What’s the deal with unbundled legal services?




It’s not just a term used to describe cable tv and phone services. Nowadays it’s also a term used to describe the delivery of legal services, especially in my own area of legal expertise, family law.


Let me explain.


Traditionally family law lawyers retained by a party in a family law dispute assumed responsibility for everything until the matter was settled, either by agreement or court order.


This included responsibility for filing or defending legal proceedings, (called “being on the record”), sending and receiving documents and correspondence, to and from, other counsel, attending all court appearances etc.


Retaining counsel also meant being asked to provide a monetary retainer. An inconvenient, and not so insignificant lump sum, with no guarantee usually given that the retainer will be sufficient to settle matters, and often not.


And as the cost of legal services has continued to escalate, this traditional model of providing family law services has become simply unaffordable for any, but the wealthiest.


Which is the reason that many parties have no alternative but to represent themselves, sometimes referred to as self- represented litigants (SRL’s). But even SRL’s still need access to effective, and affordable legal advice and assistance to navigate an intimidating, and complex, family law system.


And also the reason and motivation to provide individuals with the option of using a different, “unbundled” model, to access my family law services. What I refer to as the “pay as you go model”, which can offer significant advantages.


These include not having to provide an up-front lump sum retainer since you will be representing yourself, and taking direct control of matters. You simply rent my time and support, as, and when, needed.


My range of services could include, helping you to understand your legal rights and obligations, answering questions, assisting you to commence, appear, or respond, to legal proceedings filed by your spouse or counsel, drafting documents, correspondence etc.


And as I always mention to anyone who chooses this option, the more effort, commitment, and work you assume, the less you’ll pay for my services. With the added bonus, if you don’t like what I do for you, you can terminate my services easily by not renting any more time!


Also, since I am not retained as your counsel any and all documents and correspondence will need to be sent to you rather than me, another legal expense you can avoid.


In addition, since you are representing yourself you have the right to deal directly with your spouse’s counsel, whose services are being subsidized by your spouse.


There’s also another potential indirect advantage to effectively representing yourself, if your spouse has retained counsel. Since your spouse, no doubt, dislikes the fact they are paying heftier lawyer bills than you, this fact alone can often encourage a sudden, and much more reasonable settlement strategy, on the part of your spouse and counsel.


So if you happen to be involved in a family law matter, and you’re concerned about legal costs, (and who isn’t), check out lawyers like myself who provide unbundled family law services.


Finally, just think how impressed your ex will be to know you’re taking control, while paying less!















Parenting Made Better?


Do more parents make better parents?


Hilary Clinton, yes that Hilary, said “it takes a village to raise a child”. And here in BC, under BC’s new Family Law Act, it means any number of the villagers can obtain the legal status of parent on the child’s birth certificate.


But as I recently talked about this subject on the Roy Green talk show on the Corus Radio Network on 980 am, with family lawyer barbara findlay, I’m not yet convinced it’s a good thing.


Here’s why.


To be registered as a child’s legal parent in BC all it takes is for the involved parties, prior to the child’s conception, to negotiate a written agreement regarding each “parents” role and responsibility in raising the child. As Barbara explained, under the law, there is really no upper limit to the number of parents a child can have.


But I don’t know how any child, (I’ll call her Suzie), actually benefits from having more so-called legal parents in her life? Or does this just make the parents feel better?


After all, there is no way to ensure that any of Suzie’s parents will actually perform according to their agreement. Simply adding a parent because you want them involved in the life of a child guarantees nothing. I would like to think that Suzie would receive the love and attention of many adults in her life without the need of classifying them as legal parents.


Just not sure because Suzie has four or more of her parents attending her parent teacher conference that she will feel better off, or just incredibly confused?


In addition, what happens when these parenting relationships, like any other, fail as they inevitably will? I foresee multiple parties commencing multiple legal proceedings to establish their parenting rights, with Suzie, in the middle.


Family courts in BC will then be forced to make decisions involving Suzie’s parenting, based solely on what is in Suzie’s best interests.


Seems to me the framers of BC’s Family Law Act should have taken more time to consider Suzie’s best interests before they changed it!





















Zip Your Lip – The Sequel


Don’t let loose lips sabotage your success!


The kitchentabledivorce approach is one which encourages open, honest and transparent communication between separated spouses as an alternative to costly scorched earth legal proceedings.


But there are limits. And as the following real life example demonstrates, talking with your ex before you know your own legal rights can cause big problems when trying to reach a final settlement.


A spouse came to see me for independent legal advice before signing a Separation Agreement prepared by counsel for her ex. I reviewed the agreement and advised her that the spousal support terms were grossly unfair considering the long, (25) year nature of the marriage, and the significant disparity in incomes. Husband’s income was roughly six times that of spouse.


Not only was the monthly amount of proposed spousal support thousands of dollars less than appropriate in accordance with the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, but the term of support was incredibly short (3 years), rather than “indefinite” subject to review.


Accordingly, I advised spouse to consider re-negotiating spousal support terms. Spouse appeared initially relieved. Unfortunately, spouse then recalled earlier discussion with husband regarding support. Now faced with the awkward position of either attempting to seek fairness and upsetting ex or accepting grossly unfair terms, she decides to simply accept the inequality.


Would it have made a difference, before spousal support numbers were thrown around like cheap confetti, if the spouse had obtained legal advice before talking with her ex? I think it would have provided a critical reality check, resulting in much improved terms of support.


So before you meet to sit around the kitchen table to talk legal issues with your ex get some good family law advice to understand your legal rights.


It doesn’t require a major financial investment in legal costs, and best of all, you won’t sabotage your future settlement success, or peace of mind in the process.





Getting Burned by Social Media!


Tweeting your way to termination!


This past week several Toronto firefighters found out the hard way just how easy it is to lose your job for posting juvenile and vulgar comments concerning women on various social media sites.


While some may properly ask why it’s so easy to terminate firefighters when it’s so difficult to terminate police officers for discreditable or criminal conduct, the impact of social media on employment law is indisputable, and growing.


The comments were not criminal or threatening in nature, did not use Toronto Fire Service resources, and were made “off duty”. However, the comments apparently contravened the Services social media policies, especially its recent attempt to foster increased diversity, and in particular, the recruitment of more women in its workforce.  


Early cases focused on whether or not the comments at issue were work related or not, with more lenient treatment for comments deemed not work related.


However over the past several years the line has blurred considerably. For example comments between co-workers, or threatening, demeaning comments about bosses or supervisors, or products or services, have been considered work related behaviour, and attracted more serious consequences, including termination.


There is also little sympathy for the argument, or legal defence, that anyone who posts on-line is entitled to privacy, because of the pervasive nature of the internet and social media sites.


I believe the firing of the Toronto firefighters will be successfully grieved by their union as an excessive penalty, considering their specific comments and unique circumstances. However this case does illustrate a disturbing trend.


Accordingly, if you have anything negative to say about your employer, its products or services, or your co-workers, I suggest you post with extreme caution, or you too may get burned!















Nightmare On Any Street!


The horror of parental abduction!


Listening to Kris’s story was hearing a parent’s worst nightmare. I was Roy Green’s other guest, and legal expert, on Roy’s excellent talk program airing nationally on the Corus Radio Network each weekend.


As Vancouver parent Kris explained, despite a Washington state court order granting him custody of his young son Max, his Japanese born ex-spouse had removed Max from the US and taken him to Japan. His Court Order was not worth the paper it was written on, since Japanese family courts do not recognize or enforce foreign family court orders.


While Japan is a recent signatory to the Hague Convention, which requires countries to enforce foreign family court orders, Japan has yet to pass legislation to implement the necessary procedures. So for now, a law without any teeth to help parents like Kris.


Although Kris is exploring other options, including the intervention of Interpol, Kris’s story illustrates the challenges which can occur if a parent removes children to a foreign jurisdiction, even those countries which observe the Hague Convention.


In my experience it is far more effective to attempt to prevent the children from leaving the jurisdiction than it is to have them returned after they’ve been removed.


So here are some tips if you suspect that your ex may be inclined to take the children away, whether to another province or country, and not return.


Firstly, if you are negotiating the terms of a court order or Separation Agreement, make sure you include specific provisions which require your ex to obtain your prior written consent to travel outside the province or country with the children.


Secondly, if there is no court order or agreement in place, and you have evidence that your ex has plans to remove the children permanently, you need to immediately attend and obtain a court order that your ex not leave the jurisdiction. Once you have an order it should be relayed to responsible authorities at every applicable border crossing, and/or highway.  


Hopefully, if you, and parents everywhere, take such steps, and authorities respond as they should, we can prevent re-living this nightmare on any street!

























New Family Laws!


When Share and Share Alike Isn’t Fair!


Since March of 2013 family law in BC has undergone some fairly radical changes which impact separating couples, especially with respect to the division of family property.


First and foremost is the fact that common law couples who separate are subject to the same property sharing regime of married couples, namely equal division of family property, with exceptions see below.


Secondly, there are specific provisions which exclude certain property from equal division. These include property acquired before the start of a relationship, or gifts or inheritances received by a spouse. However, while the property remains excluded from division, the other spouse remains entitled to a one half share of any appreciated value of such property.


However, in my experience with family clients, the key challenge in taking advantage of this provision is the absence of evidence, particularly for example calculating the historical value of a home, or investments, owned by one spouse before the start of the relationship. Without such evidence it becomes difficult to determine such values and frustrates attempts to negotiate a fair resolution based upon the law.


So here’s a tip. If you intend to commence living together or get married and you have property, say a home or investments, it makes excellent sense to have a written agreement which identifies the property and confirms the values. Obtaining and retaining copies of any statements or appraisals substantiating such values is also prudent.


If you don’t follow this simple but effective tip you may find that expression “share and share alike” not to your liking, except of course if you’re the spouse on the receiving end!













Post Traumatic Court Disorder



What is PTCD and what’s the cure?


No, you won’t find this particular disorder in the official manual of standard psychiatric disorders. But that doesn’t come as much comfort to thousands of traumatized Canadians, forced to handle their own family law matters. One such self represented litigant coined the phrase to describe her own experience with the family law system.


A recent report authored by Law Professor Julia MacFarlane also documented the widespread dissatisfaction of many others in BC, Alberta and Ontario, including middle class, University educated litigants, who felt isolated, overwhelmed, and abandoned by the system.


So if this condition affects you, or someone you know, what’s my prescription for a cure?


As a family lawyer myself I have made an effort to support those who represent themselves, whether out of financial necessity or otherwise, and there are certain steps you can take to help yourself.


Firstly, PREPARE. Take the time to access available on-line resources to familiarize yourself with the basic legal issues.


But also be sure to access sites from the same jurisdiction, for example, if your family matter is in BC, don’t bother accessing on-line resources in Ontario, or complete a precedent on-line agreement from a different province. That’s because each province has different laws and terminology.


Secondly, CONSULT. Just because you now have a general knowledge of the law, trust me there will be serious legal gaps.


Now’s the opportunity to invest in spending some time to talk with an experienced family law professional, especially before you prepare your own application, or respond to one. If you don’t, and mistakes are made in the paperwork ,your case may be doomed before you start.


Also keep in mind that some family law lawyers, such as myself, will

provide legal advice on a when, and as-needed basis, which eliminates the need  and cost of retaining a full-time lawyer. Technically, you are representing yourself, but you still have access to legal support when needed.


Thirdly, VISIT. Most self reps are intimidated, and totally stressed, at the prospect of going into court. This feeling is purely natural, but treatable. If you can, prior to any court date, take the time to visit the courthouse and observe some family trials or applications, which should help to put you at ease. You also don’t need the added stress of getting lost on your way to the courthouse on your first court date!


Finally, HEAL, My last prescription has nothing to do with legal advice, but at the same time will have a profoundly significant impact on both your case and the rest of your life. Being healthy, confident, and emotionally secure radically enhances the prospect that the legal choices you make are the right ones.


If you are an employee, check to see whether your company has an employee assistance program which provides free or reduced cost access to personal counselling. If not, look for other personal or group counselling resources, such as my kitchentabledivorce.ca counselling group.


Lastly, unlike most prescriptions, mine comes with no adverse side effects!











I Got Mediation!


Answer to your prayers? If you know the right questions!


Family law mediation can be the answer to help some separated parties settle their disagreements.


But in my experience as both a family law lawyer and mediator there remains a considerable amount of confusion and misinformation about the process of mediation, and the roles of mediators.


Probably once a week I will meet with a separated spouse for a consultation and be told that “my ex and I want to meet with a mediator and have them write up a separation agreement to avoid legal fees”.


So just what’s wrong with this approach anyways?


Firstly, while some mediators can be family law lawyers (such as me) a mediator need not have any legal background or experience. But regardless the role of a family mediator is not to provide legal advice, or to ensure that your legal rights are being protected, but rather to help resolve disagreements.


Some mediators will try and mitigate the lack of prior legal advice by preparing a separation agreement and advising the parties to obtain independent legal advice before executing it. Other mediators will simply prepare a memorandum of agreement and advise the parties to have the separation agreement prepared by legal counsel.


In my opinion it is far better to ensure you know your legal rights before attending mediation. If you do there is a far greater chance that any mediated settlement will be in your best interests, (and also no need to advise your aggravated ex that the mediated settlement needs to be re-negotiated because you weren’t aware of your legal rights!)


Secondly, before considering mediation you and your spouse should try and discuss what matters may be outstanding in the first place! If there is general agreement regarding the parenting of any children and the division of assets and liabilities there may be no need to retain the services of a mediator.


To find out what if any disagreements there may be, I recommend, if possible, that you and your ex first sit down at the kitchen table and review the various issues which need to be resolved. To assist my clients with this process I provide my client with a checklist which can reviewed by the parties, and then used as an outline for the preparation of a separation agreement, (or at the very least identify outstanding issues).


Thirdly, once you know your legal rights, and you and your spouse have defined the matters which need to be resolved, is the right time to consider retaining an experienced family law mediator.


So if you follow my advice, and ask the right questions, mediation may just be the answer to your prayers!










You’ve Just Been Served – Now What?

Just been served with court documents by a burly stranger on behalf of your former spouse? Now what?

Follow these three simple, but crucial, steps, and discover what you, and your ex, still have in common.

Firstly, take a deep breath and some time to read the documents. But resist the temptation to respond by angrily calling or texting your ex to express your shock and outrage. There are several reasons for this, namely your ex may have no idea what the document actually says, and further the wording will typically be formal legal terminology dictated by your ex’s lawyer rather than your ex.

Secondly, ignore the natural urge to rip up the documents, or file them away, in the hope that if you destroy it, or ignore it, it will go away. It won’t.

Worse yet, in your absence a court can, and will, make orders. Orders which can be far harsher than they would have been if you had prepared a proper response, and also challenging and costly to overturn.

Next, with documents in hand, arrange a legal consultation with a family law professional – Scott Taylor – #102 – 19610 64 Avenue, Langley, 604-534-6361.  Expect to pay anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more of legal advice.

Don’t expect a comprehensive review from a harried family duty counsel, or take legal advice from your dentist, or a friend of a friend, whose only family law experience is being divorced multiple times!

Thirdly, following the consultation you will need to prepare , or have prepared ,your  formal written response, possibly also including a claim of your own. If you decide to prepare your own documents, at the very least, have them reviewed by a family law professional before they are filed, to ensure your legal rights are protected.

However, if you follow these three steps there is also another, potentially far more valuable, benefit to you.

By responding in an effective professional manner, both your ex, and their counsel (if any), will know you are taking matters seriously, and intend to take all necessary legal proceedings to vigorously protect and pursue your legal rights.

Consequently, you have just laid the groundwork to encourage a negotiated or mediated family law settlement. That’s because your ex is no more interested in costly, protracted legal proceedings, than you are.

You do have something in common after all, trust me.

It’s called common sense.

Better late than never!

Congratulations, You’re Married!

You may be married and not even know it!

That’s because living common law, (ie. a relationship of 2 years or more), will get a lot simpler, (or more complicated), depending on your perspective beginning March 18, 2013.  That’s when the new Family Law Act becomes effective in British Columbia.  Family law as we know it, will never be the same again.

In the old days, (before March 18, 2013), establishing the property rights of couples who separated after living together for 2 years or more was complicated, especially if all of the property was in the name of only one of the parties.

It meant having to prove an action based in trust law that the other non-owning party made a contribution towards the property, entitling that party to an interest in the property.  Such family law trust actions were overly complicated, expensive to prove, with uncertain results.

Beginning March 18, 2013, the way that family property is divided will be the same whether you are living common law, or married.

Under the new Family Law Act, family property, (whether married or common-law), will include the division of all property owned by one or both parties at the time of separation.  Exceptions would include the value of property owned by a spouse prior to the relationship, or received via inheritance, in which case only the increase in value of such property would be divisible.

My advice, if you’ve been living common-law, or you’re approaching 2 years of cohabitation, it’s a good idea to talk with a family lawyer to find out where you stand.  You may discover, much to your surprise, you’re already married!