Divorce proceedings tend to surge after the holidays
January marks the beginning of divorce season, named for the surge in initiated divorce proceedings which typically follow the holidays. Kevin Caspersz, a family law lawyer at Shulman & Partners LLP, spoke with Law Times about how he works with clients to keep their legal costs down during this busy time.
How much does a divorce typically cost?
I don’t think there’s anything typical because everyone’s situation is unique.
Yes, there may be commonalities and common characteristics across certain divorces. But many factors affect the duration of divorce proceedings: the amount of conflict between the parties, the issues, and whether counsel protracts or expedites the divorce.
If you have amicable parties they will have a meaningful discussion about how they intend to divorce, including terms and conditions like the financial or children’s issues.
When a party comes to a divorce lawyer with those things all settled, that will expedite the process. You’re not dealing with conflict; you’re simply dealing with legally outlining the terms and conditions to which the parties have agreed.
The greater the conflict, and the more disagreement between the parties, will naturally protract the matter because those issues now must be argued, negotiated and potentially litigated.
It would be great if the parties discussed and agreed on how to proceed. But sometimes the situation doesn’t lend itself to that. Where they can agree, I always recommend that the parties try to do that to expedite their matter and save legal costs.
What are the main issues between divorced couples that lead to conflict?
It can be very general. It’s either financial issues, whether that be how to deal with the value of a matrimonial, support, or income. Or it’s children’s issues – decision-making, parenting time.
How can conflict best be avoided?
It’s difficult, given the nature of the proceeding. It’s a personal relationship, a marriage, or a common-law relationship. There’s emotion involved. This was your partner.
There’s going to be some emotion involved in the separation. The best advice is to try and compartmentalize that emotion from the issues surrounding the separation. When those emotions mix with the divorce issues, you start to get into difficulty. People can become driven by a need to lash out to hurt the other person rather than logically and reasonably thinking about how to resolve their divorce.
It helps to keep a clear head and to compartmentalize the emotion from the issues at hand.
Clients often call family lawyers when an emergency turns out not to be an emergency and how does that impact costs? Depending on the clients or the situation, there may be a genuine desire to categorize everything as urgent.
As a lawyer, there’s a particular legal standard for what we would classify as an emergency or urgent. It is something that must be addressed. Otherwise, it will prejudice the party’s position, such as the depletion of assets where funds are being spent or taken out of an account, or someone has not returned children on time and doesn’t know where the children are. These things would qualify as an emergency.
But not all issues are an emergency that needs to be dealt with immediately. There’s a real need for the client to consider whether this is an emergency and contact the lawyer accordingly. Because if everything’s an emergency, and the client is emailing for every little issue, that will naturally drive their costs up.
How do clients unnecessarily delay proceedings?
A big one is failing to disclose their financial information. That’s a starting point and foundation in family law: The parties must provide full and frank financial disclosure. Sometimes parties lack appreciation for how much they must provide.
Reluctance or hesitation in providing this information will protract the matter because it becomes another ground of conflict. I always tell my clients to go over and above in providing your disclosure to ensure there are no issues. More resistance or disagreement about what should be provided will extend the divorce and increase legal fees. You’re not even out of the starting blocks.
It can be very time-consuming, just on its own. The more the client is cooperative and willing to provide this disclosure, the faster you can get through that stage.
Sometimes, you can be tied up for years arguing about what should or shouldn’t be provided and collecting those documents. I try to stress to clients that it’s not something they want to spend legal fees on if they can avoid it.
How did the switch to virtual hearings reduce costs for divorcing parties?
Most Ontario courts used to place you on a list for motions or conferences. You might have a particular time, but you were part of a conference or motions list. The lawyer would be forced to attend court at the client’s cost and wait until their matter was called.
You don’t have that problem with a virtual hearing because the lawyer can be in their home office anywhere. They’re not forced to travel, which is at a cost to the client, or forced to wait on the list without being able to do other work or attend to other matters. And the lawyer can attend at a specific time via Zoom.
That could save the client the full-day attendance cost, which involves waiting around instead of being in court or before a judge. That ultimately trickles down to cost the client more.
*Answers have been shortened for length and clarity.