Matkovic Allan LLP
Divorce & How it Might Not Be the Worst Thing Ever

So, it’s official – you are getting divorced.

You might be experiencing a range of emotions and asking yourself, other  than not being married to your ex, is there an upside to this? Lots of  literature and online resources focus on the impact that divorce has on  children – and that’s not a bad thing. Kids are often the people who don’t have any say in how their lives are unfolding during a divorce. However,  whether or not a couple has children, their individual health and happiness is key to their overall well-being.

So, how can divorce be a good thing? Well, there are a some benefits you  might not have thought of and hopefully, you’re already experiencing one or  two of these without even knowing it.

Relaxation

Whatever the dynamic of a marriage, it’s a busy relationship. Entertaining as  a couple, obligatory events, managing a household where two very different  people have to comfortably co-exist and caring for pets, aging in-laws and/or  children – all of these leave very little time for relaxation and self-care. Now  that you’re getting divorced, even if these responsibilities haven’t gone away, they are either being shared or the decision-making about them has shifted.  You are now in control of how you schedule time for yourself. Now, time you  might have spent preparing a meal for your spouse, managing their calendar  or doing their laundry is time you can reclaim and spend as you see fit. Sure,  the dog still needs walking, but now, it’s up to you when you take that stroll.  Relax, you’re in the driver’s seat again and there’s no co-pilot.

Becoming More Self-Aware

If you’re interested in learning more about yourself, a divorce is going to  accomplish that goal – maybe at somewhat lightning speed. You now have  the opportunity to explore what you need to be happy without having to  consider the other person’s need and desires. This is your chance to pick up  that neglected hobby, research topics you’ve been curious about, pursue a  new volunteering opportunity or even adjust your work schedule (more or  less, that’s up to you). You will also be developing coping skills as you  experience the highs and lows of divorce. You’ll learn what works best for  you when managing stress, what obstacles you can face and overcome, and  what you don’t want in future relationships. Overall, you’re going to benefit  from knowing yourself better and becoming more comfortable and confident  in your own skin.

 Improved Physical Health

No matter who you are or how great your stress-management skills are,  unhealthy relationships negatively impact your mental health which takes a  toll on your physical well-being. Being in a bad marriage – whether it’s bad  because of abusive behaviour or whether it’s just bad because it’s been over  for some time – drains your energy and leaves very little “gas in the tank” to  enjoy life. Research shows that chronic stress increases your risk of terminal  illnesses and premature aging. When you make the difficult decision to end a  bad marriage, you are empowering yourself to live a healthier life. The  reduction of the stress from the broken relationship will actually re-energize  you to go through the process and live a better quality of life. Maintaining  your mental health directly impacts your physical health and it is imperative  that you are healthy throughout your divorce.

Becoming a Better You

Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, you are becoming a better version of  yourself. If you have children, you’re becoming a better parent because you  chose to offer them parents who happily live apart instead of parents who  stay together unhappily. If you care for aging family members, you’re  becoming a better caregiver because you’ve made a difficult decision in your  best interest and can devote even more time to caring for them. If you have a  pet, you’ve decided to take good care of their owner and reduce the stress  that they could feel in the home during the relationship breakdown. Being at  the beginning of this chapter in your life often leads to pleasant surprises that  you didn’t expect such as reconnecting with friends and family or even  developing a better relationship with your ex out of a new found mutual  respect for one another. You now have the freedom to realize your dreams,  big or small. This is the best time to become your best self.

Divorce is difficult, but in many cases necessary. The end of your marriage is  not the end of your existence. With some perspective, it might not be the  worst thing that’s happened to you; and, with the right supports, and a little  bit of luck, it can be the beginning of you curating your happiest and  healthiest life.

 

Joint Parenting Under the Shadow of COVID-19

Time for a Cease Fire

Never in our lifetimes have we faced anything like the current threat brought by COVID-19 to our health, our financial security and, for some, our faith whether it be in humanity or in some higher power.

Our world has changed but that does not mean that the stresses that existed yesterday have disappeared. For anyone that is going through a divorce or worse yet, if a family has and continues to experience disputes over parenting issues whether they encompass time with the other parent, decisions being made that impact their children or a fundamental breakdown in communication, it is likely that those issues have only become worse in the last several weeks.

Family lawyers have been inundated with questions about how to continue to jointly parent their children with someone they do not trust and may not even like under the spectre of social distancing, self-isolation rules and the fear of contracting a virus that has altered the world almost overnight. As our courts have had to shut down for all but the most urgent matters where a child’s physical and psychological safety is at great risk and as many family lawyers have been required to shutter their offices and operate their practices from their homes, clients have been left feeling helpless as to how to deal with ongoing conflicts.

When we have been asked by our clients what they are supposed to do to deal with these conflicts in the context of COVID-19, our answer has been that we simply don’t know. As lawyers we have never had to contemplate the impact of this type of health emergency and the resulting closures of our courts, childcare facilities, supervisory agencies, schools, and the general reduction of so many other needed services. We have never had to consider how voluntary or mandated self-isolation would impact parenting schedules or the ability to transition children between homes.

So, what is the answer? Sadly, it still remains, “We don’t know.” But here is what we do know:

  1. Your children are scared. Even if they do not know or understand what is happening with this pandemic, they know that something has changed. They cannot see their friends or certain members of their family. They know that school has been cancelled and that even going to the Zoo, the mall or a restaurant is not possible right now. Do not fool yourself, no matter how hard you are trying to put on a brave face, your children will also sense your own fear about what is happening in the world right now.
  2. If your children are old enough to understand that people all around this world are falling ill and that some people are not surviving this pandemic, they will be worried about what will happen to their family. Your children will be worried that you may get sick or that their other parent will get sick. They will be frightened of getting sick themselves and they will be scared of losing someone they love.
  3. Your children need you to be strong and to support them during this uncertain time. They need to be able to rely on you to keep them safe and healthy. They also need you to understand that an important part of all of this is reassuring them, in spite of your own misgivings, that your children can rely on both of their parents to be there for them.
  4. Short of fears that the other parent will physically or psychologically injure your children, it is time to put your disputes aside, to have a ceasefire of sorts, and to deal with this crisis together. It is time to provide an example to your children of two strong, reasonable and caring parents who are able to put them before the issues that have fueled previous conflicts.

Fear not, once this crisis is over, you will be able to return to the conflict. You will be able to resume the feelings of mistrust, frustration and anger toward the other parent. But for now, for your children, you can do something different. If it is the other parent who has been unreasonable, inconsistent, difficult or generally awful, you still have the ability to change how you behave and how you respond.

What can you do?

  • Be flexible with the current parenting schedule. These are, as we have all heard, extraordinary times. Any flexibility that you agree to now will not be used against you later and may, if you concerned about this, actually serve to demonstrate that you are a parent who puts their children’s interests above their own.
  • Understand that if you do get sick or suspect that you may have been exposed to COVID-19, often the best other person to take care of your children will be their other parent. Your children will want to be with someone they love and know. Even if the other parent has different views on bedtime, completing homework, time allowed on the computer or watching TV, those differences are, in the overall scheme of things, minor and for the short term will not harm your children. Keep in mind, if it is the other parent who falls ill, you would want to be the first choice to have care of your children while they are recovering.
  • Follow the recommendations being made by our government and by the health professionals who are trying to keep us all as safe as possible. Social distancing is not about an infringement on your freedoms or your right to associate with whomever you want. It is about staying healthy and keeping your immediate family healthy. It is about keeping vulnerable members of our society healthy. For those of you who are involved in other relationship but do not live with your current partner, your relationship will survive not physically being with that person for a period of several weeks or possibly longer. If it does not survive that period of time, perhaps you should question how strong that relationship was in the first place.
  • Blended families are still families. If the other parent is residing with a new partner and if they have children either together or in the form of a blended family, it is not reasonable to take a position that your child will not have time with their other parent or be able to attend the other parent’s house. For the parent who is living with a new partner or has a blended family, and in fact, for both households, the expectation must be that social distancing rules and other recommendations made by the government and health authorities are going to be followed.
  • Open lines of communication. It is not unreasonable for the parent who does not have the children in their care to request an update as to how the children are doing. That does not only refer to whether they are feeling sick but generally how they are feeling both emotionally and physically. It also does not mean that the non-access parent has an open invitation to send numerous texts, emails or to call incessantly. Set up a specific time to call. Agree that if there is an emergency regarding the children, that the parent who has the children in their care will notify the other parent as soon as possible. Allow the children to have unhampered telephone or skype access with the parent who is not with them and encourage that time rather than making the children feel guilty for missing or worrying about their other parent.

If your family needs help to figure out how to parent in this new reality we find ourselves in, and if both parents are able to agree that this is necessary for the sake of their children, there are services that are still available. Parenting coordination can occur by way of video conferencing. Mediators are able to assist with developing an overall plan or to deal with specific issues or parenting schedules.

If your children are at risk. If their safety and wellbeing is at risk. If they are being exposed to drug use, violence, or if there is a threat of physical or psychological abuse, emergency applications may be made to the court. Be aware, if such an application is brought and found to not have been urgent, a court may refuse to hear it or may take more extreme action by varying the parenting arrangements in such manner to provide the other parent with increased or sole parenting time. You may also be subject to an award of costs or other financial penalty if the application was found not to be urgent.

Other issues that must be resolved and cannot be negotiated may also be addressed through private arbitration, however, both parties would have to agree to this process unless they are already subject to an Arbitration Agreement. Arbitration may occur by video conferencing and is often available much more readily than a court application.

If you have any questions about this article, or any other questions about your family law matter, please feel free to contact us.

We hope your families stay safe and healthy.

 

How to Hire the Best Family Lawyer for Your Case

Separation and divorce is one of the most difficult things that your family will experience. You will have to make decisions that will impact your life and your children’s lives. Finding the right lawyer to help you navigate through your divorce is imperative. Before you decide to retain a lawyer, consider the following:

1

You are hiring an advocate to represent your interests. You need to be comfortable with the lawyer you will be retaining as you will be sharing personal information about your family and your finances. You want to feel confident that your lawyer has heard and understood your concerns and will effectively advocate on your behalf.

2

Come to the initial meeting with a potential lawyer prepared to discuss your concerns and your goals. Be ready to provide some initial information about your family structure, the roles of each spouse, your children and your finances. That will allow the lawyer to have a general understanding of your circumstances. Often, it is a good idea to come to a meeting with a written overview of what you want the lawyer to know and with your questions written out. That having been said, it is rarely if ever helpful to arrive at an initial meeting with boxes of documentation or your life history written out over dozens of pages.

3

If possible, meet with more than one lawyer before choosing which lawyer you want to represent you. Prepare a list of questions for the lawyers to answer which include:

A. How much will you be charged?

B. How does that lawyer bill? (Hourly rate? Flat rate?)

C. Who else in the office will be working on your file? (Assistant? Junior lawyer?)

D. What portion of your practice is dedicated to family law?

E. How much experience do you have in court? In mediation?

4

You want to be sure that the lawyer you are hiring has experience in dealing with family law matters, and in particular, has experience with the potential issues to be resolved on your file. For example, if your family has significant assets and business interests, be sure that the lawyer you hire has some understanding of how businesses are structured, is able to read a financial statement and understands how to structure a divorce settlement which will properly take the business assets into consideration. If you anticipate that the custody of your children will be at issue, be sure to hire a lawyer who has experience in dealing with high conflict custody disputes.

5

Discuss what options the lawyer may suggest for allowing you to meet your goals and to address your concerns. Is it possible to negotiate a settlement with your spouse without having to go to court? Are there any other alternatives that may work for your family such as mediation? An experienced family lawyer ought to be able to provide you with more than one option for trying to resolve potential issues.

6

Do not be afraid to ask your friends and family for their recommendations for a good family lawyer. Beware of relying only on reviews found on the internet. While such reviews may be helpful, there are many outstanding lawyers who have not been “reviewed” and there are many good lawyers who have received poor reviews from opposing parties who were not happy with being on the losing end of a file. Do your homework and trust your instincts when hiring a lawyer.

7

If finances are of significant concern, you may wish to hire a more junior lawyer to assist you with your file. If you plan on hiring a junior lawyer, ask the lawyer if he or she is able to consult with more senior counsel to discuss any more complicated issues that may arise on your file.

Our Best Advice….

If you have hired a lawyer and become concerned about the manner in which your file is being handled, address your concerns with your lawyer. It may be a matter of different styles in communicating and easily resolved. If you are not able to address your concerns with your lawyer or are not satisfied with the response you receive, it may be time to consider whether you should hire someone new.

Top 10 Mistakes People Make in Their Divorce Proceedings
  1. Failing to Pick Your Battles

    Not everything has to be a fight and you do not always need to be right. Remember what your goals are and focus on what is important. Making everything a battle will increase your expenses, increase the animosity between you and your spouse and will only serve to create a great deal of unnecessary stress for your family.

  1. Focusing on the Past

    You cannot change what has already happened. Your lawyer cannot change what has already happened. The court cannot change what has already happened. It is important to focus on how you can move forward in a manner that will be best for you and for your children. Ask yourself, “What do you need to do to achieve your goals and to make sure that you are able to achieve some sense of emotional and financial security for the future?”

  1. Letting your Anger / Emotion Get the Best of You

    Going through a separation or divorce will be one of the most difficult things that your family will experience. There will be a lot of anger and a lot of emotion that flows from the breakdown of the family unit, however; decisions about your future and your children’s future should not be made out of anger and certainly, should not be made based on a desire to hurt or punish the other party.

  1. Putting Your Head in the Sand

    Refusing to deal with your divorce and failing to take any steps to move forward in the hope that the problems will either disappear or magically resolve themselves will only result in delay and frustration for everyone involved. It is important that you respond to your lawyer when required and that you comply with certain timelines that have been agreed to or otherwise imposed.

  1. Involving Your Children in the Battle

    It will be tempting to share certain information about your divorce with your children or worse yet to seek their opinion on different issues. No matter how mature, bright, unique or special your children are, they should not be involved in adult decisions.

  1. Not Having Enough Information to Make Important Decisions

    In many relationships the parties will each fall into certain roles and take on different responsibilities. It is not uncommon for one party to take care of all of the family finances while the other party takes care of other day to day matters. Before you make any decisions with respect to issues of support or the division of your property, you need to review and understand all of the necessary information regarding your spouse’s income, the status of your family’s assets, liabilities and monthly expenses. In some cases, if there is a complicated financial structure (which may include stock options, private corporations, or significant liabilities) it may be necessary to involve financial advisors to ensure that both parties understand their rights and obligations.

  1. Relying on Advice from Friends and Family

    As you are going through your separation and divorce well-meaning friends and family will often provide you with information about their divorce or give you advice on how you should handle your divorce. Every family is different and how your family may wish to deal with certain matters may be very different from how your best friend or neighbour chose to deal with similar issues. Often people do not understand the law that is applicable to separation and divorce or confuse their own beliefs of what is right and wrong with what a judge may or may not do in a similar situation. Trust the advice you are getting from your lawyer as he or she will have the necessary information about your unique situation and how the law will apply to that situation to allow you to make the best decision for you and for your family.

  1. Hiring the Wrong Lawyer

    Many people will hire a lawyer without taking time to consider what type of lawyer would best work with them to achieve their goals and interests. Not all lawyers are the same. It is important that you feel comfortable with your lawyer and are able to trust the advice that she or he will give you. Ask your friends or family if they may have anyone they have worked with and recommend. Meet with more than one lawyer before you make your decision. If you have hired a lawyer but are not happy with his or her approach or the service he or she is providing, you may want to consider hiring another lawyer. Remember however; a good lawyer will not simply tell you what you want to hear, a good lawyer will tell you what you need to hear.

  1. Texting or Emailing Without Thinking

    Technology is convenient. It allows for instant communication and sending a text or an email will allow you to communicate with your spouse without actually having to speak to him or her which may be easier than having to engage in a conversation. Unfortunately, emails and texts also allow people to say things that they may not otherwise be comfortable saying in person or on the telephone and as such we see a lot of inappropriate comments being exchanged by people in moments of anger and upset. Texts and emails often end up being used as evidence in court of unreasonable behaviour and it is difficult to prove that the comments made were taken out of context or otherwise justified. Think before you press send. In a divorce, your emails and texts will be read by lawyers, other experts involved in your file and possibly by judges.

  1. Not Having Patience

    Many people who are going through a separation or divorce are hopeful that matters that are in dispute will be settled quickly. If both parties are reasonable and have the necessary information, it may be possible to reach a settlement relatively quickly, however; if one or both parties are still angry, emotional, not informed or simply not ready to settle, it will take time to conclude matters. There will also be delays caused by understaffed courts and long waits to schedule court applications and trials. Rushing into a settlement is more likely to result in mistakes and an unfair result.