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! 
 

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. 

Helping Children Deal with Divorce

Iphoto of father walking with children have four children and my wife is pregnant. Children are the focus of our lives. The first three are from my first marriage. I remember feeling very worried about how they would do when we separated. I did some research at the time and did my best to make it work for them. I can report that they are thriving in spite of their parents' divorce. 

Nancy Parker is this month's guest blogger. She offers some excellent advice for parents going through divorce so you can help your children thrive too. Below is her article and here is her website

There are a lot of innocent victims in a divorce. Many times that includes the divorcees as well as the family and friends but if there are children involved they are the most innocent victims of all. They tend to take on most of the blame as well. I don’t know why but children almost always think that the demise of mom's and dad's relationship is their fault. In their minds someone has to be at fault and if no one else will take the blame they will. It could never be mom or dad's fault, because they are perfect.

When I was very small I thought my mom and dad were perfect, that they knew everything, and that they would never allow anything bad to happen in my life. As I got older I kept seeing things to make me question those ideals. It was truly devastating for me to find out that my parents were not superhuman. After the initial shock of finding this out I learned to love them for who they were. Because despite the fact that they weren’t perfect I realized they loved me the best they knew how and that they were doing the best that they could.

It is hard for children to understand that their parents are just people, people who do not always have it all together. Somehow in their young minds they think that to become a parent means you are some kind of a superhero or that you are closer to God than other people. The reality is far from that. Many parents not only do not have it all together but do not even know where the “all together” store is to buy it! As you have all heard many times before, parenting is the most important job anyone could have because you are molding other lives and there are absolutely no degrees required.

Then divorce comes and lands smack dab in the middle of our already not great parenting. We are struggling to deal with a marriage, our children, a job, extended family, and friends, and then along comes divorce. We are still dealing with all those things plus a failed marriage, grief, hurt, anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, and on and on. Where does this leave the children? People say kids are resilient and they will bounce back. If things are handled right this is a possibility but there are no promises. How many of us actually handle it right when we ourselves are so emotionally compromised? But this is what we must do because we love our children.

As I stated above about my folks, when I realized that my parents were not perfect but I knew they loved me and were trying the best they knew how, I learned to love them for who they were. Here is the key to helping your children get through a divorce: love them the best way you know how and talk to them as much as possible about what is going on. Not the gory details mind you, just give them something to help them understand. If you do not then they will come up with unbelievable ideas of their own usually pointing the blame at themselves.  This is not where the blame needs to rest and we need to let them know.

If you are overwhelmed with the divorce, if it is not a civil time between you and your soon to be ex spouse then you need to appeal to the other parent based on their love for the children in keeping it civil. If that is not possible then you should get help from family and friends. If you are passing the children back and forth between each other then send a trusted family member or friend to deliver the children or be at the door when the other person comes. If you need some time to sort out your thoughts then you need to talk to your children and let them know how much you love them and tell them you need alone time to think. Ask a family member or friend that the kids know and trust to take care of them for a few days. Keep things as normal as you can. Try not to turn the children’s lives upside down because yours is. It is hard enough for them to lose the day to day presence of one parent so do your best to remain calm and mature for their sake. After all, we are the adults. We are teaching our children self control so we must practice what we preach.

Keeping children on the same schedule is important. They need to be able to see the same friends and family members just as always. If they are close to a member of the other parent’s family then do not take that away from them unless that family member is not handling the divorce well. As much as it depends on you however, do not take these relationships away from the children. Try your best to keep things status quo in their lives. Above all keep letting them know how much you love them. But in turn, do not start giving them “things” instead of your time and love. They do not need the things; they do need you and the other parent. Whatever you do, do not use the kids as leverage to manipulate the other person. These are your children, not pawns in a game of chess.

Counseling is always a good idea if you think things are not going well with your children. Family counseling is a good way to start so that you can all talk about how you are feeling and get some new perspective from an unbiased third party. This is also a good place to express your feelings that perhaps you were not able to sort out when talking to your children at home. It is good if both parents are involved, not at the same time of course but every other session. The children need to know that both of you care about what they feel and that you are both still going to be there for them. If one or all of the children seem to be guarded or unresponsive then you can have the counselor try a one on one to see if they can get to the bottom of their feelings. Sometimes other family members can help the children to express how they feel. Once you have found out how they feel do not respond in a defensive posture! They are telling you how they feel, it is not wrong that they feel that way. You can talk to them about their feelings and do your best to alleviate their fears and concerns but do not reprimand them for their feelings. You may never hear another feeling again and these are not the desired results.

Let love be the reason for everything you do. This is from the Bible and is not only spiritual but practical advice for everyday life, not only in a divorce but for everything and everyone. If your main goal is to do whatever you do for the good of others then you are on the right track. Think back how you felt as a child: your anxieties, fears, needs, and desires. What could someone have done to help you? Did you have misconceptions growing up? Sometimes we forget what it was like to be young because the cares of this world strangle that innocent part of our life out. Be kind, loving, and gentle. Treat your children the way you want to be treated. They are people with valid feelings and they will grow into whatever kind of adult you train them to be. Love is the key. Don’t let your emotions cloud your mind so much that you forget who you are. Your children will stick by you and love you all the more if they realize you are doing the best you know how and that you absolutely love them no matter what. Stay strong and hold on. This time in your life will pass and you and your children can grow and be better off than ever before. That is if you do everything you do for their good and with lots of love.

Author Bio

Nancy Parker was a professional http://www.enannysource.com/ and she loves to write about wide range of subjects like health, Parenting, Child Care, Babysitting, nanny background check tips etc. You can reach her @ nancy.parker015 @ gmail.com

 

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
















 

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.

Forensic Accounting and Divorce

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

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

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

Three Things You Should Know About Forensic Accountants

1.       Why You Need a Forensic Accountant

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. What Forensic Accountants Look For

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

"Mandatory Information Program" Comes Too Late

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do I Need To Do A Sworn Financial Statement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclosure is Essential

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collaborative Cases

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Family Court versus Collaborative Practice: You Choose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Divorce in Barrie, Ontario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

Do You Really Need a Divorce Lawyer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

So, what are the costs of a divorce?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Joy, Love and Happiness in Barrie Family Court: Step-Parent Adoption

happy familyFamily Court in Barrie was filled with joy, happiness and love today. No, I am not intoxicated or otherwise delusional!  I was representing a client completing an adoption. It was great.

Justice Olah, our local family court judge, brought out toys for the children to play with, paper to draw on and an assortment of toys from earlier days when her kids were young. She never brings out such fun things for us lawyers to play with in her courtroom. We are relegated to playing with our words, documents and the Rules of Court! Kids have all the fun!

Justice Olah was very sweet and caring yet appropriately professional.  My client today was a grandmother adopting her five year old granddaughter. Justice Olah spoke to the child at length about her drawings and the toys she was playing with and her love for her grandmother. She asked my adopting client if she promised to love and care for her grandchild forever. In turn, she even asked the five year old child if she would "love and kiss and hug her mommy forever". Of course, the response on both occasions was a resounding "yes!" It was a nice touch.

We regularly do adoptions for clients. The most common type is step-fathers who are adopting their wife's children when the biological father is no longer interested in being a parent. Of course, step-mothers adopt children too. We recently received an inquiry from a lesbian couple who had a baby using sperm from an anonymous donor and wanted the non-biological mother to adopt the baby. I look forward to helping that couple get their adoption completed too.

After the ceremony, Justice Olah obliged the parties with photographs. The child and Justice Olah posed for one and then several were taken with the whole family (including me).

Often family court judges don't have the opportunity to preside over joyous events such as consent adoptions. More often, their task is to deal with acrimonious and vengeful spouses seeking to distribute the spoils at the end of a marriage. Today, on the other hand, was full of joy, hope for the future and love.

I think Justice Olah would like more days like today.

$150,000 Per Month Paternity Suit

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

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

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

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

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

How is the amount of child support determined? 

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

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

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

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