A fresh perspective on divorce, spousal support, child support, parenting after separation and everything family law

The Cost of Divorce in Canada 2015: five tips to reduce your costs

My very smart friend from law school, Anna Lund (LLB, LLM, PHD Candidate) tweeted an interesting article by Penelope Graham: “The Cost of Love in Canada 2015: $50,339.21”.

The article breaks down the cost of a romance in Canada: one year of dating, one year of engagement, a wedding and a honeymoon = $50,339.21.

This statistic is much higher than I expected. Naturally, the first thing I thought about is: what is the cost of divorce in Canada?

There are many expenses related to divorce and separation in Canada. Just some examples of the costs include: court fees, legal fees, fees to obtain documents, expert reports, specialists (such as a child specialist), counselling fees… and more recently the fees related to a divorce party (yes apparently there is Wikipedia page about this!).

Given the reported cost of an average romance, I can safely say that, in my experience, the cost of an average divorce is LESS expensive than the dating/marriage phase (although generally much less enjoyable!).

That being said, family law legal matters are still expenses (often prohibitively so).

From my practice, these are some tips you can do on your own to help reduce your costs in a separation/divorce situation:

  • Do the heavy lifting on the front end. Consider a cohabitation agreement, document things in writing (i.e. who is contributing what funds to family assets, how are family finances going to be dealt with and who is responsible for what if the relationship breaks down – in a form that is legally binding);
  • Gather information on your own. Of course, it is important that the information you obtain is from reliable and free sources (for example: JP Boyd’s family law blog, CanLII, Supreme Court of British Columbia’s website, Provincial Court of British Columbia website, Legal Services Society website). There is lots of information on the internet about separation and divorce and certainly not all of it is good. If you can get accurate and reliable information you will be in a better position to consider your options and ask your legal counsel strategic questions. I often tell my clients that if they cannot fall asleep because they are worrying about their family law case reading the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines or the Child Support Guidelines is a pretty sure bet for sleep within a half hour. Being prepared and informed will empower you to feel better about your decisions and also reduce the cost of legal fees;
  • Consider some alternatives to court. (mediation, arbitration, collaborative family law). If both you and your former spouse can be reasonable and have appropriate professionals to help you deal with the contentious issues you can hopefully avoid a contested litigation;
  • Pick your battles. Don’t argue about things that are not cost effective. For example, is it worth paying a lawyer their hourly ($200.00 – $500.00+) rate to argue about kitchen utensils and Ikea furniture which is worth less than the cost of the lawyer’s time?;
  • Take advantage of free resources and options. For example, the Parenting After Separation Course, family justice counsellors, and the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program; and
  • Organize your documents. There are many necessary documents that will need to be exchanged in a family law proceeding. You can obtain and organize these on your own without the cost of your lawyer – your lawyer can review them once they are organized in a more efficient and cost effective way. I recall once when I first started practicing a lovely client brought three grocery bags of crumpled and coffee stained documents into my office for organization! I suggested that it would be much more cost effective for the client to organize them at home or to have my assistant help out for a few hours at a much lower rate. You can start filling out your financial statement before you visit with your lawyer. You can also order tax documents from the Canada Revenue Agency online and your own marriage certificate.

    Of course sometimes the divorce process is so stressful it is not realistic to take on additional work beyond getting through the day to day, parenting children and a busy work schedule – if that is the case, ask your legal counsel if there is a paralegal or assistant who can help you with some of these tasks at a lower hourly rate.

    The cost effectiveness of hiring lawyers to divide stuffies is a losing proposition...

    The cost effectiveness of hiring lawyers to divide stuffies is a losing proposition…

  • Mediation: what to expect and how to prepare

    Lots of people consider mediation as an option to work toward resolution of their family law matter without knowing exactly what to expect from the mediation process.  Is this what mediation is going to be like?

    No – it is unlikely that your mediation will be like a scene from the Wedding Crashers.  The mediator will  not sing songs played at your wedding – or even ask about your wedding (note – if you do have a story about a mediator singing in your mediation please feel free to share!) and the mediators probably will not look like Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn…(once again, please feel free to share).  Like the video from the Wedding Crashers, mediators will often refocus and reframe the negative to work towards a constructive resolution of issues between you and your spouse.

    In preparing for a mediation, there are lots of resources available on the internet and at the public library that can help you prepare for mediation and supplement the information your lawyer provides to you, as discussed below.

    Deborah Lynn Zutter‘s book, “Divorce Mediation: What You Need to Know“, sets out the general process to expect for a mediation (although mediation practices differ based on the mediator and the parties’ needs):

    • Once the parties agree to a mediation they will contact a mediator to determine who is appropriate to mediate their case;
    • The parties will mutually select a mediator;
    • The mediator will meet with both spouses (usually independently of each other) for an initial meeting to review and sign an agreement to mediate with each spouse;
    • The mediator will have one (or a series) of mediation meetings with both spouses and their lawyers (if the spouses choose to involve their lawyers);
    • The mediator may create a summary after each meeting to record decisions that have been made or points that have been brought up by both parties;
    • Once the mediation is concluded, if an agreement is reached, a document setting out the terms of the agreement will be drafted – either by the mediator, the parties, or their lawyers;

    A detailed description of the mediation process can also be found on JP Boyd’s website.  JP Boyd’s website also has a useful list of things to do and things not to do in mediation. I guess the parties in the Wedding Crashers missed this one:

    • Negotiations are stressful, but don’t use drugs or alcohol to calm your nerves. Drugs and alcohol will impair your judgment and reduce your ability to be objective.

    The Ministry of Justice has a useful question-and-answer guide to mediation, including a summary of how to prepare for mediation:

    Think about some important questions before you go to the mediation, such as:

    • What is the best outcome that you could reasonably hope for?
    • What is the worst outcome you should prepare for?
    • What are you most concerned about and what can the other person do to respond to those concerns?
    • What is the other person most concerned about and what can you do to respond to those concerns?
    • What are your options if you do not reach a settlement in mediation?