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. 

 

How To Reduce Stress for Children of Divorce

Daily structure and routine can help your children feel more secure.

Children often find school stressful.  Add to that the anxiety and worries of a recent separation and it can be a very difficult time for children. 

Giving your children a solid foundation of daily activities can help alleviate stress, anxiety and help with the psychological well-being of both parents and children alike. 

Create a time table for your children so they know the routine. It may include getting ready for school, doing homework, personal time, transportation to and from each parent’s home, special activities such as organized sports and taking time just to be together. Set aside time for fun activities like a board games, sports and just hanging out together.

The bedtime routine might include taking a bath, brushing teeth and reading books.  As long as it is consistent and predictable, it will give your child a sense of security.

Even though your teenage children may resist you imposing a routine on them, they will benefit from some structure and routine in their day. You just might not get thanked for imposing it on them.

For some children, it is helpful is to let your children know in advance where they will be and what they will be doing in the future.

I used to post on the fridge a calendar showing “mommy days” and “daddy days”. I also inserted special activities such as their sports and special family events, birthdays and other activities on the calendar.

I remember finding a copy of the schedule in my son’s pocket one day. He said it made him feel better just being able to know what was happening next.  

Often during separation children demand a lot of attention from their parents. Give them the time they need. You likely have to share your time with the other parent so focus on your children when they are with you.

You can also normalize your child’s anxiety and fears. Let them know that it is okay to feel bad some days. It will get better one day.

If your children are really struggling, you may need to get them help of a Child Specialist who can offer your children individualized therapy and professional support.

Providing routine, consistency and letting your children know what is coming next will help to decrease their anxiety and fears.  Of course, if you ask your children they might suggest some ice cream will help too. Not a bad idea.  

Our lawyers can answer your questions about how to reduce your stress. Book a consultation today

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! 
 

Wiping Away Credit Debt After a Financially Messy Divorce

 

The total amount of revolving debt in Canada is more than $600 billion, and that doesn't include secured debt, like mortgages and car loans. When you carry a chunk of this debt on top of the expenses and difficulty of a divorce, you're paying interest every month just for the privilege of continuing to borrow the money. Make your financial footing more solid by evaluating your debt and taking concrete steps to get rid of it.

Manage Your Credit Report

When you have a lot of debt after a divorce, your credit report is a bit of a mess. It may be littered with late payments, collection accounts and credit cards dangerously close to their limits. Get a copy of your credit report for free each year from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion through AnnualCreditReport.com. Not only will this give you a full picture of what you owe, but you can also see if your accounts are being reported correctly. Disputing errors through the credit bureaus that provided the erroneous reports can help boost your credit score.

One of the main steps to restore your life and start over is to get out of debt and improve your credit score. This not only makes borrowing in the future less expensive, but can also help you get lower auto insurance rates and have an easier time renting a home. For newly separated or divorced people suffering from bad debt, renting an apartment or buying a car doesn't have to be as difficult as you might think. For example, former buy-here-pay-here dealerships offer auto loans with various repayment plans. Making payments on time will slowly but surely improve your credit score.

Create a Detailed Budget

Once you know what your debts are, it's time to make a plan for how to make consistent payments on them every month. Take full stock of the money coming in each month, then create a budget to plan how you will spend it. Start with necessary payments, like your housing, utilities and all of your debt payments. Then allocate any remaining money to variable expenses (gas, groceries) and luxuries (new clothes, entertainment and vacations). When you have a plan, you won't need to keep going into more debt each month to make ends meet.

Change Your Lifestyle Perception

Your lifestyle may drastically change after you're divorced, so changing your perception and expectations may be a necessary part of getting out of debt. If you embrace a frugal lifestyle and enjoy the good you do have in your life, it's a lot easier to forgo those things you see others getting that you can't afford. In the book "Living Well with Bad Credit," the authors encourage you to realize that the good life is subjective, and you can be perfectly happy even when your credit is horrible.

Use Extra Money to Pay off Debt

When you end up with unexpected money, don't spend it on things you don't actually need. Instead, pay off debt to lower your balances and reduce your monthly interest charges. For example, CBS reports that the average tax refund is $3,000. Putting this toward the typical credit card bill will save you over $500 on interest in the next year. If you get a raise at work, put that extra income toward debt repayment rather than expanding your lifestyle. You can also scrape together extra money by clipping coupons to save on grocery bills or foregoing usual luxuries like your morning latte. Putting all of this money toward debt repayment will help you get out of debt sooner.

Conclusion

Most people who go through divorce have a difficult time adjusting to the new financial reality. It's normal. The good news is that most can recover from it. The key is to be focussed on getting rid of your debt and living within your means. Winning the lottery is also helpful. 

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.

Separation Agreements: The Devil in the Details

There is a saying... "the Devil is in the Details".... meaning details that are overlooked can cause problems later. No doubt this is true when drafting a separation agreement. Attention to detail is essential. 

The top ten big issues that need to be resolved are: 

  1. Where will the children live? 
  2. How much time with the children spend with each person? 
  3. How will holiday time be scheduled with each parent? 
  4. How much child support will be paid? 
  5. Are there any extraordinary extracurricular activities that should be shared costs? 
  6. Is there an obligation to pay spousal support? How much? How long? 
  7. How will the property be divided? 
  8. Is there an equalization owed by one person to the other to equalize the property division? 
  9. Do we need to maintain life insurance to protect the support obligation? 
  10. Should the extended health care insurance coverage continue for everyone? 

Robert Hues of Ohio wrote an excellent blog where he lists some of the many details often missed in separation agreements. Here is Robert's list: 

  1. Garage door openers 
  2. Gate remote controls
  3. Extra keys to car and house
  4. Security codes
  5. Hotel credit card and airline points
  6. Utility and other deposits
  7. Tax and insurance escrows
  8. Car tag credits
  9. Overdrafts on joint checking accounts
  10. Dates to carry through insurance coverages
  11. Attorney’s fees paid with joint funds
  12. Real estate escrow account refunds
  13. Important days not addressed in the Court’s Parenting Time Order
  14. Season ticket rights
  15. Country club membership and club access
  16. Storage unit details
  17. Dividing and copying family photos
  18. Copying documents, pictures and files from the family computer
  19. Providing change of address notification to Bureau of Motor Vehicles, support enforcement agency, credit cards, magazines, post office, etc.
  20. Cell phone account restructuring
  21. Review of auto insurance coverage
  22. Close joint credit cards
  23. Update estate planning documents and review beneficiary information
  24. Stock options
  25. Future health insurance coverage and cost    

We could add to Robert's list indefinitely. Here are some more details to consider: 

  1. How and when will new partners be introduced to the children? 
  2. How will we celebrate the children's birthdays? 
  3. Will spousal support continue to be paid if the recipient gets married or lives with someone? 
  4. How will we share the costs of post secondary education?
  5. Who will hold the passport and health insurance cards of the children? 
  6. What happens if one spouse wants to move far away and we have children? 
  7. Can both parents attend the sports events of the children and parent/teacher interviews together? 
  8. How will we divide the books and CD's?
  9. How do we divide heirlooms from one side but given to us during our marriage? 
  10. Will the children be able to transport their items between homes? 
  11. Who pays for recreational ports equipment used in both homes? 
  12. Who gets the car seat and children's furniture and children's toys etc.? 

The list of details is endless. Although it is great idea to deal with as many details as possible so as to minimize future conflict, some issues will come up that you did not discuss. Perhaps the best we can do is develop some principles for behaviour and resolving conflict. Here are some ideas: 

When issues arise, we will do the following: 

  1. We will treat each other the way we would like to be treated... even if it may not always seem to be reciprocated. 
  2. We will not attribute negative intention to the other person but rather assume the best. 
  3. We will always discuss issues respectfully and politely. 
  4. We will not allow ourselves knee-jerk responses but rather will "sleep on it" before responding. 
  5. We will not engage or expose the children to our disagreements. 
  6. We will negotiate respectfully. No interruptions. No yelling. No name calling. 
  7. We will fully disclose all documents and information during negotiations. 
  8. We will both compromise. 
  9. We will seek to meet the core concerns of both parties. 
  10. We will not take advantage of mistakes by the other party.
  11. We will not sweat the little stuff. 

Paying attention to the details is an essential skill for a family law lawyer because one of our mandates is to minimize future conflict for our clients. Our lawyers will work with you to help create a separation agreement that meets your needs and keeps the devil in his place. 

Handling the Holidays after Divorce

Christmas is for children but when Mom and Dad have separated or divorced, it can be a difficult time. I remember how difficult it was my first year after separation. I was devastated. Now, many years later, we schedule our "Christmas" any time between December 22nd and December 28th. The actual date does not matter... it is the joy of spending the day together. 

Here are links to two past blogs I did about the holiday season Part 1 and Part 2

Our guest blogger, Marvin Hoffman from the Houston, Texas law firm Holmes, Diggs and Eames, PLLC offers some very good advice for parents.

The holidays can be a difficult, anxiety-filled, and frustrating time for anyone, regardless of your situation. It’s a time when a lot is expected of you, from buying presents to traveling from place to place, and it seems as if there is less time to get it all done. However, after going through a divorce, the holidays can be even more difficult, particularly when children are involved. Depending on a divorced couple’s custody and/or visitation agreement, the holidays can be an especially complicated time, as parents are trying to juggle who gets the children during which holidays, how long they have them, and what to do about the myriad of other holiday arrangements that need to be made.

Making it through the holidays as a divorced parent doesn’t have to be as difficult as many make it sound, though. With careful planning and taking a few tips into consideration, a divorced parent can more thoroughly enjoy the holidays and make them fun for the kids.

Tips for Divorced Parents

You want to do more than just survive the holidays after a divorce – you want to enjoy them fully. Although being a divorced parent can certainly put more pressure on you, making this a harder task, it’s not impossible. In fact, you may be able to make the holidays much easier to handle by keeping the following tips in mind:

  • Make very detailed and specific plans – whatever you and your family are doing for the holidays, try to make the plans as detailed as possible so arguments and problems do not arise, particularly with your ex-spouse. The more planned you are, from the time you’re leaving for a vacation to exactly which days and times you’ll have the children, the more you’re likely to reduce potential frustration and fighting.

  • Plan well ahead of time – by making plans as far in advance as possible, you can allow your ex-spouse, children, and family to plan better and more accordingly, which also helps prevent more arguments from arising at inopportune times. This way, you can also make arrangements with your ex-spouse and vice versa.

  • Find out what’s most important – decide what holidays, traditions, and arrangements are most important to you. This way you will know what you can compromise on and what you should ask for.

While these tips are not the only ones that can help you through the holidays (and if you are looking for more, consider talking with a Houston divorce lawyer about tips and options), they can dramatically decrease your frustration with the holidays, helping you to enjoy your family and loved ones during this special season.

If you are in the Simcoe County, Muskoka or York Region, you can get good advice from our lawyers. Here is our website and our contact information.  We can help you get it sorted out... so you can just enjoy the holiday season. 

Family Law Information in Ontario: New Government Website

One of the most stressful aspects of separation and divorce is the uncertainty.You don't know how much money you will have, how much time you will have with your children and when the pain will go away. When I went through my own divorce, I hated the uncertainty and I am a divorce lawyer! 

The government of Ontario has launched a new website for the public that helps to address some aspects of the uncertainty. It is called www.YourOntarioLaw.com. It provides general legal information. One page that I especially like shows the inside of a courtroom

The problem with the website is that it is so focussed on the Court process. It has only one line about Collaborative Practice which is a way of resolving disputes without going to court. I guess this makes sense since the government is in the business of providing the Court system. It also has very little information about family law. 

Other excellent websites that provide information about the Collaborative Process are as follows: 

www.CollaborativePracticeSimcoeCounty.com This website provides information including professionals in Simcoe County who practice Collaboratively. It is a great resource. 

www.DivorceHappens.ca  This website provides more information about Collaborative  Practice, comparing the cost to the court process. It includes some great videos, and lists professionals I have helped train in the Collaborative Process throughout Ontario. 

www. OCLF.ca This website is our provincial umbrella organization. It has general information about Collaborative Practice. 

More Information...

Our firm website offers both information about the various process choices and lots of information about the law. We regularly receive positive feedback about what a great resource it is for the general public.  www.GalbraithFamilyLaw.com 

Of course, the best way to learn about your rights and obligations is to have a consultation. Our firm of experienced lawyers only practice family law. We offer one hour no-obligation consultations at a substantially reduced rate. You can ask all your questions and get answers particular to your case. Clients feel relieved of the uncertainty after a consultation.

Call 705 727-4242 or email JMcTighe@GalbraithFamilyLaw.com to book a consultation today.  

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
















 

Costly Kids - Worth Every Dime

Below is a fantastic graphic about the cost of kids. I have four of them and can say, without a doubt they are expensive and worth every dime. They truly enrich my life. 

 

Costly Kids
Created by: EarlyChildhoodEducation

Protecting the Children of "Baby Mommas"

Brenda Shapiro, a lawyer in Florida, submitted the following article to me about how in the USA there are provisions for wealthy parents to pay money into trust funds for their child as child support. We don't have such statutory provisions in  Ontario, Canada but I really like the idea. In Brenda's example, a young wealthy father, perhaps an elite professional athlete, could be ordered to pay some money into a trust fund for their child so as to provide future security. What a great idea! 

Although we don't have legislation that would allow a judge to order this, we certainly could set up a trust fund by agreement. 

Thanks Brenda..... Here is Brenda Shapiro's blog entery. 

Protect the Children of 'Baby Mommas'

By Brenda Shapiro, Esq.

When a young girlfriend of a professional athlete, musician or other celebrity gives birth, she joins the growing number of “baby mommas” in South Florida and the nation. While these women in their teens or early 20s come from very different social and economic backgrounds, they would all like their children to have a secure financial future.

The fathers have different goals. Even if he has a good relationship with the baby momma and contributes to his child's care. Fathers live in the fast lane focused on career and endorsement contracts. They buy every boy toy imaginable including cars, jewelry, multiple residences, boats, planes, et al. spending their new wealth freely.

For most of these fathers, marriage to the woman who gave birth to their child is unnecessary. They hope to avoid a host of legal and financial complications. And there are other fathers who try to distance themselves from the situation, forcing the baby momma to file a paternity suit to establish her child’s rights.  

Today, a professional athlete might have a three-year contract for $5 million, $10 million or more per year. That's a big chunk of change for a young man in his early twenties whose life has suddenly changed. He is in the media spotlight and constantly being told he's a star.  He is pursued by money managers, who promise to manage the financial and investment side of his life, who may or may not have his interests at heart.  

Few professional athletes think ahead about what will happen to their money after their peak earning years come to an end. Only a handful of pros like Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal or celluloid stars like Brad Pitt have been able to harness their skills and celebrity status to find success in the business world. Yes. Angelina Jolie is a baby momma.

So, what does short-term earning curve mean financially for baby mommas and their children?

First, the new mother is entitled to child support, based on guidelines established by state statute. Those guidelines are designed to meet the immediate needs of the child – not the mother. And unless the child requires special medical or developmental care, the monthly cost of providing food, shelter, clothing and day care is going to be relatively small compared to the father's high income.

Paying child support usually poses no immediate problem for the high-earning father – at least until the contract comes to an end. Then the financial picture will probably change dramatically. There may be no money left for the child, since the flow of funds has been drastically reduced and the many assets are now liabilities without cash flow to pay the debt.

In light of this all-too-familiar situation, statutes should be revised to address "Good Fortune" child support. Good fortune child support recognizes the long accepted principle that children who are dependent on their parents should share in their parents' wealth. It does not require a lifestyle analysis. Instead of little league baseball or soccer, it allows the court to consider the special benefits available to the wealthy; little league baseball and soccer, swimming lessons, horse-back riding, ballet, music lessons, tennis lessons, private schooling, tutoring et al. It would create the opportunity to order irrevocable trust funds established for each child. The trust funds would be funded from the difference between reasonable child support and the statutory guidelines based upon the parents' net monthly income. An athlete earning millions a year will not notice the contributions needed to fund a college education or career training in the future. Placing the fund under the management of a disinterested third party, preferably a bank trust department selected by the parties or appointed by the court, can help assure that those dollars will be available as the child grows into adulthood.

Putting a court-ordered trust fund in place today provides the child of a baby momma with long-term financial security. Long after the father’s income disappears, those funds will be available to give his son or daughter a better opportunity in life. It's the right thing to do – for all parties.

Brenda B. Shapiro, Esq.

Attorney Brenda B. Shapiro provides legal counsel to clients on family law matters, including prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, divorce, child custody, access and time-sharing, post-dissolution, domestic violence, and grandparents’ rights. She established the Law Offices of Brenda B. Shapiro, LLC in 1994, where she is managing partner. She is also a founding director of the Collaborative Family Law Institute. For more information, www.bbshapirolaw.com. 

Four Steps to Take with Your Child After Divorce

divorced couple with babyHelping your children adjust after your divorce is essential. Heather Smith offers excellent advice on what you should do to help you child after the dust settles.

 

Here is Heather's blog: 

 

 4 Steps to Take with Your Child After Divorce

You have sat your child down and given the dreaded speech that you never thought you would have to make. Mom and Dad are getting a divorce are some of the most difficult words a child will hear from their parents mouth. There are a few things that will help you and your child during this time; here are 4 things to consider doing:

Get them a counselor: Once you have shared the unfortunate news with your child it is important that no matter their age, you get them a counselor to speak with. Weekly sessions are best for them. It gives them one day a week to discuss and work out their thoughts and feelings. Children have a difficulty opening up to parents and need that third party when it comes to dealing with the divorce. It is a life change for them as well and you need to provide them with help.

Keep quiet: No matter what you do, keep your thoughts to yourself. Do not speak negatively about your former spouse in front of the child. Keep your arguments and frustrations away from the child. Do not share details of the divorce. It is so important to keep that out of the child’s life. Children already feel a sense of responsibility of the parents’ divorce and hearing things like this will only push them further into that belief. As hard as it can be to keep your feelings in, just do it.

Remain positive Make the transition easier on them by remaining positive. Most likely parental rights and visit have been established and now come the difficult part for child, spending time in two different homes. When you drop off and pick up, be sure you remain positive. Be interested in their time at the others house and respond with a smile. You want this to be easy and comfortable for the child.

Get them involved and active: If you child isn’t already part of a sports team or involved in a hobby, be sure that you start them in something. There are all sorts of emotions for your child during this time and having a sport or hobby is a great for them to express it without doing harm to themselves or others when they act out. Sports teams are great because they require practices and game days. They are exercising and socializing with peers their age and can act like a child that they are. Hobbies like painting, learning a musical instrument will stimulate the child’s need to share their emotions. Try a few things out and allow your child to make the decision on what makes them the happiest.

Your divorce is what you make it. It may be a difficult and stressful time for you, but remember you aren’t the only one feeling that pain. Remain positive, get your child involved, find them a counselor and always keep your negative thoughts to yourself. Don’t allow your child to feel like it’s their fault, because it is never the child’s fault.

Author Bio

Heather Smith is an ex-nanny. Passionate about thought leadership and writing, Heather regularly contributes to various career, social media, public relations, branding, and parenting blogs/websites. She also provides value to nanny service by giving advice on site design as well as the features and functionality to provide more and more value to nannies and families across the U.S. and Canada. She can be available at H.smith7295 [at] gmail.com.

Divorce, Matrimonial Home and Mortgages: Sage Advice And Good Options

image of couple fighting over houseDarren Robinson is a mortgage broker in Barrie. He helps many clients who are going through a divorce refinance their home and get on their feet. He has some interesting and suprising advice. Darren is with Dominion Lending in Barrie. He wrote the following excellent blog: 

How does separation or divorce impact my home & mortgage?

On the unfortunate occasion when a marriage is dissolved, there are a number of financial questions that need to be answered.  The most important is what to do with the matrimonial home?  The two easy answers are; 1) sell it, divide the equity & move on or 2) one party buys out the other party and stays in the home.

While option one might sound like the simplest option, if the couple have kids it is usually better for them to keep some type of consistency in their lives.  Staying in the home will allow them to remain at the same school & keep their neighbourhood friends which can be very comforting.  Also, option one might not be financially possible due to mortgage penalties or a weak real estate market.

In order for option two to work the spouse will have to ensure that they will be able to afford to stay in the house on one salary.  The current lender will need to re-qualify the applicant on their own before they will allow the ex-spouse to be removed from title and released from the mortgage (it is extremely important that both these steps are taken because it is possible for someone to be removed from title but still remain responsible for the payments if the mortgage is in arrears).  This transaction normally doesn’t involve any lender penalties but a real estate lawyer’s service will be needed to transfer the title.

If, as part of the separation agreement, the spouse remaining in the home is required to make a lump-sum payment to the other, they may need to refinance their mortgage to enable equity to be taken out of the property.  This may or may not involve lender penalties (check your lender’s policies).  In many cases the lender will allow you to leave your current mortgage intact but add refinance funds to the original balance in a transaction called a blend & extend, avoiding any penalties.  There are lending rules in place in Canada that will only allow a home owner to refinance their mortgage to 85% of the home’s value.  This can be very limiting to couples who have less than 15% equity in their home, so CMHC (Canadian Mortgage & Housing Corporation) will allow, on a case-by-case basis, the transaction to go through as a purchase to 95% of the home’s value.  This can then free up most of the capital the couple has accumulated in the house for a more simple division of assets.

If the spouse staying in the house does not qualify for a new mortgage on their own there is the possibility to add a co-signer/co-borrower to the mortgage.  This applicant is normally a parent or sibling who has good credit/income and is willing to take over payments on the home if the loan goes into default.  An alternative option is to leave the ex-spouse on title but I highly recommend against this because no matter how amicable your relationship is now you never know how your relationship will evolve in the future.

Keep in mind that most lenders require a finalized separation agreement be in place before they will consider a new approval.  They will need complete visibility/disclosure of any alimony or child support payments, as they will need to be calculated when qualifying the client for a new mortgage.

When facing separation or divorce it is always best to sit down with a mortgage broker for a free consultation.  They will be able to outline viable options and work through different scenarios throughout the separation process to ensure you’re making the best financial decision available to you.

If you live in the Barrie, Ontario area I’d be happy to set an appointment at my office (62 Commerce Park Drive, Unit N) to discuss your options and detail a plan to move forward.  You can call me at (705) 737-6161, (888) 737-6162 or by email drobinson@domininionlending.ca.  Alternatively you can find more information about mortgage financing at www.darrenrobinson.ca.

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.

Ontario Collaborative Law Federation Conference 2012

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

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

The theme is "Building High Performance Teams". 

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

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

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!

 

 

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. 

 

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

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

 

Family Court versus Collaborative Practice: You Choose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Healthy Boundaries While Co-Parenting

Co-parenting after divorce is not easy. It's like walking a tight rope at first. 

You want to be cooperative and communicate well but on the other hand how close is too close with your ex spouse?

Karen Buscemi wrote a great blog in the Huffington Post about keeping boundaries with your ex spouse. Karen says there are five things you should not do:

1. Don't give your spouse that sexy look.

2. Don't hug your ex spouse.

3. Don't give your spouse too much attention at social events.

4. Don't stay too chummy with your ex spouse's family.

5. Don't use your ex spouse's friends.

There are two sides of the coin. I fully agree with Karen but would add the following:

1. Don't give your ex spouse that dirty look like you are disgusted by them. How would you feel if you saw one of your parents give the other parent that kind of look?

2. Don't push your ex spouse away. If you need a hand, ask for help. If your ex needs a hand, help out. Treat your ex like a good neighbour.

3. Don't pretend that your ex spouse does not even exist when at social events. Occasional eye contact is polite. Maybe you could even say "hi" .  It wouldn't kill you.

4. You don't have to be enemies with your ex spouse's family. You can still be friends. There are a lifetime of events you will share so reach out and try to break the ice. It is awkward but worth some effort to make things comfortable for everyone, especially your children.

5. Your friends can be your ex spouse's friends. It isn't fair to ask them to keep secrets so remember that what you say or do may get back to your ex spouse. If you have something to hide, be careful. But, hey, who has something to hide?

Striking the right balance is a real challenge. Working with a Family Coach or Divorce Coach (both are therapists with special training to help clients move through the emotional stages of divorce) really helps. 

Walking on a tight rope is challenging at first. You might fall from time to time. Your spouse might fall too. Be patient. Put in supports to catch you when you fall such as a Family Coach. Raising kids is like being in a circus. Co-parenting is just another act! You can do it... one step at a time! 

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. 

 

  

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.

Introducing My Newest Son Liam... and What's In A Title Anyways?

Introducing my new son: Liam Galbraith. 6 lbs 12 oz. 21 inches. Happy and healthy.

I am 47 years old and have 4 sons aged 19, 16, 13 and just a few days old. Ten years ago, I could not have imagined how my family has changed. At that time, we were "mom, dad  and three sons". Now, we have new titles: ex-wife, ex-husband, step-son, half-brother, step-mother in addition to  mom, dad, sons and  brothers... oh and "step-grand mother", "step-great grandmother" and more! The list of titles has become quite long.

I have mixed feelings about these titles.

After I separated, it was important that I be very clear that only two people could use the titles "Mom" and "Dad" in our family, regardless of any significant others that came into our lives. I guess I felt a bit insecure about some new-comer trying to usurpe my role as father. Now, I am not as concerned with these titles; I know that our boys know in their hearts who is their mom and dad regardless of any new partners. But, I guess I like the title and would not want to share it. 

"Step-mom" is a loaded term. It seems to go along with the term "evil" as a result of some nursery rhymes. It is not a title we regularly use. My kids call my wife by her first name. But, if a teacher or someone just meets my wife and looks quizzically at her, wondering how such a tiny, young French-Canadian woman could have such huge, teenage boys, my son might say "oh... she's my step-mom".  One teacher said in response "Oh. I see. Parents are getting younger and younger every year!" We had a chuckle.

The title "ex-husband" or "ex-wife" also has negative connotations. Perhaps it comes from the natural inclination to find blame with someone, or maybe it just feels so exclusionary - like we are just part of the past. We may not be married but we still parent three sons together so communicate regarding parenting decisions almost daily. In a way, she's still part of my family. So, I usually introduce her as "the mother of my boys" - because that also describes our ongoing parenting relationship. (Hmmmm with the arrival of Liam, I may have to alter that introduction a wee bit!)

Liam has three "half-brothers". I too have a half-sister but you would never know it. She's "my sister". To me, the term "half" suggests she is half sister and half something else which begs the question "what's the other half?" In fact, my sons did not know she is technically my "half-sister" until my father's funeral this past May. To me, she has always been and will always be my sister. Period.

Titles help others understand the complicated nature of our family but they don't tell you anything about the state of the relations. Sometimes "dad" means "source of all wisdom and humour" but lately I think it may mean "embarrassing old goof". Either way, I know my boys love me deeply, even if they prefer I sit in another room occasionally! .... Whatever.... 

"A Family Is A Family" - A Great Documentary

Some documentaries are moving. Some are thoughtful. Some are insightful. I just watched an amazing documentary by Rosie O'Donnell that is all three. Wonderful interviews. Great music. Inspiring message.

Here is the trailer.

 

It's an HBO documentary. The message is that it does not matter what form your family comes in (a mom and a dad, two moms, two dads,adopted, extended, blended, test tube or otherwise), a family is about love and support.

Take the time to watch this video.

... and celebrate all families.

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. 

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. 

Collaborative Musical! Another Great Video!

Here is another great video. It's another funny one! The first musical!! 

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.

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?

Interview with Nancy Newton of Rainbows

Nancy NewtonNancy Newton is the Executive Director of Rainbows. It is described on their website as "an international not-for-profit organization that fosters emotional healing among children grieving a loss from a life-altering crisis. These losses, among others, include separation, divorce, death, incarceration and foster care."

I believe Rainbows really helps kids deal with the emotional journey of their parents going through a separation or divorce. It does not replace a therapist as it is a system of peer support for the children. It's kids talking to other kids about their feelings.

Rainbows has their national head office in Barrie, Ontario.

Here is my interview with Nancy.

Q: What does Rainbows do for children whose parents are divorcing? Rainbows provides a 12 - 14 week peer support program

Q: How does Rainbows work? I understand you offer “peer support” . What does that look like? We have weekly topics that are the same at every age level of the program, however the content is age appropriate. The levels are broken into age groups and since the groups are very small, only 3 - 5 per group, it gives the participant time to express their feelings. The program is made up of the child journal (which is theirs to keep), games and activities (to encourage the participant to talk about their feelings) and final 'Celebrate Me Day', a day at the end of the session where children learn how to ask for and give forgiveness.

Q: How often and where do they meet? Children meet once a week and the time frame they meet for is based on their age. The very young 3-5 year olds meet for about 30 minutes and the older youth for about 60 minutes. The sites are at schools, places of worship, Military Family Resource Centers, CAS and other social service agencies.

Q: Why is peer support important for children? Peer support is important for children to know, they are not the only ones going through this loss, and they learn from each others experiences and feel that this is a place where they actually are understood - they 'belong or fit in'.

Q: Is Rainbows a substitute for counseling with a child therapist? We always stress the fact that Rainbows is NOT counseling. We leave the counseling to the professionals. Our volunteers are trained to identify signals that indicate children need more than just Rainbows. We have had children attending Rainbows while they are going for individual counseling. It is important for the Rainbows site to make contact with the child therapist before registering a child for Rainbows to advise the therapist that the child will also be attending Rainbows.

Q: Can the parents find out what the children are saying in the group meetings? Yes and No. The child can tell anyone they choose what they have said during a Rainbows meeting, they just cannot tell what another member of the group has said to anyone. The Rainbows Facilitator also complies with this confidentiality agreement, except if there is a disclosure of a reportable nature. Then the Facilitator follows the guidelines set out by their site.

Q: What is the cost? Rainbows is always free of charge to the children and youth.
Thanks Nancy. Our firm helps raise funds for Rainbows each year at our Holiday Party and through other events. It is a really wonderful charity and does great work in our communities.

Why Dads Suffer in Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.