Even in the most routine of Ontario divorces, there are a large number of associated costs: lawyers’ fees, court filing fees, expenses relating to obtaining transcripts and documents, expert reports, and counselling fees. That’s just to name the main ones.
But – if you are smart – there are at least a few ways to minimize some of these costs. Here are my Top 5 tips:
1. Contracts are the Way to Go. The best way to cut down the costs of a contentious divorce is to try your best not to have a contentious divorce in the first place. Cohabitation agreements and separation agreements are the best way for you to try to maximize the likelihood of a smooth, quick, and relatively cheap divorce. They set the course of action and outline the legally-binding mutual expectations of you and your partner as to how to handle finances and assets both during your relationship, and after it ends.
2. Consider the Alternatives to Court. Family Court is not the only way to get disputes resolved. There are several alternatives available, such as mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law. (Of course, this requires both of you to co-operate, which is not always possible).
3. Try Not to Sweat the Small Stuff. Not every dispute needs to be trotted out before the Family Court. Trivial issues, or disputes driven more by ego than by true disagreement, are often not worth the trouble and especially may not be worth the cost. For example, if you are paying your lawyer to fight for everyday items such as specific pieces of furniture or minor possessions, the “value” of the items can get quickly eclipsed by the time and legal costs needed to do so. In other words: choose your battles wisely, and keep the cost/benefit in mind.
4. Do Some of the Legwork Yourself. Most people are not capable of competently acting as their own lawyer (although many do try, nonetheless). But that doesn’t mean you can’t efficiently do some of the tasks that lawyers and their support staff would otherwise do for you. This can include obtaining and organizing your documents (which will expedite your lawyer’s more focused review), making a start on your own financial statements, and obtaining documents from the Canada Revenue Agency or other government departments.
5. Capitalize on the Things that are Free. There are many good, reliable, and free resources out there. Take advantage of them. These can include the website maintained by the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Social Services, as well as many special-interest websites and resources aimed specifically at Family Law litigants. Using these resources, you can obtain some high-level familiarity with the Ontario and federal legislation and policies (including the Child Support Guidelines, and the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines), and educate yourself on some of the legal processes you are about to embark upon. Familiarize yourself with the reliable information available to help you at least understand, if not actually make a decision on, your various options.