Divorce is a fairly complicated legal process. It involves not only the knowledge of divorce and property laws but also the ability to understand the procedures requiring the filing of various forms and meeting certain deadlines. Failure to take steps in a timely fashion may result in detrimental consequences for you.
I just had a consultation in Calgary when the unrepresented father of two children took the case to Court himself to lower the amount of child support payable and to deny the paternity in relation to his 12 year-old daughter. His case was dismissed by the judge. Instead of consulting the lawyer before going to court, he came after the application had been heard. Now it will cost him more money to undo it, if at all possible. He also missed the deadline to appeal the decision. What a mess!
Here are my top 7 suggestions:
- At the very least speak to a lawyer before you make any decisions about your family. In Alberta you can obtain some help by calling Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-661-1095 and speak to a lawyer for half an hour free of charge.
- Some lawyers may give a free consultation (I was doing that in my first 15 years of practice).
- Book an in-person, one hour consultation with a lawyer who practices in this area even if you have to pay. Phone a few lawyers before booking. Have a written list of question with you so you do not forget to ask.
- For the first visit in the lawyer’s office, on one page, write down yours and your spouse’s full names (as they appear on your marriage certificate – it is important!), your children’s complete names, and dates of birth for everybody. I had a consult once where the couple had eleven children and it took some time to write it all down.
- Ask the lawyer yourself how you can minimize the costs. Pick the one who sounds most reasonable. I ask my clients to organize their financial documents (disclosure). I give them a list which we review in my office and then, when we meet again, I just review the documents with them and answer questions.
- Do not have the lawyer write your story for you (Affidavit). It is your life and you should write it. Simply ask for guidance with respect to the points that need to be addressed; e.g. I ask my clients to do the following in case they seek child support for the children:
- Set out your Income Tax Returns for the last 3 years plus proof of your ongoing income (from all sources) stating what you do in one paragraph.
- Have a similar paragraph for your spouse; attach the documents proving your incomes.
- Include full names of the kids, indicate who they live with, how much time they spend with the other spouse, put it all in another paragraph.
- Any extra expenses for the children (section.7 expenses) I ask to be put with the proof by category of the expense, and by child, by calendar year (this is important because a lot of parents get confused and calculate the expenses on the school year). I ask my clients to tell me how much time it took them to write an Affidavit and have been told two to five hours. This translates into a savings of over $1000.00.
- Unbundle your legal services. In other words, hire a lawyer for a part of your case. It’s like going to a restaurant and you can have a five course dinner or just a dessert. If you want to find out what the dessert tastes like just e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) asking about unbundling and we can work out a delicious deal.
Dr. Anita Dorczak, is a Lawyer , Mediator and Collaborative Practitioner. She practices alternative processes that let clients resolve divorce and family disputes outside of courtâ€”making the divorce process easier and less confusing. Dr. Dorczak uses her skills to provide reasonable solutions to clients’ problems with the least possible time, cost and stress.