’s great; if it takes longer, then it’s no big deal. By giving yourself a little bit of breathing room, you reduce pressure and stress and make your resolution easier to achieve and more enjoyable.
3. Don’t make your resolution too ambitious. Set and stick to realistic goals because you are more likely to achieve them and less likely to be disappointed in yourself.
4. Practice discipline in every aspect of your life. This will make it easier to discipline yourself to follow through with your resolution. When you feel tempted to procrastinate, remember that the sooner you start working on your resolution, the faster and easier it will be to attain.
5. Take baby steps. You cannot reach your New Year’s resolution overnight so don’t expect to. If you do, you are more likely to become disappointed in yourself, lose motivation and, in the end, fail.
6. Tell someone about your resolution so that it feels real. Even better, find someone with the same resolution and support each other along the way. Talking to someone who is going through the same thing as you are can be a great source of relief, encouragement and support during moments of weakness. It can also help build and develop great lifelong relationships between people.

We normally see a surge in clients in the New Year, seeking a divorce for the same reasons people make resolutions at New Year.  The New Year brings with it a new resolve to make things better in our lives. Clients struggle through the holiday period, doing their best to "hold it together". Nobody wants to be accused of being Scrooge by seeking a divorce at Christmas. So, in January, clients come to our office in droves, wanting to improve their lives through divorce.

Constance Ahrons in her book The Good Divorce says that her research indicates that most divorced people don't regret getting a divorce but wish they had started the process sooner and not "held out".

If you have decided this is the year for you to get a divorce, apply Anja's principles to the process:

  1. Don't be afraid of failure. You are not alone. About 50% of marriages end in divorce and they manage to get through it. So will you.
  2. Don’t put a time limit on your resolution. Divorce takes time and is a painful process at best. Just take one day at a time. Remember the process goes as fast as the slowest person. If you are the one initiating the divorce, your spouse is probably not there yet emotionally and will need some time to catch up. Be patient. 
  3. Don’t make your resolution too ambitious. Divorce is a monumental change in your life. Set reasonable, smaller, achievable goals to keep yourself moving forward to your new life.
  4. Practice discipline in every aspect of your life. Find healthy ways of coping with your divorce. Use discipline to avoid falling into unhealthy coping techniques such as over drinking or drug use. Get exercise, eat properly and get adequate sleep. Find a Divorce Coach who will help you stay the course.
  5. Take baby steps. Make a list of the things that have to be done, and then break down each item into the smaller steps. Take one step at a time and then celebrate your daily successes. Start with finding the right lawyer (a Collaboratively trained divorce lawyer) who will help you work through the issues. Also find a good Divorce Coach to help you through the emotional journey. That's a good start.
  6. Tell someone about your resolution so that it feels real. Most people start by telling their family (brothers, sisters, parents) about their decision to get a divorce. Seek out positive, supportive people in your life who will comfort you when you need it.

I don't advocate that you get a divorce if you have a fulfilling, loving marriage. You are one of the lucky few. But, if you feel that a divorce is inevitable, now is as good a time as any. Take a deep breath, find your resolve and move forward toward your new and better life. It's a New Year!

Divorce Depression and Grief

I just read an amazing blog by "The Jolly Mama". It is an amazingly honest description of the emotional struggles of separation and divorce from someone going through it.

The title of her blog entry is "Kubler-Ross and My Life Lately" and here is a quote from it.

What does any of this have to do with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross? She is the psychologist who identified the seven stages of grief, and that is what I have been experiencing for the past year. I don't know if all of my emotions have necessarily been identical to the ones she classified. I've been so angry that I'm divorced. That I have to share my children, and I go days without them next to me. That I tried and tried and tried to be a cool wife and was always shut out. That what was lovely about me, my desire to be a helpmate, was rejected or looked upon with suspicion. So, this is not the life I wanted... but it is the life I have.

If you are struggling with depression or grieving the end of your marriage, take heart, you Depressed Blonde womanare not alone. Everyone who goes through a divorce experiences the same grief process. At Christmas and other special occasions, the pain of divorce can be worse.

I am a divorce lawyer yet when I went through my own divorce, it was devastating. I thought I would do okay being a divorce professional, yet I too went through the whole grieving process, just like everyone else. It was painful.

Pamela S. Wynn, a lawyer in Florida, writes a great blog  with useful advice on how to get through the depressive feelings divorcing people experience especially during the holiday season. She suggests (I'm summarizing) the following: 

  1. Be your own best friend.
  2. Focus on lifting the spirits of others.
  3. Integrate - don't isolate.
  4. Initiate new holiday traditions.  

I would add to Pamela's list.... "Find and work with a Divorce Coach".

They have special training on how to help you work through the emotional stages of divorce. In our area, we recommend Sue Cook or  Deborah Alton. They are both excellent divorce coaches.

Using a divorce coach does not mean you are suffering from a mental illness or that you are weak in some way. They will not engage you in therapy. They simply help you understand and move through the emotional stages of divorce more quickly. Time heals everything but who wants to wait around! Go see a divorce coach. I did.

Divorce Gift Certificates??

VoucherDaniel Clement pointed out in his blog that a UK law firm is actually selling gift certificates for a consultation with a divorce lawyer. What do you think of that? ... the gift of divorce!! 

Here are the top ten uses I have come up with so far, just for laughs, with suggestions on what to write on the gift card in quotes. Do you have any additions?

10. Give it to your spouse who is unwilling to deal with the reality of your separation and is stalling the process. "Let's get this done, honey!"

9. Give it to your lover who has said he or she will get a divorce but just hasn't done it. "Hey, if you love me, you would get this done!"

8. Give it to your sister so you don't need to deal with that nasty brother-in-law at Christmas!!  "You can do better!"

7. Give it to the guy who just took your parking lot at the mall, for his wife. "You can park yourself somewhere better!"

6. Give it to your friend who is about to get married to a jerk.  "Just in case..."

5. If you are single, give it anonymously to someone married who you would like to date. "Hint. Hint. There are more fish in the ocean... including me!"

4. Give it to your favourite bartender or hairdresser. "In case you need some advice too!"

3. Give it yourself. If you are facing a divorce, maybe it's time to get some advice.  "O.K. I had better take a deep breath and get this done!"

2. Give it to Tiger Woods' wife. "Thirteen lovers is too many! "

1. Give it to Tiger Woods. "Sorry... but you might as well get back to golfing!"

Actually, all kidding aside, I like the idea of being able to give the gift of good advice to someone in need. If you are going through a divorce, wouldn't it be nice to receive this helping hand from a friend or family member?

What do you think? Should we start offering them for sale?

Another idea... I think we should start stamping the back of our business cards and offer the fifth divorce FREE!! ...okay... that's too tacky!! But it is funny!!

Tearful Good-byes

IJustin and Helcin in Invermere shed a tear and held back a million of them. Have you ever had a moment like that?

Maybe it was when you dropped off your son or daughter to daycare for the first time... or said good-bye on the first day of school, trying your best to show a brave face... or the first weekend with your ex spouse....or maybe when you resisted giving them a kiss as they went off to the prom with a date...or when you said "good luck" as they boarded the airplane for an exchange or to head to university... or was it when they had their first sleep over at a friend's home... or went away to camp for the first time. I bet you've had more than a few of those moments.

It's a time of mixed emotions. Fear - that your little one will need you and you won't be there to help. Disappointment - knowing that they probably won't need you. Sadness - of the pending silence now that they won't be around. Pride - that you have done a good job and they are ready to be on their own.

I had one of those moments this past weekend when I dropped off my son and his girlfriend of five Justin as a baby. years at their newJustin as arbourist home thousands of miles away. My wife and I dropped them off at their new home near a ski resort in the Canadian Rockies where they will work and ski for the winter. He is 18 and she is 19 years old.

As you can see from these photos of him, he is no longer a baby.

On top of the normal feelings of a parent saying good-bye to their son, I had another layer of feelings because I am a divorced dad. I felt guilt that his mother wasn't there to say good-bye because we are now divorced. Guilt that he was the child of divorce. Guilt that I wasn't always with him when he was growing up because he was with his mother. I also felt pride that I spent every moment possible with him and his brothers since separation, making them my focus when they were in my care. I also felt good that I had provided him with an excellent role model as to a healthy, loving relationship with my new marriage. I felt happy that I had positively contributed to him becoming who he is today.

Frankly, I could not speak to my wife after we said good-bye to my son. The emotions were too overwhelming.

Eventually, I said to myself "I have a choice. I can focus on the negative emotions or the positive ones." I chose the positive ones. I chose to think about what a great guy my son had become.

Justin is...Justin and Helcin at wedding

1. Caring and sensitive. Justin feels everything deeply. He is the peace-maker in the family always striving to find a just solution and to bring his family and friends together. He has maintained a loving relationship with his girlfriend for over five years in spite of him being only 18 years old because he is so caring, understanding and sensitive. He has many great  male friends too because he is a great friend to them.

Justin is...spork

2. Resourceful. Let me share a story. On a week-long canoe camping trip , I forgot the cutlery. Justin was not discouraged. He simply got out his knife and whittled a spork (spoon fork) from wood for himself. He made the most out of with what he had around him. This is typical of Justin.

Justin is...

Justin violin3. Courageous. Whether mountain biking or snowboarding, Justin is always ready to push himself to great heights without being crazy or reckless. He was never afraid of challenges. He has played the violin since he was 5 years of age and never hesitated to perform for an audience. In fact, he played the violin at my wedding ceremony and at the open house of my new office. There is no fear in that boy.

Justin is... well.... he is all grown up now and I am so proud of him.

After focusing on the positives, I realized that Justin had turned out to be a great young man in spite of, or maybe, partly perhaps because of my divorce. Hmmmm.

If you are going through a divorce, remember to focus on the positive. Don't let the little voice of negativity get you down. Choose to be positive.Justin head skiing

I only shed a couple of tears when I said good-bye and I held back a million. Then I realized that this was a new beginning for my son and, frankly, a new beginning for me. It was a good thing. He will be fine... and so will I.

Gay Marriage and Gay Divorce

gay marriage cakeGays in many of the states in the U.S. cannot get married unlike gay couples in Canada. In Canada, gays have all the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to marriage and divorce. The law in Canada was changed in 2005.

The law varies from state to state. Marriage licenses are issued in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire (begins January, 2010) but not in any other states. California is in a bit of a mess. They passed a law allowing same sex marriage but Proposition 8 squashed that development. The National Conference of State Legislatures has the details of the law on a state by state basis.

In Canada, our constitution defines divorce as being a federal power so the law is the same throughout Canada.

So, what does this mean for gay couples wishing to marry in a state that does not allow it?

Gideon Alper notes in his blog called Gay Couples Law Blog that some gay couples come to Canada to get married if it is illegal to do so in their home state.  That makes sense.

As Nancy Van Tine notes in her blog, Maine recently rejected same sex marriage, but since Canada is just a quick flight away from Maine (or long drive), it is easy for a gay couple in Maine to slip up to Canada to get married and all is well. Right?

The problem is that not all gay marriages are "happily ever after" either. Divorce happens... 

If you can't get married in a state, then you can't get divorced there either. So, if you are a gay couple who now wants a divorce in Maine, you can't get it. You might think a quick trip back to Canada would be all that's necessary. Not so fast! That won't work either!

You have to have been living in one province in Canada for at least one year to be able to ask for a divorce in that province. So, you are caught in what Barbara Findlay calls in her article in Lawyers' Weekly a "divorce catch-22". Married, wanting a divorce, and you can't get one.

The law is intended to dispense "justice" yet once again the frailties of the law are obvious. If you're a same sex couple living in Maine, you can get married in Canada but you are stuck married unless you move to another state or to Canada. Can you imagine?

Weird eh? 

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.

Scheduling Events When Divorced

CalendarHave you been unaware of an upcoming school event (like the Christmas concert) or an extracurricular event because your spouse forgot to tell you? Isn't it frustrating? And disappointing? It's also embarrassing when you drop the ball and forget to pass on important information.

Scheduling events, holidays and other activities for children can be difficult for any family, but the challenge is even greater for divorced parents. Often parents who have separated or divorced have difficulty communicating with each other at the best of times. Living in separate homes can make it even worse.  But you know that already if you're divorced. So what's the answer?

You need a system.

For many years, I have encouraged clients whose separation is fresh and raw to use a communication book. One of the parents purchases a blank book which is used to discuss any proposed changes to the access schedule, illnesses of the children, milestones, accomplishments, discipline problems and upcoming events in the children's lives. I encourage the parents to decorate the book with photos of the children on the outside of the book (to remind the parents to stay focused on their children's best interests) and to plan on giving the book to their children when they are adults (to encourage the parents to treat each other respectfully and politely in the book since their children will read it one day).

A high tech modern version of the communication book is Our Family Wizard. This is an on-line  calendar and communication tool available through the Internet. It is amazing. You can communicate upcoming changes to the schedule, health concerns, financial issues and any other issues related to your children through your own private website set up for this purpose. Older children can even be given access to the site as can any other third parties agreed to by you and your spouse (mediator, parenting coach, lawyers, grand parents). The cost is $99.00 per parent per year. They even have "scholarships" to reduce or eliminate the costs for deserving families. Third party access is free. Check out Our Family Wizard.

A free option is Google Calendar. It does not have all the bells and whistles of "Our Family Wizard" because it isn't designed for separated families, but it is free. A calendar is set up over the Internet with access restricted to you and your spouse or third parties agreeable to the parents. It's private and available wherever you can access the Internet. You can post upcoming events on the calendar such as the next hockey tournament or dance recital so everyone knows about it in advance.

Ideally, its best if you can communicate openly with one another via meetings, telephone calls or emails but often this is impossible especially immediately after the separation. The emotions are too hot for direct communication. So, try some other system.

Of course, a system works only if you work the system. Even if your spouse doesn't keep you informed or is unreliable, just take the high road, and do it anyway. Some of us are planners and some of us aren't planners. Such is life. Do it anyway.  

Whether you use the old fashioned communication book, Our Family Wizard, Google Calendar, emails, meetings or phone calls, find a way to communicate respectfully and in a timely manner. If you don't make an effort, your children will suffer. Your children deserve parents who will put aside their own personal feelings toward each other and find a way to communicate with each other, for the children's sake... and you don't want to miss another Christmas concert!

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.