Whether your separation is amicable or adversarial, you are well served to obtain advice from an experienced family law lawyer who can help to guide you through the process. Unfortunately, the legal fees that come with retaining a lawyer can often impede the progress of one’s case. While it is normal as a client to feel helpless in this regard, there are proactive steps that you can take from the outset to help save on legal fees.
Prepare for Your First Consultation
So, you have selected a lawyer and it’s time to meet and have an initial consultation. At a minimum, your lawyer will want to know the following information:
- When did you and your partner begin living together? Are you married?
- When did you separate? What is your relationship like now?
- Do you have any children? How old are the children? Where are the children living? What are you proposing for a parenting schedule? Are there parenting issues between you and your former partner?
- What property do you have? What is the value of the property?
- Did you or your partner bring any property into the marriage/relationship? Have you or your partner received any gifts, inheritances or personal injury settlements during the marriage/relationship?
- Is there a family home? Have you and your former partner discussed what you want to do with that home?
- What debts do you and your partner currently have?
- Are you and your former partner employed? If so, what is your employment?
- How much income do you earn on average? What about your partner?
- Are there any existing Court Orders or upcoming Court dates?
Having this information organized in advance will likely result in a shorter consultation, and will negate the need for additional follow-up emails for more information (ultimately reducing your legal fees).
Bring Relevant Paperwork
Sometimes lawyers are not retained from the outset of a file, and have to play “catch-up” as a result. If that’s the case, it is prudent to bring a copy of all existing Agreements, Applications, Affidavits, Court Orders or other relevant documents for the lawyer’s review. Doing so will allow your lawyer to obtain an accurate picture of the issues surrounding your file, and will save you the legal fees by saving your lawyer from “chasing-down” your file. It will also alert your lawyer to any important upcoming dates that you may have missed as the client.
Gather and Organize Your Financial Disclosure
If you are going through a separation, exchanging financial disclosure will be at the forefront of your lawyer’s concerns. Under Alberta law, your former partner is entitled to full financial disclosure of your income, assets and liabilities. Some proactive measures that can be taken to ensure a smoother process for providing financial disclosure include:
- registering online with the Canada Revenue Agency so you have quick access to Income Tax Returns and Notices of Assessment for the three most recent tax years; and
- setting up online banking with your financial institution so you can easily access past and current account statements.
Having these documents ready at your lawyer’s request will cut down on back and forth correspondence (saving you money in legal fees).
Providing your lawyer with as much information as possible from the outset will inevitably reduce your legal fees and allow him or her to “hit the ground running” on your file.
Written by Suzanne Fleming