Do I need a lawyer?

Do I need a lawyer?

Gone are the days of the “Star Chamber”, an English court just for rich and powerful litigants that could be influenced by one’s political friends or enemies. Gone too are the Germanic customs of “trial by combat” where the litigants (armed with knives and hammers) tried to kill each other, with the court finding in favour of the winner. By the thirteenth century, knives and hammers were gradually replaced by an emerging legal profession. This form of dispute resolution gradually disappeared by the 16th century, although vestiges of it still remain in some family law cases. Indeed, the expression “going to court will cost me and arm and a leg” still remains in common use today, long after “trial by combat” was replaced by lawyers. For those of you that don’t think you need a lawyer after you receive a lawyer’s letter or court papers, I encourage you to utter “I don’t need a doctor!” next time you are being taken to hospital by ambulance. For the rest, read on.

Can I afford a lawyer?

Sometimes the question to be answered is “Can I afford not to have a lawyer?” This is often a question when parties earn under 6 figures but are fighting over family assets and savings (equity in the home, pensions) over 6 figures. At a minimum, you need legal advice, if not the full service of a lawyer. If both parties are honest and up front about their financial disclosure, the former can be had for a few hundreds of dollars and is money well spent.

If one party disappears, refuses to disclose or completely ignores any financial / parenting obligations, you need legal help. In many cases, parties who think they need a lawyer really need a mortgage broker, realtor, employment agency or just a plain dose of reality. This is often the case when the sole asset is an encumbered matrimonial home or allegations of vast hidden income and savings are made in the face of disclosure to the contrary.

Children complicate things. Generally speaking, if you and your ex would rather each hand over a $10,000 retainer to a lawyer instead of paying it to your ex spouse or an RESP for the benefit of your child(ren), shame on you. Absent a police or CAS history, most custody and access disputes should be settled with a minimum of legal involvement. The recent appearance of government and Legal Aid Ontario funded mediators at Ontario courthouses has made free or affordable mediations widely available. Money spent on lawyers is money not spent on your child(ren). On the other hand, in cases of alienation, and extreme parental conflict, mediation is not indicated and you will need legal help.

Members of the Law Society’s Legal Referral Service (416) 947-3300 offer a free half hour consult. “Advice Counsel” also known as “Family Law Information Counsel” or “FLIC” at family courthouses offer free 20 minute consults without an appointment. I also refer you, dear reader, to the “family resources” section of this site and a selection of government self help guides found at the courthouses and reproduced here for your convenience. While our legal fees at Tenenbaum & Solomon have been called “exorbitant” and “ridiculously high” (see our “client testimonials” page), your initial telephone consult is without charge and we will agree on a budget should you consider hiring us.