Straight Talk About Family Law

April 28, 2014

By Fhara Pottinger

You and your spouse have hit that point where you decide to talk to a lawyer about your rights and your options.

What should you bring with you to your first appointment? What should you know?

  1. Bring –
    • your last three years of tax returns
    • at least two recent pay-stubs
    • similar information on your spouse if available
    • any social assistance or pensions you may receive such as ODSP, EI and WSIB disability pensions
    • pension, investments, mortgages and credit card statements
    • any old Orders impacting your family
    • marriage certificate if available
    • driver’s licence or other photo id
    • copies of birth certificates of children, if available.
  2. Be Organized – prior to coming into your appointment. If your paperwork is a mess, take a few minutes to organize it neatly. Doing so in front of your lawyer is time you are paying for in order to have them watch you organize your notes. This is not a good use of time with your lawyer. It helps to take a few minutes to put together a chronology of events or a “cheat-sheet” listing all the parties, children and so forth. This will help you focus, and make the appointment go more smoothly.
  3. Be Honest – with your lawyer. We have heard it all and are aware that in the midst of a break-up no one is perfect. Things are said and done which in the cold light of day, neither party is particularly proud of but that doesn’t mean your lawyer doesn’t need to know. For your lawyer it does not help us to have the opposing party or his or her lawyer surprise us in correspondence or at a conference with information we should have heard from our client. Telling us only what you think we need to know is not sufficient as you may not know what we need to know. Honesty from our client means we can take steps or give advice to put our client in a much better position.
  4. Be Prepared – to do your homework. You will likely have to complete a Financial Statement. Be honest and realistic. This is not the time to play games. It is a sworn statement and all parties will get to review it as well as the court. Misrepresenting your finances on your Financial Statement, especially on items that can be proven (such as debts, car payments and assets) will not help your situation and will not help your lawyer represent you.
  5. Be Realistic – with your expectations. Lawyers can help with financial arrangements, organization of schedules and assist you through the process. However, we cannot work magic. We can’t make your former spouse be “nice” or “reasonable” or “agreeable”. We can take steps to deal with the unreasonable or those that fail to be agreeable. We can’t ever make the opposing party be nice. Trust us, we wish we could. It would make our work so much more pleasant.
  6. Be Patient – the engineer’s adage “you can have good; you can have fast; you can have cheap – pick any two” does not apply to family law. If you want the best possible result, be prepared for the process to take time. Impatience will cost you in the long run.

Your lawyer will walk you through the process, whether you are able to negotiate a resolution or have to rely on the assistance of the court, but everything begins with that first appointment. The more prepared you are, the better your start to a happier life.