Thanks to the Internet, we have access to so much information about just about everything. The benefits of information and how quickly we can get it are obvious. So the internet is one tremendous tool and it is truly causing a revolution in education for our entire society. The revolution is affecting every institution from the governments of repressive states like Libya to the family court system in Ontario.

Information empowers us to believe that we can do anything ourselves.  For example, a few years back, I wanted to do some major renovations to my cottage. I am by no means a builder but, thanks to some very good information from the internet, I was able to find some planning software that allowed me to draft building plans for the remodeling. I also have all kinds of books on plumbing and wiring and carpentry. I felt that I might need a few more tools, but I was sure that I could do what I had in mind either on my own or with a bit of help from some very skillful relatives.  Overnight, in my mind, I became an expert. Not being a developer or builder, I took my plans to the building department at the local municipality expecting instant approval. But then, the real education began. The friendly municipal folks referred me to a person who had real skill at drafting building plans. From his experience, he was able to advise us about the building codes, the need for proper building permits and how to get them, which led in turn to trying to understand the building and zoning requirements necessary for that approval. We also found out that our planner’s plans did indeed have to be stamped by an architect.  I also began to understand that my perspective on my level of skill to actually do the building was very much misguided. After several months, I was getting very frustrated and wondered why I just did not ignore all the building codes and municipal by-laws and just build the cottage the way I wanted, damn the consequences. Fortunately for me, I hired a proper expert, including an architect and a builder, and, finally able to get final approval and build a lovely cottage. Had I built it on my own, of course, it would not have been nearly so attractive to start with and had I ignored the building code and zoning requirements, the municipality could have legally ordered me to take it all down and start all over.

Taking a case to court, unfortunately, is at least just as difficult as building a cottage. Although you don’t need a licence to act for yourself, and you don’t for some crazy reason need any government or other approval to go ahead and act for yourself, it might be wise to consider retaining someone who does have a licence. I realize I am speaking from a biased perspective – I am a family law lawyer. If you hire me you have to pay me and that expense can be very high if the issues facing you are significant and difficult.

Lawyers know that many people cannot afford the cost of proceeding into family court with a lawyer at their side all the way through, especially if the problems facing you are hard fought by the other side.  So what can you do? You are likely going to hurt yourself if you represent yourself and yet you can’t afford the high cost of the lawyer.

There are solutions, even for this difficult problem. Here are some of them:

  1. Consider going to a qualified family mediator – one who has accreditation from the Ontario Association for Family Mediation, or the ADR Institute for Ontario or Family Mediation Canada. See for example this site where you can find someone in your area who provides this service.
  2. Learn more about mediation before you enter that process – see the government web site.
  3. Get a consultation from a lawyer to understand how the law impacts your personal situation. Ask for an assessment of your case. A lawyer can usually quote you a ‘flat fee’ to provide such an assessment. The assessment should also provide you with a strategy for further action.
  4. Ask the lawyer to help you ‘do it yourself’. Lawyers can be retained to act for you on the basis of what we call ‘unbundled legal services’  which means that they do not have to act for you throughout the entire court process but they can help you draft your court documents, and help you along the way on an ‘as needed’ basis.
  5. Consider entering into the collaborative law process – stay out of court and use lawyers and other professionals to create a proper agreement which attempts to serve both parties interests. Learn more information on this process via this helpful website.

The main thing is to remember that no matter how much we can learn from the Internet, we can’t learn what experience teaches. If I built 50 cottages, I could certainly build another but my first and only cottage should be built by proper qualified folks who know what they are doing and who know how to help. Whether I do it myself or whether I do it with help, there is still going to be a cost – whether that cost will be effective in getting the job done depends on who does it.