Separating from a spouse or partner is no doubt one of the most difficult events someone will experience in their lives. The worries are endless and often include the well-being of children, how time with children will be structured, debt management, protection of assets, and what support will be paid or received. It is overwhelming, exhausting and painful.
It is understandable that at a time like this, the thought of dealing with a family lawyer may not be on the top of your list. Yet, most clients breathe a sigh of relief and feel more empowered and relaxed after one consultation. They also gain valuable information as to how to protect their rights, help their children, manage their finances, and ensure the correct division of the family property.
Here are just some of the advantages of engaging a family lawyer before or after your separation:
- Family lawyers are educated and trained in family law legislation and case law, and can apply it to your particular circumstances. They can explain your rights and obligations in all areas, including parenting, child support, spousal support, and property division. They also know how the courts are deciding cases and how cases are being negotiated in real time.
- They can explain and suggest different processes that are best suited to your circumstances, reduce costs and support your family. These include mediation, arbitration, early intervention case conferences, judicial dispute resolution, dispute resolution officers, settlement conferences and litigation.
- If litigation is necessary, family lawyers understand court procedure, together with the most efficient way to move through the court process and how to avoid the pitfalls.
- Family lawyers can advise how to avoid prejudicing your rights throughout the process. Unfortunately, without legal advice, many individuals can make poor decisions which negatively affect them for years after.
- They can work with and refer you to valuable resources including counsellors for you and your children, tax specialists, forensic accountants, financial advisors, parenting coordinators and divorce coaches.
- You can lean on your family lawyer to be your voice and strength. Often, there are power differentials in relationships and it is intimidating to stand up for one’s rights. A family lawyer is your advocate and can build the process to shield you from intimidation.
- Family lawyers know what type of agreements work and which ones lead to difficulties for years to come. Sometimes an agreement appears to be reasonable but has unintended consequences. For example, overly rigid or overly vague parenting plans can lead to ongoing conflict between parents, specifically due to the wording of the terms of agreement.
- Utilizing professional help immediately can often lead to reduced expenses in the long run. For example, making an informal and rushed agreement on parenting time can make it very difficult to change that structure in the future.
- Non-lawyer divorce services cannot and should not give you legal advice. If they do or if they point you in the wrong direction, there may be limited ways to hold them accountable. These services are not part of a regulatory body like the Law Society of Alberta which has oversight of ethics and poor practice for lawyers, nor do they have supporting professional organizations like the Alberta Lawyers Indemnity Association and the Canadian Lawyers Insurance Association.
- Friends and family are important sources of strength and support. They also tend to give hours of advice. Although their advice is likely well intentioned, they are not legal experts. A team is important. Use your family lawyer for legal advice and your friends and family for emotional support and guidance.
- Everything is not as it appears. Often times, support is calculated based on an income that is actually higher than it appears. Property is divided using incorrect values. Tax consequences are not considered. Family lawyers can take steps to uncover these important facts to ensure a fair result.
- Family lawyers have experience in high conflict families and the protection of children in family law disputes. These lawyers use their education and experience to assist their clients to find solutions that are child focused as well as protecting your rights.
Sadly, poor decisions made upon separation and divorce can have long lasting consequences. Family lawyers can help to ensure that decisions made during this difficult and tumultuous time are well informed, well reasoned and empowered, while at the same time ensuring the health of you and your family.
Written by Wanda Dawson