Healthier Choices

 How you divorce can effect the future health of your children!

I have witnessed firsthand the emotional trauma caused by separation and divorce on my family law clients. That’s the reason I created the kitchentabledivorce.ca support group, with the help and assistance of my spouse.

However there’s another affected group often overlooked by parents and professionals alike, the children of divorced and separating parents. Just how affected are these children?

Shockingly, according to a recently released Canadian report, these children are much more likely to suffer, as adults, from serious, adverse health conditions, such as strokes.

To date there is no explanation for such startling results. Although, some researchers have suggested that the emotional and psychological shock caused to the children of divorce somehow impairs their body’s ability to handle stress, predisposing them to develop stress related diseases as adults.

So what’s the message for separating and divorcing parents?

As readers of this blog know well, I have always advocated exploring lower stress, (and cost) alternatives, such as family mediation, or collaborative divorce, as the preferred first choice, before resorting to adversarial court proceedings.

But just as importantly, even after the legal dust has cleared, parents need to put their differences aside, establish a co-operative parenting plan, and focus on their children’s long term best interests.

Just consider it making healthier choices for your children!

HANDS on the WHEEL!

My client and I were meeting around the courtroom table across from my client’s former spouse and her counsel. Apprehension and low expectations were definitely the order of the day. If today’s meeting failed to resolve the seemingly intractable, legal issues, trial dates would inevitably be scheduled. The judge summed up the client’s legal situation with a simple, yet accurate analogy.

He compared the court case to driving a car. At the moment each client had a hand on the wheel, and could influence the direction of the car. We lawyers were sitting in the back seat requiring financial contributions from time to time, in order to sustain the car’s momentum.

Should either client decide to take his or her hands off the wheel, the direction of the car would become the sole function of the trial judge. By this time both clients would be stuffed in the trunk of the car.

At the end of the trial when the trunk is finally opened, the clients could emerge only to find themselves in Winnipeg!

I’m confident that the judge was not disparaging Winnipeg (after all I was born there-but I digress).  The point being, there is generally no such creature as a happy family law client at the conclusion of a family trial, only parties suffering from varying degrees of dissatisfaction. That’s because trial judgments rarely achieve the results that either party set out to accomplish, notwithstanding the financial and emotional price.

I am pleased to mention that our matter settled that day, without the need for trial.

Even if you believe that court remains your only option, I encourage you to explore alternatives to court, such as retaining the services of an experienced family law mediator, or a collaborative divorce lawyer, such as myself.

Something else to remember. When I walk out of the courtroom at the end of a trial, my experience with the judge is over. Yours will last a lifetime. Your family’s future is far too important to leave in the hands of anyone, other than yourself.

So keep your hands on the wheel. Or you could end up in Winnipeg!

Scary Statistics!

Two weeks ago Statistics Canada released a Report with some scary statistics for divorcing and separating couples. While the report did mention an overall decline in divorces for the period from 2005 to 2008, what caught my eye was the fact that 25% of divorce files took 2 years, or more, to conclude, which is downright scary!

Of that 25% there are no doubt spouses, already relieved to be living separate and apart, where there is little motivation to pursue a divorce. There will also be those who decide, for financial and/or emotional reasons, to put the divorce on hold.

But what about everybody else? And more importantly, if you are separating, or separated, what can you do to avoid becoming enmeshed in divorce proceedings for 2 years or more? Here are some helpful tips.

Firstly, you need to understand the divorce process, and your legal rights. Let me begin by dispelling one of the most common myths I hear in my family law practice. Namely, obtaining a divorce is easy, all that you and your ex need to do is (typically) wait a year, and then file for divorce, or have a divorce service file the papers. Since you both agree to a divorce, it’s no problem.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You and your ex need to address, and resolve, all outstanding legal matters, ie custody, support, division of assets, etc, before, a judge will grant a divorce. So, the sooner you start this process, the better, and don’t schedule any marriage dates with your new partner in the meantime.

Although as I mention this, I did meet a client last week, who said he had been divorced for several years, without having matters finally settled. This is extremely rare in my experience, and while I don’t know for sure, it suggests that the divorce service which filed his divorce papers may not have followed proper procedures. In any event because these matters were not settled when they should have been settled, any possible legal impact on this client’s legal rights and responsibilities will need to be re-assessed, resulting in more legal costs and expenses.

Secondly, I encourage you to explore any one of several alternatives to legal action, which, if successful, can drastically reduce divorce time, and cost. Personally, I believe mediation, or my favorite, collaborative divorce can work wonders, even in situations which appear irresolvable.

Lastly, and most importantly, is to remember that any legal proceeding is not the appropriate forum to punish your ex for past misbehavior. In other words, you need to try and keep your emotions, separate and apart, from your legal rights and responsibilities.

If you disregard this last bit of advice any realistic hope of a negotiated, or mediated, settlement will disappear, and you will ultimately leave your future fate in the hands of a judge. And any judge will not decide your legal issues on the basis of a personality contest.

There you have it. Three tips to prevent you from becoming just another scary statistic!

Give Peace a Chance!

How not to become another tragic casualty in your own dirty divorce war.

The weaponry in this particular conflict is purposely designed to cause maximum psychological, financial and emotional damage to it’s intended target.

The initial salvo of legal weapons, consisting of a Writ of Summons, Statement of Claim and various Demands usually begins late in the afternoon, in order to catch you off-guard, and create general shock and havoc. It works. But before you have any chance to regain your composure and dignity you find yourself a moving target for the dreaded bombardment of the heavier caliber legal weapons, consisting of Affidavits packed with accusations and allegations of all sorts, and Notice of Motions, targeting custody, property and everything else you hold dear.

In case there is any doubt in your mind, you have just become a new and unwilling recruit in a dirty war, otherwise known as divorce.

You immediately seek the advice and counsel of your own top commander, who recommends immediate evasive manoeuvres, combined with a vigorous counterattack. You launch your Statement of Defence, Counterclaim, cross application and other materials in the direction of your adversary in the hopes of stalling the attack and gaining the upper hand.

After all, as you’ve been told, the best defence is a good offence.

Months pass, punctuated by short, expensive and frustrating legal skirmishes. You assess the progress of the conflict. Your financial and emotional resources are stretched to breaking, personal relationships with children, family and friends have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair, and it doesn’t appear that any substantive gains have been made on the legal battlefield to achieve your objectives. In fact, you may not be clear or certain what are your objectives.

Then comes the final battle, and considering everything that you have suffered through, it is aptly named, it is called a trial. When the smoke clears and the final judgement is made, by someone who is a total stranger, you survey the carnage and ask yourself whether this was all really necessary.

The answer, my friends, is absolutely not.

Before firing your guns in your own divorce war, or anytime after hostilities have begun, you can make some smart choices. You can decide to call a truce, to give yourself and your “adversary” the time and opportunity to consider your options such as collaborative divorce.

In a collaborative divorce there is a team of professionals made up of divorce counsellors, collaborative family lawyers and child and property specialists, who all work together for the common good of the parties and the children.

One important feature of this process is that the parties and their lawyers agree that any and all discussions cannot be used for any future legal actions. This alone can often enhance more effective dialogue and the potential for resolution. It’s also far less costly than litigation, but most of all it’s a non-adversarial process which can create a lasting foundation for a family friendly future.

Don’t risk becoming another tragic casualty in your own dirty divorce war. My best advice to you, if you’re considering going on the legal attack or responding in kind, is to take the time to give peace a chance.