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 counselling group.


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












When talking with your ex is not a good idea!

When I first meet with my family law clients going through separation, or at the very least thinking about it, there are three important things I encourage them NOT to say to their ex.

Here they are, and why, (along with my suggestions what to say instead).

First up – “I don’t ever want to go to court.”

Look, I realize that going to court can be a costly, soul destroying, exercise. I also realize that it’s totally reasonable to want to minimize the emotional trauma associated with a protracted family court proceeding.

But when you make this honest statement to your ex – this is what they think. “This is great. I can make virtually any lo-ball offer to settle that I want, and because my ex doesn’t want to go to court, it’ll likely be accepted.”

What you should say, (even if every fibre of your being feels otherwise), “I will take whatever steps I need to take to ensure that we arrive at a fair settlement.” Now they hear you mean business, and will negotiate accordingly!

Secondly, (and I’ve blogged about this before), do NOT say at this early stage, “I will pay you X dollars for this or that.”

Why? Because there is a very good chance that the number you mention is a BAD number because it does not take into consideration some other extremely important facts, such as the actual market value of the home (if there is one), or the sharing of other family debts, etc. (In fact in over twenty years I have NEVER heard the right ( ie fair) number!)

Once you find out, after getting some good legal advice, that the number you offered is far too high, and attempt to re-negotiate the number, your ex will invariably consider that you are now, clearly, trying to cheat them!

After this deemed insult, the prospect of a successful negotiated settlement dims mightily.

So instead, say something like, “Before I can give you any number I need to obtain some legal advice, to find out what’s fair.” How can anyone argue with that?

Lastly, never say, (and I know you wouldn’t), “Let’s just work everything out between us without using any lawyers,” sort of like saying “let’s just operate on ourselves without doctors.”

Why is this a BAD idea? Because your ex will think, “Great, he/she will never know that I’m getting some legal advice to protect my own legal interests, and I’ll be able to take advantage of this situation.”

Trust me when I say that you will be at a serious disadvantage if you attempt to settle all matters without effective legal advice (whether or not your ex obtains their own legal advice.)

Remember as well, that getting legal advice does not necessarily mean retaining a lawyer. There are lawyers, such as myself, who will provide legal advice and assistance on a pay as you go basis. In effect when you need it, you can get it.

What you should say, “ It’s a good idea for both of us to make sure anything we agree is fair to the both of us, and that we both get independent legal advice, before we sign anything.” Now they’ll know you’re not only good looking, but incredibly intelligent!!

Interestingly enough just like yours truly!


The Secret Revealed – No Really!

How to sucessfully represent yourself!

I have a secret. (Not that one, which didn’t work for me-but I digress.)

A simple secret, yet one revealing, in my opinion, one of the most powerful forces on this planet, if not the universe. Surely you jest, you say. No I’m not, and stop calling me Surely, (RIP Leslie).

A secret of immense value, particularly to anyone who finds themselves legally, emotionally and financially, overwhelmed at the prospect of being embroiled in a bitterly contested family law proceeding, without the benefit of full-time family counsel.

Even more panic inducing, when your spouse is represented by family counsel.

However this secret can, (see my ramblings below), actually strike abject terror, (okay, if not abject terror, at least extreme unease) into the hearts, (yes hearts), and minds, of even the most experienced, and steely- eyed, family lawyer representing your spouse, (really – even a well worn family lawyer like myself!)

So, just what is this secret?

It’s YOU!

That’s right, but there’s a catch (isn’t there always.) I mean someone who is committed to taking all of the necessary steps to effectively represent themselves. Not surprisingly, properly understanding the relevant legal principles and good preparation is critical.

So is your willingness to obtain, and accept, good legal advice, even, (and this can be the hardest part), when it may not be advice you agree with, or want to follow, (ie “getting even” is neither relevant nor advisable – I call it “taking the low road” and it’s a huge mistake.)

Now getting back to your spouses’ lawyer, just what is it about a well-prepared, self represented party, which creates unease?

First and foremost is his or her concern that you will not be handed a good can of “whup a_ _” by the court. In fact uppermost in their mind is their fear that your well prepared documentation, relevant legal argument and submissions, will find favour with the court, (a credible possibility) and result in a decision in your favour. Ouch!

Remember, self represented parties are expected, and assumed, to be ill advised, poorly prepared, and utterly confused. Just think of it as taking advantage of the element of total surprise.

Next comes the expense factor, which can work in your favour in two ways. Obviously you are not paying to have a lawyer with you in any proceeding or hearing, and in the event you are even modestly successful this fact will not be lost, on either your ex spouse, or their lawyer.

In addition, your ex’s lawyer must deal directly with you, and every time you deal with him, or her, guess who’s paying the bill?? That’s right- your ex! (However this is not intended as an excuse to act like a jerk when doing so.)

But there’s also something else. And in my view by far the most important benefit that you can ever gain from representing yourself, I call it “empowerment”.  It’s the sense of absolute confidence, and accomplishment, that you will feel when it’s all over, the ultimate secret power source.

Now you know the secret.

 Just don’t keep it a secret any longer!

Hello, and Welcome!

Most women facing the unfamiliar legal intricacies, of separation and divorce, appreciate the need for effective legal advice and assistance. Yet, in my legal practice, I have found the need, and opportunity, for valuable emotional support, and encouragement, is frequently overlooked, or unavailable.

That’s why I’ve decided to start a Kitchen Table Divorce Support Group, specifically created for women either considering separation or divorce, or those experiencing those daunting challenges first hand. (In the future, I anticipate forming a similar, men’s only, support group.)

After all, what better way to find emotional support, and understanding, than in the company of other women, with shared life experiences, and stories?

Discovering that you’re not alone, that yes, you can, take steps to effectively represent yourself in court, and protect your interests, is an incredibly empowering experience. An experience which has the potential to positively impact the rest of your life! Just ask those clients of mine (some of whom I hope will be in attendance to share their stories), who have followed the Kitchen Table Divorce approach, and successfully represented themselves in court!

Uncovering your true potential and taking control of your life, by accessing all the “right ingredients”, is your recipe for success, and the solid foundation of Kitchen Table Divorce, (blog www.

I anticipate inviting, from time to time, various professionals, (ie. counselors, etc), to address questions and issues, raised by the group. How often the group will meet, and other details, will be decided by the group.

The inaugural group meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday, March 10, 2010, from 7:00 pm to 8:15 pm at my office, located at #102 19610 64 Avenue in Langley. (For anyone unable to attend in person, I anticipate future arrangements to facilitate on-line attendance and participation.)

Please also feel free to invite any other women you think would benefit.

Because of limited seating, please RSVP by 5:00 pm Tuesday, March 9th.

Get ready to take your seat at the kitchen table!