Ontario Trustees on How to Save Money on Your Separation or Divorce
About 38% of all Canadian marriages end in divorce, resulting in approximately 70,000 divorce orders annually. More couples are financially affected by family law disputes than by any other single area of the law. Family law cases make up approximately 35% of all civil cases and involve large amounts of court time.
There are several strategies you can employ to help keep the cost of your separation or divorce down, many of which are described here below.
Stay In the Home for the First Year
Most divorces in Canada are based on one year of separation. Separation entails “living separate and apart,” which means you do not necessarily have to be living in separate homes. Economically, it may make more sense to continue to share the same home for various reasons, including caring for children or elderly parents, paying down your mortgage, having potentially fewer transportation costs than otherwise, or if you employment is unstable. You can legally document when your marriage actually broke down in a separation agreement if you later want a divorce.
Get Legal Assistance
Getting legal advice can save you money in the long run. One study found that people who receive legal assistance are up to 1,380 per cent more likely to have better results in court than those without representation. When you meet with the lawyer, come prepared with the records related to your assets and debts to save a large amount in legal and administrative fees.
The Law Society of Upper Canada has a lawyer referral service where subscribing lawyers are prepared to assess your circumstances and can provide you with a 30 minute free consultation. Family law is complex and you want to make sure that the lawyer you hire will properly manage your file cost efficiently. Your local Family Law Information Centre can also be of help and let you know if you qualify for Legal Aid.
Consider Unbundled Services
While most law firms have a standard retainer agreement to provide legal services, many lawyers are willing to customize their retainer agreement to suit your needs or offer a “limited scope retainer” or “unbundled services.” This means the legal services provided by a lawyer can be for part, but not necessarily all, of your legal matter. Basically, you have a legal contract to hire a lawyer to help you as needed.
A limited retainer can be for one meeting to obtain a legal opinion, or it can be for matters related to litigation such as drafting any affidavits, attending mediation, preparing for an examination for discovery or to be your representative in court for a motion or trial. Limited scope representation does not mean lower quality legal services. Instead, the commentary to Rule 3.1-2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct specifies that a lawyer retained under a limited scope retainer must carefully assess in each case whether, under the circumstances, it is possible to render those services in a competent manner.
Limit Your Use of Your Lawyers’ Time
Lawyers can charge by the minute or you may inquire as to whether “capped” billing is an option. You can honestly discuss your budget constraints with a lawyer to ensure the funds you have available are used wisely. You could also ask your lawyer to pace the amount of work done on a regular monthly basis if your timeline for obtaining a separation or divorce has flexibility.
If you have questions or require general information, speak with the law clerk first. A law clerk cannot give you legal advice, but he or she can clarify instructions, document progress, provide education resources, and advise you when you need to speak or communicate with the lawyer.
Also use email as much as possible; you will have a written record of information so you are unlikely to ask the same question twice. Additionally, email limits the scope and length of each communication.
Aim to Achieve a Fair Separation Agreement
If you and your spouse can agree on a separation agreement amicably, then you can save significant costs. The more terms you two can agree on, the less work that is needed from lawyers. Be sure not to strive for a separation agreement that favours you as your spouse will likely not agree and you could be at a stalemate for a long time period. Or, your spouse might sign the agreement and later seek to challenge its terms in court.
Avoid the Expense of Going to Court Where It’s Possible
Many lawyers charge higher rates to represent you in court and so court is a place where costs can get quite expensive, especially in frequent situations where little is achieved and everyone needs to return at a later date. Separation, custody and divorce proceedings result in an average of three times as many adjournments and twice as many hearings.
Fortunately, on average, only 1% of divorce cases go to trial, indicating that most matters relating to family court proceedings can be negotiated, including by way of mediation.
Decide if a Separation Agreement Will Suffice
You may decide, after separating your finances, that you don’t want the added expense of filing for a divorce. You only really need to divorce if you wish to remarry. Additionally, as long as you are not divorced, you and your spouse may still qualify under each other’s employee health benefit plans. If you do decide to divorce, aim for a divorce that is uncontested.
Contact Us at Harris & Partners Inc. for Bankruptcy in Ontario
At Harris & Partners Inc., we strive to help you before you have any need to file for bankruptcy. In Markham, Oshawa, Pickering, St. Catharines, North York, Brampton, Toronto, Barrie, Brantford and Hamilton, our team can work with you if you are experiencing tremendous stress about your financial difficulties. Contact us at 1-800-268-8093.