August 14, 2021
If you are representing yourself in a divorce in Ontario, there are some things you can do to save costs.
This seems an odd thing to say. Most people know the only way to get a divorce is in court, but there are different choices on how you solve the other issues. By other issues, we mean the issues of the children and monthly support. Those issues are parenting decision making, a parenting schedule, and the question of child support – how much money one parent may have to pay to the other for the support of the children.
Then you have the issues of the house, the cars, the savings, maybe the pensions, and then debts. That is called equalizing of your assets. There may be issues for you to get support for yourself or your spouse may be asking for support. These are common issues that need to get sorted out when you are divorcing. The thing to be aware of is that you do not need to take all of them to a court to get resolved. Court is typically the most expensive way to get those issues sorted out. To save costs, investigate other processes. There are other ways to get those issues done.
Some options are mediation, collaborative divorce, and arbitration.
Even though they all have price tags on them, they tend to save you costs in the long run. Court requires lots of forms, meaning lots of money to create those forms if you pay someone. Even if you do it yourself, you may need to take time off work to do it all, costing you money. Try to avoid it if you can.
Not all family lawyers charge the same rate. Use an associate lawyer to represent you instead of a senior lawyer. An associate lawyer can sometimes save you $200/hour in professional fees.
You can also use unbundled legal services. Such as our service. However, there are lots of other law firms that offer limited scope services. It simply means you hire the lawyer, not as “your” lawyer, but just to help you out on a limited part of what you are doing. Manage how you use the legal services.
This is often painful for people, especially if you tend to not be the “financial” spouse. It is common in a relationship that one spouse manages all the money and the other partner is more passive about it. In a separation, those spouses are forced into being active in the management of their finances going forward, which makes things more difficult for them. However, if saving costs is your aim you must be focused on this. You need to gather (or do if you are behind) your income tax returns for the last three years.
It is standard in Ontario that you disclose to your (former) spouse, and the court if you are in court, your income documents when you have support issues to get settled. This is because the court needs to determine if the law is being followed on the support issues, not because they are nosy!
You then need to give all your banking records and debt statements (think credit card bills, car loan statements, mortgage, etc.) to the court and your former spouse. If you are disorganized and a lawyer or paralegal has to spend time helping you get these things it will cost you more money.
Remember, these professionals charge on time – the less time you need them to do things, the less your costs. Being organized saves you money.
This is a really big cost saver. Do not pay a lawyer or paralegal to help you divide household items unless you really have to. If you are paying over $300 per hour for legal services and you use that time to argue over who gets the used couch which is really worth $800, really have a good hard think on what you are doing with your money.
People often confuse the value of items when they purchased them new to the value of used items at the point they separate. Yes, the couch was $3,500 when you got it. Ten years ago. After your kids and dog have been jumping on it for ten years. You may be lucky to get $100 for it. Likely it is worth zero. There are lots of used leather couches sitting on sidewalks in this province. Yes, you also need to talk about appliances, bedroom furniture, dining room furniture, and everything else. Remember, they are all at used values, not replacement values.
Just be very aware of how much your used stuff is worth when you use legal time on that issue. Do yourself a favour and do an internet search for used furniture and appliances similar to yours. You will likely get a shock to see how little the values are. Save yourself the costs and work it out with your spouse. They know they are likely paying legal fees too, and they should have the same interest in saving money on this issue. If you take the couch and he/she takes the chairs, you can buy yourself new (or gently used) chairs with the legal fees you save.
If you are in court you are often angry and want to “win”. The problem is this requires you to prepare forms, go to court and guess what? – spend your money on legal fees. If your objective is to keep your costs down, keep thinking, “how can I settle this?”.
Ask for legal advice on making offers. Yes you have to pay for it, but it gets you out of the system – and the faster you are out the less money you spend.
Remember, lawyers have been through the court process likely hundreds of times. For you, this is the first time and therefore it will take you longer to figure it out and understand how the law works in your case. They know how the law works and can guide you to the options for a solution faster. Getting things done faster means saving you costs.
Even if you represent yourself, you will have to take time off work to attend court and you will spend hours on your evenings and weekends going through the law, and the internet looking for answers. There is a cost to you for that too. You do not want to be stuck in court, run out of money to pay legal fees, and then start making offers. You can then be desperate. You want to start making offers right away.
Keep your eyes on your goals, meaning end the court process and save as much as you can doing it.
We are always here to offer unbundled legal services. Give us a call if you need help.
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