Separation is an incredibly stressful time in everyone’s life. The emotional impact of separation can be eased for both adults and children through professional counselling, either individually or in groups. There are also counselling services to assist families with mental health, addiction, gender identity, and domestic violence issues as well as with the special needs of children. Addressing these issues can make this difficult transition easier, improve the quality of your agreement and help you to move forward in a constructive way.
A Financial Expert specializing in family law issues may be of assistance if you have assets that need to be valued, complicated income or property issues. You may also benefit from a Financial Expert if one partner has less financial knowledge than the other about the family’s finances.
Financial experts can be retained by either of you alone, or they can be retained jointly to work with both of you. They can work within any of the settlement or adjudicative processes.
An impartial professional assists both partners to negotiate their separation issues in a safe and structured process with the goal of a mutually agreed outcome that considers the needs of all family members. Legal advice is obtained outside the mediation process.
The goal is to help you reach a mutually acceptable agreement. You and your partner both must agree to this process, and it is confidential. Mediation may help improve communication and reduce conflict between you and your partner.
Mediators do not take sides or make decisions for you. They can talk to you about legal information, but they do not provide you or your partner with legal advice. Prior to beginning a Mediation process, and before any agreement is finalized, both parties are advised to speak to a family lawyer for legal advice.
Mediation is often a good choice for couples who have some ability to cooperate, communicate and a desire to reach a fair outcome. The process can be customized to create a safe environment if there is ongoing conflict or discomfort meeting face to face. Mediation is almost always less expensive than litigation and takes less time to reach a resolution. If no agreement is reached in mediation, either party can take the unresolved issues to court if needed.
Creating A Parenting Plan – How you can Prepare!
A Parenting Plan is an important requirement for couples with school-age children.
It reduces conflict, offers predictability, and you can design a plan that works well for your children and both parents.
Creating a Parenting Plan takes some effort, but your preparation will save considerable time, money, and personal stress.
These are the important items to consider. Our website provides easy access to the Family Law Portal, a FREE online resource that can help you prepare.
Significant Decisions: How will you and your partner make major decisions for your children, including, education, healthcare, religion, and extracurricular activities?
Healthcare: How will the children’s healthcare needs be met? Who will make and take the children to health care appointments? Who will take time off work if a child is ill? Will you agree to share the children’s health information with the other partner?
If you have a healthcare plan, will you keep it to cover the children?
Parenting Schedule: How will your children spend time with each partner in a regular weekly schedule? What works well for both parents’ work schedules and for the children?
How will the children spend summer, winter, and other school breaks? Major civic and faith-based holidays?
Transportation: How will the children get to and from their school and extracurricular activities?
How will they get to and from other activities, such as birthday parties and other visits?
Communication: What is the best and most respectful way to communicate about your children’s needs, for example, if a child becomes ill or you want to share educational information or you want to request an adjustment to the schedule for a special event? It is best to think about communicating when the child is not present.
Dispute Resolution: How will you resolve differences of opinion about significant issues? Or deal with changes in circumstances? For example, if a parent moves, what notice would be reasonable if the move meant a change in the regular parenting schedule?
Shopping: Who will purchase day-to-day children’s items, such as clothing, supplies, etcetera? How will expensive items be shared, such as sporting or musical equipment? Do these items belong to the child, and can they accompany the child in both homes?
Travel: How will you notify the other parent about travel out of the province or country? Out-of-country travel requires an exchange of special documents to confirm consent. Who will keep documents such as passports and health cards?
New Partners: Often, a very sensitive issue: How and when will new Partners be introduced to the children, taking into consideration their age and readiness?
Children are very loyal to their parents and need some time to adjust to the many changes in their lives. Allowing them time to settle before introducing new partners is usually helpful in beginning a successful relationship.
A lawyer for each partner is specially trained to work in a team with other professionals to assist both partners in a safe and structured process to arrive at an outcome that meets the needs of all family members.
You and your partner both must agree to this process, and it is confidential.
Most Collaborative negotiations take place with you, your partner, and your lawyers in the same room. Because separation and divorce can involve challenging financial, emotional, or child-related issues, you and your partner may jointly retain neutral financial professionals, family professionals and/or child specialists to help you through the process.
Interdisciplinary team members often reduce conflict, improve communication and understanding, and help make the process more cost effective.
All Collaborative professionals are focused on an out-of-court settlement, so they cannot go to court with you if the Collaborative process ends without reaching an agreement and a judge needs to decide the issues.
The Collaborative Process can assist families even where there is poor communication and conflict between you and your spouse as long as you are both committed to trying to work together to reach your own agreement out of court.
You and your partner can each retain a Family Law lawyer to advocate for you.
The lawyer for each partner assists in clarifying legal responsibilities and rights and acts as an advocate for his or her client when negotiating a settlement with the other lawyer.
If both parties are represented the lawyers may arrange 4-way settlement meetings involving you and your partner. If there is considerable conflict and you do not feel safe or comfortable meeting together, the lawyers can conduct negotiations on their own and report back to you for your comments, changes, or agreement. If agreement is reached, one of the lawyers can prepare a Separation Agreement for approval by you and your partner.
If no agreement is reached on one or more issues, either lawyer can initiate a legal action to resolve any outstanding issues.
A formal, confidential process in which a trained 3rd party with Family Law expertise is retained by both parties to make binding decisions on specific separation issues. The Arbitrator acts as your private judge and neither of you can go to Court.
Arbitration is often a good choice for high conflict couples who have little confidence that they can reach an agreement on any issues. It offers confidentiality, considerable finality, and can be arranged on short notice with an expert selected by the parties. It may be more expensive than going to Court, as the Arbitrator charges a fee. It can also be more flexible than Court, as you, your partner and the Arbitrator can agree on how evidence and legal arguments will be presented.
Arbitrators who have been trained and Certified as Family Arbitrators are listed on the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO) website. Some Arbitrators may require that you and your partner to be represented by lawyers, but many do not.
Med-Arb is a two-part, hybrid process that must be agreed to by both you and your partner. The process begins with Mediation (see Mediation section) and, if no agreement is reached in Mediation, it becomes Arbitration, a more formal process where the Arbitrator makes a binding decision (see Arbitration section). The Mediation and Arbitration are both confidential.
Once you and your partner enter a Med-Arb process, neither of you can go to Court to have the issues decided by a judge. Instead, you hire the Arbitrator to act as your private judge and make decisions if you cannot agree. The goal of the Med-Arb process is to settle as many issues as possible through Mediation, with the option to have a decision made for you on any unresolved matters.
You may have to go to Court if the issues arising from your separation can’t be resolved by other means. To start a Court case, and throughout the multi-step process, you must follow the Family Law Rules of procedure and file prescribed documents.
The Court process is adversarial and has the potential to escalate conflict and damage communication and relationships between family members. It is lengthy and expensive and should be a last resort. Most cases that proceed to family court settle before a trial and without a judge making a final decision.
For these reasons, consider reaching an agreement on as many issues as possible before going to Court. However, the Court process may be necessary to protect your legal rights and enforce legal obligations especially if you have safety concerns, or if you believe that your partner will not comply with your agreement.
Without a lawyer representing you, the court process can be complicated. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may qualify for legal aid (legalaid.on.ca). Ontario Family Law Court Forms are available online at: ontariocourtforms.on.ca/en/family-law-rules-forms