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.

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.

"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. 

Settlement Meetings: Getting Your Divorce Resolved

Do you want to save money and get through your divorce with as little pain (financial and emotional) as possible? Okay... dumb question... everybody does.

The challenge is "how?"

"Negotiate" is the simple answer but how do you negotiate with someone you don't trust, respect and can't communicate well with? Some lucky few are able to negotiate on their own but most people need some help.

Anne Shale wrote an excellent blog in the Ohio Family Law Blog that extols the benefits of the four way meeting in which both parties and lawyers meet to discuss, negotiate and resolve the issues.

Anne suggests the following benefits of negotiating through four way settlement meetings:

Savings of money: Litigation is expensive!  If all disputed issues are to be litigated or “tried” before the Court, there may be hourly fees to be paid for one (1), to two (2), to three (3) days of trial time.  Multiplying the hourly rate of your counsel ($150.00 to $250.00+ (per hour) [ed. in Ontario, the cost is between $250 to $500 per hour]  times one eight (8) hour day of trial reflects that you could easily incur attorney fees of $1200 to $2000 per day for the length of the trial.  If matters could be resolved or even partially resolved with a settlement conference, there will be a savings of money!

Savings of time: Time is “money” is often stated!  Domestic relations cases can be resolved over time by attorneys sending various settlement proposals back and forth by facsimile, scanning and email, or ordinary mail.  However, if the parties and their counsel elect to have a settlement conference, significant savings of time can be realized. The case might be “settled” or “resolved” quickly rather than over months of time.

Peace of mind: Going through a divorce or a dissolution is an emotional and sometimes “gut-wrenching” process.  Parties often experience physical symptoms of distress and anxiety in not knowing how the case is going to be “resolved”.  With resolution of disputed issues, the parties can experience peace of mind in knowing what is going to happen and how things are going to be resolved providing to each of them some “closure” without the discomfort,  angst, and expense of a trial.

Narrow the issues to be “tried” before the Court: Even if a settlement conference or conferences are not fruitful in resolving all issues, if some issues can be “settled” or “resolved” before the final hearing or trial, expenses of time and money can still be saved.  For example, if the parties commenced a settlement conference with six (6) disputed issues, to wit: (1) custody of the children, (2) parenting time schedule, (3) disposition of the marital residence, (4) division of retirement assets, (5) division of household goods and furnishings, (6) payment of marital liabilities, if any issues can be resolved at the time of the settlement conference, time and money can still be saved!

Even better than the simple four way meeting is the Collaborative Process. In this process, the parties and lawyers agree in writing that they won't go to Court and they will work together to find a resolution of the issues together. Four way meetings no longer are intended to simply narrow the issues: there is a commitment to resolving issues.

If an impasse occurs, there are many ways of overcoming it such as getting experts to offer opinions, or by asking the Family Coach to help resolve parenting issues or the Financial Specialist  to help resolve the financial issues. Ultimately, you can use arbitration (you jointly hire someone to act as the judge who will make an order which is enforceable like a court order).

Even if you do not choose the Collaborative Process and end up in court, you will be forced to negotiate. About 97% of family law cases are resolved by agreement. The problem with negotiations as part of the court process is that you are negotiating in a pressure cooker - the court house. It is much more costly as there are so many more procedural steps and delays, and you must proceed according to the court imposed time lines. Nobody likes the court process. It should be seen as the "last resort".  The Collaborative process is much better.

Settlement meetings are magical. When two people who really want to get a resolution sit together with their settlement-oriented lawyers, it is amazing. Resolution of even the most difficult issues can be achieved. There are often bumps in the road but that's normal. In the end, you will have an agreement that you helped craft and it will be achieved in a timely and cost-effective manner... even if you still don't respect, trust or communicate well with your ex.

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. 

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.

Divorce Insurance

house fireDivorce sucks. It is a catastrophe in the lives of millions. It's like having a fire rip through your home. The difference between a fire and a divorce is that you have always been able to get insurance to help recover from the economic loss. Now that's changed! 

James Gross who writes for the Maryland Legal Crier, a great blog, wrote a blog about a new product available to insure against some of the economic loss of divorce. Here is his blog: 

Divorce Insurance

Want to buy some divorce insurance?  Jennifer Saranow Schultz reports in the New York Times that SafeGuard Corp. of North Carolina is offering the world’s first divorce insurance called WedLock.  For each $15.99 per month you pay, you can buy $1,250 in coverage.   The benefit covers the costs of divorce such as lawyer fees or setting up a new home.

Then, if you get divorced, you send Wedlock proof, and they’ll send you a check for the amount of insurance you purchased.  You have to be married at least four years, however, before the payout.  You can buy riders to shorten that to three years or get your premiums back if you don’t make it that long.  Every year the company automatically adds another $250 to the coverage for each unit you buy.

The company helpfully provides calculators on its site for Divorce Probability and Divorce Costs to help you figure out much insurance you need.

It's an interesting idea eh? Of course, no insurance policy can compensate for the emotional losses suffered in a fire or a divorce. You need to find a good therapist to work through the pain. But a little cash is better than none. 

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!