After weeks of shopping, cleaning, cooking, decorating, and hosting for the holidays, all while surviving snowstorms and the ongoing global pandemic, it’s no wonder that January is called “divorce month” by family law lawyers.

Most couples, including those with strained relationships, put on a brave face for the holidays, especially if children are involved.  Holiday traditions, celebrations, and activities are important to many families and the last thing anyone wants to do is explain to their children that they are planning for a separation. If it’s now January and you’ve decided to you seek out the assistance of a family law lawyer in 2022, here are 15 points to consider:

  1. Speak to your child/ren in a calm and safe environment as you should break the news about the separation as gently as possible. It is a major decision that will significantly impact your family moving forward. 
  2. Since January is traditionally a busy time of year for most law firms, you may have to wait for an initial consultation with a family law lawyer. Most return to work after the holiday season with an inbox flooded with tasks to complete for current clients and an abundance of new consultations. While we understand that this is urgent for you and your family, we kindly request your patience as we do everything in our power to get in touch with you as soon as possible. 
  3. Prior to any dialogue with a family law lawyer, you should establish whether the consultation has a fee (such as the lawyer’s hourly rate).  It is possible that the consultation may be complementary or that the consultation may involve a discount on the lawyer’s hourly rate, but there is no guarantee.
  4. If you happen to be married, it is important to give some thought to your date of separation. The separation date is the reference point used to determine when marital property is valued. In accordance with the Family Law Act, a separation occurs when spouses live “separate and apart” with no reasonable prospect of resuming cohabitation. Living “separate and apart”’ does not depend necessarily on whether you and your spouse are physically living at separate addresses. It is possible and common for spouses to live “separate and apart” under the same roof while completing the separation process. When determining the date of separation consider factors such as: sleeping in separate bedrooms, any sexual intimacy, discussions on family dynamics, providing domestic labour, sharing meals, and attending social engagements.
  5. At your consultation, depending on the issues in your matter, you should expect to discuss your separation, decision making in relation to children, parenting time, child support, spousal support, and division of property. You may learn that experts will need to be engaged to value the assets that you’ve accumulated during your relationship or marriage and to determine parenting arrangements.
  6. Feel free to have an open and honest dialogue with your family law lawyer. Everything that you disclose remains confidential through solicitor-client privilege. Your lawyer needs all the facts to best determine how to assist you.
  7. It will not be possible to provide an estimate of how much the entire process will cost you.  Your family law lawyer’s fees will vary according to the lawyer’s experience, whether experts are involved, how much negotiation is involved, if you attend at mediation and whether you end up in court. 
  8. After your consultation has concluded and if you are satisfied with the proposed plan of action, you will review and execute a formal retainer agreement. Usually, the retainer agreement will also request a financial retainer and the amount will depend on the issues at hand. It is important to understand that your family law lawyer is not retained until they receive the signed retainer agreement and possible payment from you. 
  9. Once you have retained your family law lawyer, you may be eager to start your new life and move forward. Your lawyer’s job, however, is to make sure a few crucial steps happen to ensure a smooth transition from your relationship or marriage.  The first important step is for your lawyer write to your spouse to advise them you have retained a lawyer.  The letter will often propose the exchange of financial statements as a first step and provide a deadline by which to respond. 
  10. While waiting for a response, you will work on your financial statement with your family law lawyer. You will also provide specific financial disclosure such as income tax returns, notices of assessment, bank statements, along with other documents in support of the values listed on your financial statement.  
  11. Even though your family law lawyer has contacted your former spouse or partner, you need to be prepared that they may or may not have retained a lawyer.  If the deadline passes from when a response was sought, the usual course of action is a follow-up letter to remind them of the importance of responding.
  12. If letters from your family law lawyer continue to be ignored, you can expect that your family law lawyer will begin to discuss the option of court proceedings.
  13. Even though you have come to the decision to separate, you need to be prepared that you may have to continue cohabitating with your partner or spouse for some time (even if they are ignoring the process entirely). Given the current climate of the housing market in Ontario and the issues at stake when parenting issues are involved, many spouses are forced to cohabitate for months after separation. In addition, as married spouses, both partners have an equal right to possession of the home. 
  14. It is important not to neglect your mental health as the experience of a separation or divorce can be an incredibly stressful process for all parties involved. It can be very hard to delineate between emotional and legal issues. As such, it is highly recommended that you seek out mental health supports to assist you during the stressful months ahead.
  15. Once you have retained your family law lawyer of choice, it is very important to be realistic with your expectations and remember that your lawyer has your best interests at heart and that you hired them for a reason, so it is important to take their advice.

Making the decision to hire a family law lawyer can be a daunting and intimidating process.  Here at Mills & Mills LLP, our experienced family law lawyers are happy to assist you and your family during this stressful time to make the next steps of your separation process easier. To learn more about how we may assist you and to book a consultation, contact us online or by telephone at (416) 863-0125.

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2 St Clair Ave West
Suite 700
Toronto, ON M4V 1L5

Phone: (416) 863-0125

Fax: (416) 863-3997

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