What are the issues?
There are four broad areas of “Issues” that you need to consider when your relationship breaks down. These are “Your Children”, “Your Home and Investments”, “Your Income” and “Your Future” . Each of these areas has been given special attention on the Home page of this site and if you have not gone to the “Read More” pages I would urge you to do so. Understanding your issues is the first critical step toward achieving resolution of the challenges you now face.
Remember that your situation is unique. Your lawyer needs to know your life story so that relevant facts can be identified. What the “Law” considers important in determining what is a fair and reasonable is not always evident. However, by understanding in a general sense what your issues are you will be of great help to your lawyer in effectively representing your interests.
How are they resolved?
The first step is to identify immediate needs and gather the necessary evidence to meet them. That is followed by contact with your partner either directly or through counsel with a request to engage in negotiations. While working on these urgent issues there will be deeper exploration of all long term issues and the focus is on gathering information and evidence.
Once all necessary information to determine a reasonable settlement has been gathered and analyzed a meeting with your partner’s lawyer, or a “4-way meeting” with you and your partner and both lawyers is held to attempt to achieve a final settlement. There can be more than one of such meetings. Often agreement is reached and the matter resolved at this stage.
If agreement cannot be reached a court application is brought. This does not mean efforts at achieving settlement end. That process continues under the court rules. A number of court conferences will be held (which are designed to encourage settlement) before you are allowed to have a trial. A Judge will now be involved in the settlement discussions.
If your spouse is not acting reasonably and the importance of the issue is sufficient to incur the cost of doing so, an interim motion can be brought. A Judge is asked to make an order based on documentary and affidavit evidence. The Order made will only last until you reach trial or settle your case by a final separation agreement. Most motions involve issues relating to parenting, financial support and the production of evidence that your spouse has not provided.
How long does it take?
Straight forward matters that are negotiated in good faith, with full disclosure of necessary information can often be resolved in a few months. More complex matters and cases that involve partners who are high-conflict or who are unwilling to cooperate in the process or lack trust in their partner can take much longer.
The Court process is designed to reach the stage of trial within a year. Again, if it is a complex matter, high conflict, or marked by a failure to cooperate and a lack of trust it can take eighteen months to three years to resolve. Putting the court proceedings on hold while attempting to negotiate a settlement is often a recipe for unreasonable delay. However, failing to negotiate while pursuing the court process binds you to a time-line that is often longer than it need be and compromises your ability to avoid a trial. In many cases it is only through a combined use of both settlement negotiations and court process that a timely resolution can be achieved.
How much does it cost?
Most Family-Law lawyers in the Hamilton region charge fees in the range of $250 to $450 an hour. The hourly rate is almost always based on the lawyer’s years of experience and level of expertise. Typically a retainer is required which is an up front deposit from which the lawyer pays interim accounts. The amount of that retainer will usually depend on the complexity of the case. Some firms render accounts on a monthly basis and others do so when their unbilled work on the file reaches a certain level. Estimating the total fees for a file is always difficult. The greater the hours that have to be devoted to the matter, the higher the fees.