By Patricia L. Blocksom, Q.C., A.O.E.
Separation is a difficult time for most families. In addition to working through a myriad of emotional issues, most of our clients often find the legal process to be overwhelming and confusing.
How can you prepare for your first meeting with your family lawyer? What do you need to bring? How can you make the legal process more efficient and less costly? What can you bring to the first meeting?
Tips to maximize your time with your lawyer
Here are some tips of what you can do prior to your first meeting with legal counsel to maximize the time you have and to allow your lawyer to give you the best advice possible.
It may not be possible for you to access all or any of this information, and if that is the case, don’t worry about it, we can obtain most of this information after you have your first meeting with a lawyer:
1. Do a short summary of your family history – when and where you were married, the names and dates of birth of your children, the pattern of employment and education for both you and your spouse, any special needs for the children or either spouse.
2. List the assets and liabilities for your family, which will include assets in each spouse’s name as well as joint assets. These assets can include the following:
- Real estate
- Personal assets such as vehicles, furniture, jewellery and contents. Note that for a first meeting you do not need to do a comprehensive inventory of your personal assets – a general description will be sufficient.
- Bank accounts, stock or investment accounts, RRSP accounts and tax free savings accounts
- Details of any private pension plans
- Financial statements for the last three years for any private companies in which either you or your spouse may own shares
- Details of any trusts
- A list of debts for each spouse and joint debts. This would include mortgages, credit cards, bank loans, personal guarantees.
3. Any information you can collect on assets and debts for both spouses at the date of marriage or cohabitation, if relevant, details on any inheritance received during the marriage and details of any substantial gifts from third parties (someone other than your spouse).
4. Information that would show the income of both you and your spouse, this will include full income tax returns and notices of assessment.
5. List expenses for your children such as sports or activities, lessons, private schools, uninsured medical and dental expenses.
What should you think about before you come into a first meeting?
Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I want and why is this important to me?
- What is most important for our children?
- What are my most pressing concerns?
- What are my long term goals?
- What am I most worried about?
- What are the biggest obstacles to getting the issues sorted out with my spouse/partner?
- What can I do to minimize these obstacles?
How can you minimize your costs and the time involved?
Family lawyers generally bill their clients on the basis of the time spent on the file. The more you call your lawyer, the more time that will be spent by your lawyer, the bigger your legal bill. It is often helpful, especially when you are stressed, to write out the questions that you have, and make notes during the telephone call with your lawyer.
If you have a logistical question, for example, have you received a letter yet from the other lawyer, you should call your lawyer’s legal assistant rather than the lawyer. Where you have a legal concern or question and it is urgent, it is sometimes helpful to call your lawyer’s assistant and let them know what is happening. The assistant can then make sure that the issue is brought to your lawyer’s attention.