By Gary Direnfeld
Choosing a lawyer who will only channel your upset into that settlement process will likely escalate conflict and prolong settlement. The higher the conflict and longer the settlement process, the greater the costs, financially and emotionally. The likelihood of continuing a reasonable co-parenting relationship will also be diminished as the residual anger will live on way past any settlement achieved.
In choosing a lawyer, you want someone familiar with the issues you are grappling with; someone who maintains a practice committed to family law; and most importantly, someone who won't tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to know.
If your lawyer only strokes your ego, seeks to appease you and act as your mouthpiece, then you may have one that will inadvertently ratchet up the very conflict that prompted your separation in the first place.
Further, if your lawyer is ready to jump to action only on the basis of your account of issues, then too, your conflict may be inadvertently escalated.
Find a lawyer who appears reasonable, listens closely, yet seeks to understand what may be prompting the issues on the other side and also looks to understand your own contribution to distress. After that, consider the lawyer who supports nonlitigious strategies to achieve settlement. These include mediation, collaborative law and lawyer-assisted negotiation. Your lawyer should be able to explain the differences in these approaches and if your lawyer cannot or appears dismissive of them, move on.
Remember, your lawyer is not your therapist. Do not work out your anger with your ex through the legal process, but attend counselling if that is an issue. You want your lawyer to remain reasonable and help you focus on peaceful resolution even if addressing challenging issues.
Once the decision to separate has been made, the next big concern is telling the children. What you tell your children depends upon their age and beyond what you tell them, is how you tell them and then how you support them emotionally thereafter.
Certainly dealing with a toddler and younger, there is little you can tell them that they will truly understand. More important than explanations to the toddler, is managing their experience of the parental separation and making sure the child has frequent time with both parents so that the separation is not felt like an abject loss of a parent.
For the preschool child, simple explanations, such as mommy and daddy won’t be living together is a good starting point. Your child will likely be confused by such a message and wonder if the outcome is related to something about him or herself. If you tell your child something like mommy and daddy don’t get along, or we don’t love each other, but still love you, it may leave the child wondering what will happen if he or she falls out of favour with a parent. So it is important to shy away from big, long drawn out explanations in favour of brief explanations that concentrate more on how things will change and how you will help the child cope with the change.
For the young school age child, he or she will also wonder if their own behaviour played into the outcome. Hence the child will need reassurance that the decision for the parents to separate had nothing to do with the behaviour of the child and nor is it the child’s responsibility to fix or do anything on behalf of the parents.
The older school age child will not only be upset about the parental separation, but will be concerned for the impact of change on his or her own life. For a child of this age it becomes important to explain the plans you may have, how their life will be affected and how you will help them manage change.
The teenaged child can show tremendous concern for the well being of a parent or parents or alternately concern mainly for him or herself and sometimes concerns equally for parent(s) and him or herself. The teen will be quite worried for how his or her life will be affected, what it means in terms of school and friends. They will need reassurance that you will heed their input into decisions affecting them.
Regardless of the age of the child, it is helpful for the child that the parents are able to manage their own emotions at the time. The degree to which a parent becomes emotional and distraught signals to the child that life is scary, out of control or at least very terrible. They will worry more for themselves and for the parent at a time when they are counting on the parent as their own source of support.
Parents are cautioned to know that telling a child on one occasion about the parental separation does not equal the child adjusting immediately to the message. Children will need time to make sense of what they are told. They will emerge with a number of different feelings and questions. Some children may withdraw and others may act out their feeling through inappropriate behaviour.
Parents are advised to reassure their children, let them have input into minor decisions affecting them (choice of a new bedroom, furniture, colour of paint) and appreciate that as they may vent negative emotions, they are expressing their upset for the loss of the family as they new it. Parents can help them cope simply by listening to them non-judgementally and helping them continue with their responsibilities such as homework and attending their extra-curricular activities.
Throughout, parents must also remember not to intrude on the children’s relationship with each parent and not to disparage the other parent to the children. That way they can not only be loved by both parents but feel free to love each parent too.
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, custody and access recommendations, social work and an expert for the purpose of giving a critique on a Section 112 (social work) report. Call him for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
Legal fees have the potential to create conflict between a lawyer and their client, if both lawyer and client are “not on the same page”.
If you want to keep your legal fees to a minimum, you first need to understand how your lawyer charges for their work.
Most lawyers charge on an hourly basis, at a particular rate. For example, the hourly rate may be $400/hour (plus GST). Let’s use this hourly rate to show in practical terms how lawyers charge.
Each hour is divided into 10 units, which means that 1 unit comprises 6 minutes. Your lawyer will therefore be charging you $40.00 for every 6 minutes (or part thereof) they spend working on your file ($40.00 x 10 units = $400.00).
This means that if you phone your lawyer and spend 4 minutes on the phone with him/her, you will be charged $40.00 for the phone call. If you phone your lawyer and spend 15 minutes on the phone with him/her, you will be charged $120.00 for the phone call (being 3 units x $40.00 each unit).
Clients also need to remember that your lawyer will charge you for all their time, including but not limited to:
Source: Katrina Oner - Oner Family Law
Divorce and separation can be as devastating an experience for children as for parents. But, if you are aware of the symptoms in the post-separation period, and follow the guidelines set out below, you may be able to minimise to some extent the damaging effects.
Caught in the divorce process, children all too often become scapegoats for their parents' resentment of each other, or tools in the manipulation of custody or property settlements.
All children show some distress at the immediate crisis of family break up. Such distress can continue if the parents remain tense and angry with each other. Children react differently depending on temperament and age. It is important to allow for individual differences in making an assessment of the situation. Some signals that children are stressed can be:
Source: "21 Ways to Guide Your Relationship Through Divorce" - by Relationships Australia