My husband has learned to tune-out my complaints when we watch popular programs such as Law & Order or other legal-based dramas. I am sure that I am not alone in my frustration with the misleading idea that any legal system, be it American or Canadian, can resolve issues as quickly as they do on those TV programs.
I often have to remind clients of the differences between Canadian and US laws, not to mention reality v. TV. We use different terminology in Canada. For example, your legal advocate here is called a “lawyer” not an “attorney” and maintenance paid to a former spouse is called “spousal support” not “alimony”.
However, when I was recently directed to the website of Pincus Family Law, a family law practice in Columbia, South Carolina, I felt the message I read on her website was universal.
The following is reprinted, with permission from Monet Pincus, and is a “Canadianized” version of what was I found on her website. It has been amended to reflect the different terms, documents and general process used in the practice of family law in Ontario.
CLIENT EXPECTATIONS (REALISTIC OR UNREALISTIC)
We do not work on the weekends and do not provide emergency numbers for the weekends. There are times we may look at and answer your email over the weekend, but this is generally the exception and not to be relied upon by you that we are accessible on weekends.
Do not think we are perfect. We make mistakes. We are competent lawyers and law clerks, but we make mistakes. We will correct a mistake if we find it or if you point it out. Please do not yell at us, accuse us of not doing our job, or insult us over a mistake.
We will return phone calls in the order they are received and based on the priority of the situation. If you leave a message, your message will be passed on to the lawyer. Calling three or four or multiple times in a day will not get your call answered any faster. Email is the quickest way to get a response from a lawyer.
Lawyers work by appointments. Please do not show up at our offices to speak with a lawyer without an appointment.
Please utilize our law clerks to answer your questions and give you status reports. Our law clerks are very experienced and can, most of the time, respond to your request. We bill our law clerk time at less than what the lawyers charge so take advantage of their experience and knowledge.
You may not get any consideration from your spouse for anything you have done or will do because you are nice. You are encouraged to be nice, be cooperative, but don’t expect to get anything favorable in return for it.
Most of the research you do about your case online or the advice you get from friends will be incorrect or not applicable to your case so you should not compare what is happening on your case to what you find online or what friends or family may tell you. As your lawyers, we are the only reliable source of information regarding the process and status of your case.
The opposing lawyer may be very aggravating and frustrating to you because he or she may accuse you of things you have not done, may be litigious (wanting to fight about everything), may drag his or her feet with moving the case forward, or may be non-responsive to requests from this office. It is unrealistic to expect that we can control how an opposing lawyer handles his or her file or practices law.
The legal pleadings (Application, Answer, Reply, etc.) are legal documents filled with allegations that must be pled (and some that are merely made to posture for a client). Do not expend any emotional energy (get angry or upset) on the text of legal pleadings drafted on your behalf or your spouse’s behalf. It is not worth it.
We cannot control the court’s schedule or docket. The courts schedule cases as they are processed and in line with the thousands of other cases filed. You will not be happy with the time it takes your case to get through the system. There are thousands of family law cases filed in Simcoe County (Orillia, Barrie, Collingwood, etc.) each year and most contested cases take several months, sometimes more than one year, to finish.
NOTHING HAPPENS QUICKLY:
Generally, contested cases take several months to move through the court system. A complicated custody or equitable division case can take one, sometimes two, years to complete. The courts are always full and there are several steps that have to be taken before a trial will be set, for instance, mediation, conferences, motions, discovery and pre-trial hearing. It takes a long time to move a contested case through the court system and this will likely be your number one frustration. We will do all we can to move the case forward, but you will still be frustrated with the time it takes to finish a case. Please prepare yourself ahead of time and please do not take this frustration out on us or my staff. We are doing everything we can to move the case along.
What you can expect during a Trial (Contested Case)
COURT APPEARANCES—The family law lawyers at Barriston generally work files independently. However, at court appearances, it may be necessary for one to cover a court appearance for another lawyer. We will try to give you advance notice if your “lead” lawyer will not be attending a court appearance, but sometimes the scheduling decision is made at the last minute.
EXAMINATION FOR DISCOVERY—this is the “formal” name for exchanging information through the request for documents and questions. Discovery has its own set of rules and deadlines which we will inform you about during the process. A court reporter must be present and is paid to attend as well. The lawyers are paid to attend as well. Examinations for Discovery are costly.
CHILDREN—Marital problems are terribly difficult for children. Do your children a favor and do not “poison” the minds of your children against their other parent. Do not speak about their parent’s faults to children. Do not complain to your children about how much child support you are paying or how little child support you are receiving. Access with parents is NOT a bargaining chip or game. Each parent is entitled to access with their children. Children are not your property. They are not your pawns. They are absolutely not your messenger. They are innocent individual human beings that need both of their parents, not just the “best” parent.
CHILD CUSTODY CASES—You should behave as though a detective and camera crew were following you and recording you and your conversations at all times. Do not do anything that you would not perfectly happy with a Family Court Judge seeing, hearing or finding out about when the Judge is deciding your custody case.
LAWYER’S FEES—in a child custody case, you could spend the price of a car in lawyer’s fees. Most contested custody cases run upwards of 10-20 thousand in fees paid out over the course of the case. This usually includes lawyer’s fees, psychological fees and expert witness fees. In a complicated equitable division case, the cost can be significant and sometimes more than a custody case depending on how much property there is to value and the difficulty of valuing assets. Even a very small business can run $2,500-$5,000 to value if there is a dispute as to the value. A small equitable division case (which means there is a home, retirement, credit card debt, and other property or debts to divide) can run $5,000-6,000 in lawyer’s fees over the life of the case. The most expensive part of the case is going to be trial preparation and attendance costs. That is why a trial retainer (an “up front” payment) is required in all contested cases. You will see this in your fee agreement and we reiterate here that a trial retainer is required for continued representation.