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Would it Have Been Cheaper to Keep Her (or Him)?*

7 Tips for Minimizing the Cost of Your Separation

1. Be Organized. Have you ever walked into your accountant with a shoebox full of receipts and had them sort it out for you? It’s not cheap! When you retain a lawyer you should take some time to get the details of your relationship and finances organized first. You should provide a summary sheet of important dates, full names of your family members, dates of birth of your family members, job titles, a list of your assets and liabilities, and a list of what you ultimately want to come out with at the end of the day. It is also helpful to start organizing your financial documents, such as your tax returns and notices of assessment, your RRSP statements, your bank statements, and documents related to owning your home.

2. Control Your Emotions. The end of a relationship is a traumatic life event, and most people experience a range of emotions. When it comes to dealing with the legalities of the end of your relationship, emotions can often impair you from making smart decisions. Seeing a qualified counselor to help with your emotions can enable you to spend the time with your lawyer making business decisions, not complaining about your spouse.

3. Educate Yourself. Spending some time on quality legal sites can help you understand the law governing your separation, and can cut down on the time you spent with your lawyer teaching you the law. It will prevent you from pursuing unreasonable and unlikely outcomes in court, and can help you come up with useful questions for your lawyer. Our favourite website is of course J. P. Boyd on Family Law.

4. Avoid Court when Appropriate. Sometimes going to court quickly is necessary to protect yourself and your assets. For example, going to court right away to get an order that your spouse not sell off all the family property could be essential. However there are many times when rushing to court will only increase your legal bill and the animosity between you and your spouse. There are many out of court options that could be explored, including mediation, negotiation, collaborative law and arbitration. These options can often be not only much more cost effective, it can also be the fastest way to finalize your separation.

5. Know When to Hold and When to Fold. Many people get caught up in the drama of their separation and end up fighting over things that don’t matter just to prove a point. While it is never good to be a pushover, knowing when to fight and what to fight over is a strategic decision that can save you thousands. While it’s temping to say that you will spend whatever it takes to make her pay for what she did to you, the only one you’ll be making pay is yourself in the form of legal bills.

6. Chose a Lawyer who Matches Your Style. There are many lawyers out there, and they all have different styles and approaches. Some lawyers are your typical bulldog lawyer, who will go to court immediately for you and fight everything to the bitter end, while others take a more collaborative approach and try to resolve things out of court. It is important to meet a few lawyers at the outset, before you hire anyone, in order to figure out what kind of approach you are interested in. You will be spending a lot of time, money and sharing some very personal details with your lawyer and it is important that you are compatible.

7. Communicate with Your Lawyer Efficiently. Most family lawyers charge clients on the billable hour. That means that they charge in 6 minute increments based on their hourly rate. A phone call that lasts 20 minutes may seem quick, but if they charge $200 per hour that will cost you $80! We find it easiest when clients send us an email summarizing their questions in a list. This not only reduces the billable time, as we can often read and respond to the email in half the time as a phone call, it allows us to get back to you sooner. Having said that, sometimes phone calls and meetings are necessary, so be sure to ask for those when you need them.

*Special thanks to Aaron Lines for the clever title.