These days, there is quite a lot of basic, free legal information available on the Internet, including information pertaining to uncomplicated or relatively common Family Law issues. (And I count my Blog among them).
The better information comes from government-sponsored sites, or from reputable websites written by individuals or organizations with a particular interest or passion. But even on these sites, the quality of the information can be uneven, and the accuracy can be suspect. And of course there are the truly bad sites: Inaccurate, out-dated, and often revealing the particular bias, underlying motives, or not-so-hidden agenda of the website author(s).
Furthermore, by definition even the good sites will tend to be very basic; a person with a Family Law concern may manage to find good information, but will be virtually impossible for them to find reliable and comprehensive Family Law advice, meaning input tailored to the specific parties and to their specific circumstances.
This is why it is particularly important – especially for married or common law spouses contemplating or actually deciding to separate – to obtain early, competent and accurate legal advice from a Family Law lawyer, not only about what the process involves and how the system works, but also about their respective legal rights in the unique situation facing them.
- Family Law can be complicated. An Internet site or other generalized / rudimentary source of information cannot possibly cover all scenarios, or provide comprehensive advice to parties contemplating separation. It is vital that the parties learn and understand the particular rights that arise in connection their specific scenario and personal circumstances.
- There can be many overlooked issues. When spouses decide to separate, there are many issues that need to be decided. For example: Who will stay in the matrimonial home? Who will take care of the children? Who will be responsible for paying family debts? How much child or spousal support will be paid, and by whom? How will your mutual property be divided? Moreover, there may be specific arrangements made for the short-term period immediately after separation, as compared to longer-term arrangements after an eventual divorce. All of this needs to be contemplated and the groundwork must be laid. A knowledgeable Family Lawyer is the person best-positioned to do this.
- There may be other options. A lawyer who is experienced in Family Law can (after meeting with one or both spouses) do a preliminary assessment of the specific issues that arise between them. After narrowing down the contentious issues, and assessing the likelihood of disagreement and whether there will be acrimony between the parties, the lawyer can then consider the best by which to achieve a resolution. These avenues may include alternative (and frequently less-costly) dispute resolution mechanisms such as private settlement, collaborative family law, mediation or arbitration. This way, it may be possible to avoid the court process altogether.
- Different courts govern different matters. If the matter must go to court, it can be difficult for separating spouses to even know where to begin, let alone navigate through the legal system. In Ontario, for example, and depending on where the parties live, their matter may be heard in one court that resolves all Family Law issues (including divorce, custody, access, division of property, adoption, and child protection). In other regions of the province, however, family law matters are dealt with by two separate courts, with one being limited to non-divorce matters and dedicated to hearing only issues relating to support, custody / access, and child protection or adoption. This can be confusing and overwhelming, to say the least.
With all of this in mind, it is crucial for spouses considering separation, or who have already split, to seek competent advice from a Family lawyer. But in addition to the items listed above, one of the most important services the lawyer can provide, is to give advice on negotiating and formalizing a written separation agreement (which will reduce the parties’ agreement into a binding contractual form). This is often one of the most fundamental – and frequently overlooked – steps in the long and complicated separation and divorce process.
At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at www.RussellAlexander.com