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

Divorce: love mail to prevent seven year itch?

In 2011, more than 2.1 million couples got divorced across China, which is up by approximately 710,000 from 2007 according to a report in CHINADAILY.com.cm.

It is reported that China’s state run post is taking measures to curb the rising divorce rate by giving recently married couples the chance to send each other a sealed love letter – to be opened in seven years…around the time of the seven year itch.  According to the BBC:

The post office is hoping its scheme will stop some couples from reaching the divorce courts.

They are also producing special stamps, postcards and even a Love Passport which can be stamped on every anniversary.

The success of the scheme will not be known for another seven years, believes its creator, Sun Buxin, a manager of a Beijing post office branch.

Is love mail a good idea?  I think it would be fun to write a letter to your spouse at the time of your marriage, only to have your spouse open it seven years later.  However, the article goes on to raise a good point:

As for those who divorce during this period, they could be in for an unwelcome surprise.

“If couples don’t tell us to cancel the service,” said Mr Sun, “we’ll still deliver the letter”.

One example that comes to mind, is a spouse arguing his or her former spouse should go back to work after separation and not stay at home with the children, and thus spousal support should not be payable.  If you were the spouse seeking to reduce your spousal support obligations, you would not want a letter attached to an affidavit in a spousal support claim reading “I promise to take care of you, provide for you, and spoil you forever.  You will never have to work outside of the home for the rest of your life – you will stay at home and raise our six wonderful children.”

On another note, is 2.1 million divorces a lot?

China’s 2.1 million divorces reported in 2011 seems like quite a few.

In Canada, Statistics Canada reports that there were 70,226 divorces in 2008 (as a note, Statistics Canada stoppped collecting numbers on Canada’s annual marriage and divorce rates in 2011).

While it may appear that China has a very large number of divorces, but when you consider that China’s population as of December 31, 2011 was 1,347,350,000, the divorce rate is not actually that high. By way of comparison,  Canada’s population as of March 22, 2012 is 34,745,000.

Per capita, based on my general calculations, as supported by a self-labeled “outdated” article from Wikipedia, Canada’s divorce rate is twice that of China’s.

It is important to note that there are differences in calculating divorce rates around the world.

China’s method of calculating the divorce rate was revised in 2005:

For years, the country’s official divorce rate has been calculated on the basis of the number of people divorced, the China Daily newspaper reports.

Now Chinese statisticians have decided to follow the international practice of counting the number of actual divorces, and has seen its divorce rate cut in half.

The 2005 rate fell from 2.76 divorces per 1,000 people to 1.38.

NOTE – my calculations are in not to be relied upon or viewed as accurate … but you get the idea.

Divorce: how do I select the right lawyer to represent me?

How do I find a lawyer to represent me in my family law matter?

When you are selecting a lawyer to represent you in your family law matter it is important to consider a number of factors, for example:

  1. Recommendations and referrals of people you trust – think of people whose opinion and feedback you respect – a close friend, a family member, a trusted professional like your accountant, a lawyer you use for other legal matters, or a trusted colleague.   It is a good sign if someone who has used a lawyer before has great things to say about his or her services;
  2. Experience – has the lawyer you are meeting with handled a case similar to yours, does the lawyer focus on family law (or is it something they do once in a while).  These are important considerations – I wouldn’t get my hair colored by someone who only does hair cuts;
  3. Fees – find out how your lawyer charges for his or her services and think about what you are willing to pay.  Keep in mind that the lawyer who charges the least for their services might not be the best option.  The cost of legal services is variable depending on the region you live in.  Determine what a reasonable rate is in your area (for example, your friend who lives in Toronto might have to pay a higher rate than you).
  4. Comfort level:  You will want to make sure you feel comfortable with the lawyer who is going to represent you and that they appreciate and listen to your goals.  Some lawyers charge for a initial consultation but it is worth spending the money to make sure you select the right lawyer.   It is reported that Heidi Klum interviewed a number of divorce lawyers in Los Angeles when deciding who she would get to represent her.
Sue Talia’s book, How to Avoid the Divorce from Hell: (and dance together at your daughter’s wedding) provides a comprehensive checklist which expands on the ideas above.  Sue Talia also provides a list of “Six Questions Not to Ask Your Prospective Lawyer” including:
  • “Are you really tough?”
  • “What is your win/loss record?”
  • “What is your track record against Attorney X?”
  • “Can my husband bribe the judge?”
  • “You’re a woman, so won’t you side with my wife?”
  • “My husband is SO intimidating…are you sure you can stand up to him?”

Family Court: what not to wear

Clients ask me all the time: what should I wear to court?

"Do not wear - even if you are seeking a no contact order"

I advise clients to wear an outfit that they feel comfortable in, that conveys respect for the court, and that is something they consider appropriate to wear to an interview for an office job.   I wear a suit to court (black or dark grey usually), so I don’t have to put too much thought into what I am going to be wearing each day.

For people who don’t attend court regularly, I will be publishing two blogs later this month about what to wear to court (one for men and one for women).

This blog is about what not to wear to court.   I have actually seen people wearing all of the items listed below to court over the years.   If you are heading to a day in court, do not wear the following:

  • T-Shirts (especially with offensive language or drug references – sorry Allie, no hello Kitty T-Shirts either);
  • Exercise clothing (no lululemon);
  • Clothing showing lots of skin (sleeveless shirts, short shorts/skirts, low cut tops, stomach bearing tops, anything showing your underwear or tattoos);
  • Flip-flops and beachwear;
  • Hats, sunglasses, excessive jewellery;
  • Clothing that is too small or too large;
  • Political apparel (what if the judge does not share your enthusiasm for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and PETA?);
  • Stained, ripped and dirty clothing; and
  • Sports jerseys.

Some other ettiquite points to consider when attending court include:

  • Turn off your cell phone (if you absolutely cannot miss a call put it on vibrate);

    "No coffee in court"

  • Do not listen to music (no i-pod, no ear buds);
  • Arrange child care well in advance so you do not have to bring your children to court with you;
  • Avoid chewing gum;
  • Do not bring food or drinks (aside from water) into the court room;
  • Do not smoke; and
  • Be on time.


Reddit My Divorce

RedditReddit.com is one of my favorite websites.  I go there almost every day to check news and important things on the internet.  This weekend I decided to search reddit for “divorce” -I should not have been surprised that there were about 5,400 results in 0.663 seconds (but I was).

There were funny threads and insightful threads.  Some of the threads  that I found most interesting (a mix of funny, serious and newsworthy) were:

There are so many different threads and posts on reddit.com that I had to stop reading (and get back to work).   While it is generally not possible to verify the identity of people posting on the internet, reading posts like these does provide useful insight into the perspective of others.

***Please note that some of the language used on the attached links is not safe for work (and the views expressed do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Hart Legal…or Christine Murray).

Divorce: why don’t my papers look like Kobe Bryant’s?

Q: What are my divorce documents going to look like?  Why do they look nothing like the documents I see online or on TV?

A: Recently, copies of celebrity divorce documents have showed up on the internet for anyone to view. For example, Kobe Bryant’s wife filed for divorce and the papers were published on popular websites for the public to view.

The reason that the documents look different from that of Kobe Bryant or Arnold Shwarzenegger is because divorce documents look different in each jurisdiction.

Why didn't I get served with something that looks more like this???

In British Columbia, a claim for divorce (formally called a Notice of Family Claim) generally looks like this .  It will be filled out by either you or your lawyer and customized to meet your personal circumstances.

Q: Do I have to worry that everyone can see my divorce documents on TMZ.com…or CNN?

Generally, no.  In British Columbia only certain people can access divorce documents.  It is set out in the Supreme Court Family Rules (Rule 22-8) that only certain people can search a registry file in British Columbia unless the court orders otherwise – the parties, a person authorized by a party or party’s lawyer or a lawyer.

However, the fact that the court does not release your documents to the general public does not preclude your ex-spouse (or soon to be ex-spouse) from sharing them.   It is best to keep your court documents private and only disclose documents if your lawyer advises you to.

In certain jurisdictions, such as in Alberta, anyone can access a family law file if they make the appropriate request to the courts.  Again, it is important to note that things will be different in each province and country so what may be the case for you in British Columbia might not be the same for your sister in Alberta or your uncle in California.

Also, it is important to note court proceedings  are generally open to the public in British Columbia and court decisions are available online.

Divorce Please: Department of Justice says no thank you

Recently a couple has been told they cannot get a divorce in Ontario…because they were never really married?

Two women, who regularly reside in Florida and England, were married in Ontario in 2005.    These women applied to the Ontario Court for a divorce.  A  legal argument filed by the Department of Justice  opposes the couple’s joint application for a divorce.  The Department of Justice argues that the couple cannot get divorced because the places they regularly live do not recognize their marriage as being valid – Florida and England are jurisdictions that do not recognize the validity of same sex marriage.

So what gives?  Is this a politically motivated interpretation of private international conflict law to advance an agenda?

While I feel the argument filed by the Department of Justice is a very strong application of conflict law, there are some valid reasons why a couple (same sex or different sex) might not be able to get a divorce in Canada if they are not resident in Canada (even if they were married in Canada).  For example:

  1. Provincial residency requirements in civil marriage acts can require that one spouse reside in a province for a certain amount of time before applying to that province for a divorce (as a note – I am not aware of a provision requiring you to live in a province for a certain amount of time before getting a marriage in that province); and
  2. Lex loci celebrationis (the Latin term forl aw of the place where the marriage is celebrated) vs. lex loci domicilli (law of the domicile). The rules for the essential validity of a marriage are governed by the laws of the pre-marital domicile and formal validity of the marriage are governed by the location of the celebration. These conflict of law rules apply equally to same sex and opposite sex couples;

Prime Minister Steven Harper has said that he is not re-opening the issue of same sex marriage that was resolved in 2004 by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision (it was found that the federal government had the authority to amend the definition of marriage to allow all Canadians to marry.

Update January 13, 2012: a statement was issued by the Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, clarifying that a legislative gap had caused the above noted confusion and that it will be closed:

…I want to make it clear that, in my government’s view, those marriages should be valid…

As reported in the Globe and Mail:

Mr. Nicholson blamed the former Liberal government for the problem, because, when it legalized same-sex marriage, it did not address the fact that the residency requirement was destined to leave thousands of couples unable to divorce. Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler responded that it did not stick out as a serious potential problem.