Family Law 101: Dos and Do NOTs of Family Litigation for the Uninitiated
August 14, 2020
- Start a calendar or journal. Keeping track of who had care of the kids and when or where different events happened as close to the time is occurred as possible means that your memory will be fresher and you will have a record of events to support your version of the story if it ever becomes an issue. This can also be a great place to keep a running list of expenses and other information about your separation all in one place.
- Keep receipts for EVERYTHING. During your separation and following there is likely going to be disagreements about who is going to pay for what or how much someone paid towards various debts. If you have proof of what the expenses are, and who paid them, you will be in a much better position when trying to get your partner to contribute to those expenses. This is especially true when dealing with medical costs, housing expenses or children’s activities.
- Separate your finances. Any funds that you receive after separation are yours. Outside of joint mortgages or joint debts that could affect your credit rating (see point 2), you should not continue to pay for debts in the other party’s name or give them access to your finances. This means re-directing new funds to your own account and stopping any auto-payments on debts not in your name. Be aware however that you will still potentially be on the hook for child or spousal support depending on your circumstances. You should also tell the other party what you are doing so to ensure they have the opportunity to make arrangements for payment.
- Look after yourself. A separation is an emotional thing for anyone to go through. Making sure that you get enough sleep, have proper supports in place or even seeing a counsellor can help you through the grieving process faster and make sure that you are at your best to deal with the emotional and often stressful issues involved in a logical way.
- Be prepared to compromise. Almost no family files end with either party getting 100% of what they want. You are going to need to be able to bend and compromise, especially if there are young children involved. Not to mention that being prepared to make reasonable compromises will save you a lot of time, frustration and money in the long run.
- Post online about your separation. Online posts and pictures are easily accessible to the public, even with privacy settings. Digital evidence can often be used against you in the future and disparaging the other party is never worth it in the long run. If you need to talk about the separation, call a friend, write yourself a letter, do what you have to do. But DO NOT post about it online.
- Involve your children in the separation. Very few things are more damaging to a child than hearing one parent attack the other. In doing so you are in effect telling that child that half of them is bad as well. Protect your kids and keep them out of it. Do not talk badly of the other parent in front of them, do not fight with the other parent in front of them. Divorce is already a lot of change for children and they need to know that their supports remain in place and that they are safe. Make that your priority instead of taking down the other parent or becoming the “favorite” parent. Besides being bad for you kids, the courts have less and less patience for this type of behaviour and it can often backfire.
- Get your new partner involved. Although it is great to have a new partner that can offer you support through the difficult litigation process, it is important that they are limited to just that – a support. Getting your new partner involved in confrontations or arguments with your former partner is only likely to escalate the situation. Lawyers and the court will often either deny or limit a new partner’s participation as they are not directly involved in the issues being addressed.
- Make your partner into a monster. Litigation, and especially family litigation, brings out the worst in people – including you. Your former partner may infuriate you and know how to push all of your buttons, but you probably at least liked them at one point, or you wouldn’t have been in a relationship. Try to remember that in most cases they are probably not truly the monster you may see them as right now.
- Spend a dollar to get a dime. Many people fight over smaller issues because of the “principle” or a sense of what is right. There is nothing wrong with that, but nickel and diming every single issue is also likely to drag the matter out even longer and cost you much more in legal fees, time and stress. It is important to fight for the things that matter, but also try to pick your battles along the way.
These dos and don’ts are provided as general principles that can be applied in many family law cases but may not apply to your specific circumstances. If you are going through a family law matter or have separated from your partner we strongly recommend you seek the advice of an experienced family law lawyer to get specific advice about your case as well as your legal rights and obligations.