How to Choose a Professional That’s Right For You
When dissolving your marriage, remember that there are 5 primary issues in divorce that will more than likely require professional advice:
- Property division;
- Asset division;
- Spousal support;
- Child support;
- Custody and parenting time.
It is a common misconception that to get divorced everyone hires a lawyer and takes on their spouse in a litigation battle that is finally decided by a judge at trial.
While all divorces must go through civil court in order to be recognized, only one percent of divorces in Canada actually end up going to trial. More than 80 percent are uncontested. Even when divorcing couples don’t agree on all the issues involved in their separation, many avoid litigation altogether, because there are other options, including mediation, collaborative law, arbitration and even do-it-yourself divorce.
Each divorce is different and can be simple to complex depending on your unique situation. You may decide to hire a lawyer or you may consider the services of a mediator, who will give you the opportunity to negotiate the terms of your divorce settlement outside of a courtroom setting. In addition, some lawyers and other professionals are now using a collaborative process, in which both parties’ professionals work together towards a common settlement goal. Don’t be afraid to ask prospective lawyers what options might best suit the circumstances of your particular case.
Lawyers are essential for a contested divorce while mediators play a vital role in an uncontested divorce. Financial planners and accountants can handle most of the financial aspects of your divorce before and after your divorce is finalized. A therapist or divorce coach can see you through the “emotional” aspect of your divorce and help you to start creating a new life for yourself.
While each of these professionals can help you through a stressful transition period, finding the right person can be stressful. In this section, we will help guide you through the process of finding a good lawyer, a reliable financial professional, a competent mediator and a therapist who’s right for you.
Mediation is a process that involves a neutral third party – the mediator – to work with the divorcing spouses in order to arrive at a negotiated settlement outside the courtroom. Unlike the win-lose nature of the litigation process, which focuses on the opposing legal rights and obligations of the two parties, mediation allows people to reach agreements that meet everyone’s interests. By nature, it is a process involving compromise where there are areas of dispute, but the goal is to arrive at a settlement that leaves both parties as happy as possible. The terms of settlement can be set out in a consent order, a separation agreement or in minutes of settlement, all of which are legally binding documents.
As with collaborative law, if there is family violence involved or a serious power imbalance between the two spouses, mediation is probably not the best solution.
Mediation doesn’t normally eliminate the need for a lawyer; your lawyer will have to approve any agreements made by you and your spouse before they become legally binding. However, the mediation process can speed up negotiations because you and your spouse communicate directly.
Many family-law practitioners are also trained mediators, so finding a mediator may simply be a question of asking your lawyer about his or her own qualifications. When selecting someone to mediate your case, know the individual’s qualifications. Ask to see a resume, and ask how long they have been practicing and whether they have ever mediated a case similar to yours. Interview at least three mediators in your surrounding area and go with the one that you feel that you would work the best with. By doing your research before you jump in, you’ll be better prepared for what lies ahead.
Family Law and Collaborative Lawyers
It’s important to do the proper research when it comes to finding a good lawyer. The right lawyer will understand your needs and try to guide you in the right direction during the court proceedings. Once the outcome has been delivered, there is no going back.
Important things to look for in a good lawyer are experience, negotiation skills, compatibility and great communication skills. It always helps to find a lawyer who can stand up in a courtroom and speak concisely and clearly when getting his point across. Organizational skills are also a must.
Here are a few important points to consider when hiring a lawyer:
- Know what you want in your divorce.
Before you rush out to hire a lawyer, consider other alternatives to traditional litigation. If you aren’t completely entangled with children and finances, you could hire a mediator to help you negotiate the terms of your divorce. Mediation is the fastest, cheapest way to get divorced, and you might not need to hire an attorney at all! If your negotiation is more complicated, you’ll have to hire a divorce lawyer to negotiate a settlement with your spouse’s attorney. Or you could consider a collaborative divorce, which is focused on negotiation with the goal of preserving a co-parenting relationship. Your last resort is a litigated trial. Typically, these are cases where neither side will compromise. So you need to determine what type of divorce attorney you need based on your unique circumstances. Realize that any lawyer you talk to will try to steer you in the direction of their own specific expertise. It’s up to you to know what you want first, so you can make the right choice.
- Know what you want in your divorce.
- Be realistic.
First, you need to realize that divorce is a legal process with the sole purpose of dividing up the family assets and resolving custody issues. Your lawyer’s job is to represent you to the best of his or her ability in this process. While you might want them to listen to your anger, frustration, pain and sadness, that is not their job. They are not trained to be your therapist or coach, and they don’t want to be. Since your attorney has higher rates and the clock is always running, it’s a gross misuse of your money if this is how you’re using them. And divorce attorneys have seen it all. What seems immensely important to you might barely register for them within the scope of the legal process. So be realistic about the role of your divorce attorney, and what you can expect from them.
- Be realistic.
- Stay focused on the goal.
Your ultimate goal in this process is to get divorced, and hopefully you can do so without any major depreciation of your lifestyle. Don’t let your emotions jump in and run rampant when it comes to negotiating over material things that don’t mean much to you in the big picture. If you do, your divorce will be longer, more litigious, and definitely more expensive than otherwise. Is it worth it? No. So keep your focus on getting divorced as quickly, and with as little financial damage, as possible. Ask yourself, what kind of divorce will do that for me?
- Stay focused on the goal.
- Identify a few potential lawyers.
Don’t jump to hire the first lawyer you meet. They are not all the same. Find at least three lawyers that you can interview before making your decision. Clearly, you need to hire a lawyer that specializes in family law and one that’s experienced in the specific type of divorce you think is best for you. The ideal lawyer has the legal knowledge and experience you need, helps you understand the process, communicates and negotiates well, solves problems creatively and is experienced in your specific court system. So you need one that’s local to you. Regardless of whether or not your divorce is headed to trial, your attorney needs to be experienced with the family law judges in your jurisdiction so that he or she can advise you appropriately on legal strategy.How do you find potential lawyers? Ask you friends for personal recommendations. Ask your trust or estate lawyer for lawyer recommendations. Go online to the numerous websites that provide client reviews of attorneys local to you.
- Identify a few potential lawyers.
- Interview and research potential lawyers.
Start with an initial phone call. Ask them about their experience and specialization within family law. Ask them about what type of client they typically represent. Ask them about their rates. Most divorce lawyers charge an hourly fee and require a retainer — a fee charged in advance. Some lawyers will also negotiate fees based on anticipated settlements. Don’t waste your time (or theirs) on a meeting if they’re out of your cost range. Most lawyers provide a free consult to discuss your specific situation and what their legal approach would be. So take advantage of it to gather as much legal advice as possible! Typically, the attorney you meet with will not be handling the day-to-day issues related to your case, so ask to meet the colleague or associate that would. The divorce process can also include financial experts, parenting coordinators, coach facilitators, and forensic appraisers. Find out your attorney’s access to these resources and if any would be relevant to your case, as it will affect overall cost. And even if you have no intention of heading to trial, look at the attorney’s trial record and history of success in court. This track record is an indicator of your lawyer’s success in negotiation.
Parenting coordination is a child-focused process designed to assist parents in resolving disputes regarding their children in a timely manner, and to facilitate compliance with parenting plans and related court orders.
Parenting coordinators can be lawyers, social workers, psychologists or other mental health professionals. They are often ordered by courts in situations where parents remain angry and uncooperative with each other, and normal means of communication about the children have broken down. The parenting coordinator works with both parents to improve communication and facilitate problem-solving between them regarding the children. Typically, they handle scheduling issues about the children’s time and implementation of the parenting plan, if there is one. Where disputes arise, they mediate between the parents and if they cannot come to an agreement, the parenting coordinator is empowered to make final and binding decisions.
Really consider long and hard whether you actually need a parenting coordinator. In my case, there was no other choice as there was no communication between the parties. I firmly believe it muddies the waters and it’s the last thing that your children really want. If my wife and I could not agree, the parenting coordinator would often consult with the children about their schedules to find out what they wanted before making a decision. My kids thought it was absurd that we had a parenting coordinator, and they had no interest in talking to her. They didn’t understand why we, as adults, needed someone else to make the decisions for us. My friends thought it was ridiculous, everyone I talked to thought it was ridiculous, and they all have a point. Basically, the people being ridiculous in this situation are the parents. But what can you do? “Try and get along,” is easier said than done.
A family business is considered a marital asset and therefore subject to division between the spouses. Estimating the fair value of a business is critical, and can be very challenging to achieve. That’s why it is imperative to hire a professional that is accredited in business valuation. One of the world’s most accredited organizations is the CBV Institute. Business valuators like lawyers do not come cheap, but they are worth the money invested to maximize your asset division.
For high net-worth individuals, estate planning is an absolute necessity. An estate planner should be part of your team as you navigate the divorce process. For more on estate planning, please see the Estate Planning page.
Legal Document Preparers
Legal Document Preparers can be an affordable solution to helping with legal issues in a professional, affordable, efficient, and confidential manner. Please see the Legal Document Preparers tab for more.
Chartered Financial Divorce Specialists (CFDSs)
A CFDS is a financial professional – often also a financial planner or an accountant – who has specialized skills and experience that enables him or her to analyze the long-term financial impact of divorce. For more information see the Chartered Financial Divorce Specialist tab.
A Divorce Coach is a trained mental health professional who works with you and your challenges through a divorce. A Divorce Coach has unique expertise in divorce, co-parenting, parental planning, child development and the impact that divorce has on children. For more information see the Divorce Coach tab.
Therapists and psychologists offer counselling to help you deal with your the emotional and mental challenges of your divorce. See the Divorce Counselling page for more.