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!

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Three simple rules to help you get what you need.

Trust me, you don’t want to be receiving this bad news by mail from your spouse’s family lawyer.  Or worse yet, being tacked down and served with papers by a complete stranger.  Not that there’s any “good” way to receive notice from your spouse that the relationship is over.

While the news may, or may not, come as a surprise, or in fact be welcomed or not, it has a personal and emotional impact that cannot be overstated.  There’s also the sobering realization that the end of your relationship will trigger a multitude of legal consequences.

Whether you happen to be the party receiving, or sending, such news, I’ve devised three simple rules to help you through this stressful phase of your life.

Rule number one: remember you have options. 

Parties involved in the process of separation, or divorce, often believe that there is no other option than to go to court and litigate the issues.  Believe me when I say that court provides you, and your spouse, one of the most expensive, stressful, and least effective means, to resolve your differences.  It also involves relinquishing control of your fate, and that of any children, to a court.

So just what are your options?

First, if you, and your spouse, have not attempted counseling, now is the time to do so.  If that option is not available, you and your spouse can still discuss matters, and attempt to resolve your own differences, provided you obtain legal advice before signing anything.  You, and your spouse, can also enlist the support of a family law mediator to mediate a settlement.  Mediators however, do not provide legal advice, and you’ll still need to review any agreement reached through mediation with an experienced family lawyer.

If mediation is not an option, you can also enlist the services of a family lawyer to negotiate a settlement.  This process of negotiation could, for example, involve settlement meetings with you, and your spouse, and your respective lawyers.  I’ve found that such meetings can provide an excellent opportunity to resolve differences.  Again, if agreement can be reached, the terms can be incorporated into a Separation Agreement prepared by either your, or your spouse’s, lawyer.

Rule number two: remember you’re the boss.

This is a rule primarily directed at people who retain counsel to represent their interests.  It means that your lawyer works for you, you don’t work for your lawyer.  This also means however, that you have to take an active interest in your own legal matters.  If you feel that your lawyer is not keeping you informed, or worse yet, appears to have adopted a legal strategy that you disagree with, then it’s time to have a serious discussion with your lawyer.  If, after this discussion, you still don’t feel that you’re on the “same page” as your lawyer, then it’s time to look elsewhere for legal help.

Rule number three: if you’re a parent, think children first.

For any parents this is the most important rule of all.  Children need, and deserve, the parenting of two involved and loving parents.  Don’t allow any personal animosity between you, and your spouse, to negatively affect the best interests of your children. You may also consider retaining the services of a parenting co-ordinator to help you resolve any challenging parenting issues.

Will following these three simple rules guarantee that you’ll successfully get what you want?  Absolutely not, but at the very least, just like that popular vintage Rolling Stones refrain, you may just find that you, (and your children), get what you need.

And that, in my opinion, is the true definition of satisfaction.

The contents, opinions and observations contained in Scott Taylor’s Kitchen Table Divorce are strictly intended for general information and entertainment only, and not intended to be relied upon, or replace, legal advice.  It is recommended you obtain legal advice from a lawyer, with respect to your specific legal circumstances.

Kitchen Table Divorce

They say marriage is grand – sadly, divorce is twenty grand (or more).

But if you’re like most middle class taxpayers you don’t have twenty grand to spend on lawyers. So just what are your legal options?

After over 20 years of experience as a family lawyer, I recommend an approach, for all my clients, which I like to call the Kitchen Table Divorce Option. So what is it all about?

It’s all about learning the right ingredients to beat the high legal cost of divorce and separation by representing yourself, even if your spouse can afford his or her full time family lawyer. Knowing when to make use of legal advice, and legal alternatives ie mediation and collaborative divorce, is critical, and so is being properly prepared.

But is it really possible to represent yourself and survive? You bet! All you need to do is to ask one of my many clients.

So why the reference to the Kitchen Table? Because traditionally the kitchen is where you can find all the right tools and ingredients, while the kitchen table is where everything comes together to create a successful recipe, or in our case, your own self made divorce.

The Kitchen Table (or for that matter any other table) is also the place where I suggest the parties initially meet to discuss and attempt to resolve any differences. That’s, of course, only an option if there is not a history of abuse or violence.

Some helpfull tips to start. Firstly, create a checklist of items that you would like to discuss and be sure to exchange with your spouse beforehand, ( ask if there other items that your spouse would like to address). A very good idea before the meeting is to obtain some legal advice about your rights and responsibilities. The lawyer can also help with the checklist and explain common but often misunderstood legal expressions ie joint custody which can otherwise create huge problems.

Secondly, resist the urge to agree on any financial numbers ie the price to purchase your interest in the family home or for that matter any other value. That’s because your spouse will inevitably take the position (after you find out that you literally gave away the farm – before you got legal advice) that you are now breaking your “promise” to her. Believe me when I say this can also cause headaches.

Thirdly, resist the temptation to sign anything, before getting independent legal advice, even if it looks like a smokin deal!! If you ignore this advice, you may find that you are legally trapped into an arrangement which you can’t get out of!

Last words – in my future blogs I’ll share some of my other legal insight and tips to show you how to make kitchen table divorce work for you.