Family Law FAQ

How do I get a legal separation and what does it cost?

Spouses are legally separated when they stop living together as a couple; usually this occurs when one spouse moves from the home. It costs nothing to legally separate from your spouse. Costs relate to the resolution of the legal issues connected to separation and divorce.

What are the legal issues connected to separation and divorce?

The legal issues include division of property and debt, parenting of children (sometimes called custody and access), child support and spousal support.

What does it cost to have a lawyer help me to resolve the legal issues related to my separation and/or divorce?

Legal fees relate to the number of legal issues, the complexity of the legal issues and the time that it takes to address the legal issues. For a simple divorce with no other issues we charge a set fee. For all other separation and divorce services we charge an hourly rate. It is impossible to provide a firm estimate of a clients legal fees because we do not know what the other person is going to do. Costs tend to be the lowest when both parties are ready to negotiate, both parties share all relevant information with each other and both parties are ready to make decisions. Also costs tend to be lower for clients who use mediation as there is far less back and forth involved with the negotiation process and in mediation clients share fees.

What processes are available to me to resolve my legal issues?

There are four processes available to people in Western Newfoundland to resolve the legal issues connected to separation and divorce. These are working it out on your own (also known as kitchen table agreements), mediation, negotiation and the court process.

What is a "Kitchen Table Agreement" ?

This describes the situation where separating couples sit down privately and work out all of their issues. If you think that this process might work for you we recommend that you first obtain information about your legal rights and responsibilities and that you contact a lawyer to ensure that there are no outstanding issues and to determine what is required to formalize any agreement. Often we coach clients through their own kitchen table negotiations.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a process where spouses sit down with a neutral party who works with them to find solutions to their legal problems. The goal of mediation is to come up with a resolution that both spouses support and where there are children, a resolution that meets their children's needs. Mediation is a good option for clients who feel safe dealing with each other and where both clients are willing to negotiate openly and honestly with each other. Jill Brown is a Certified Comprehensive Family Mediator with 10 years of mediation experience.

What is Negotiation?

This occurs when spouses discuss issues, make proposals and reach agreements outside of the court process. Often lawyers negotiate resolutions on their client's behalf. We have been successful facilitating negotiations and negotiating for clients since the early 1990's.

What is the Court Process?

When spouses can't reach a resolution on their own or with the assistance of a lawyer/mediation a Judge can make the decisions for them. The court process involves applications to court, numerous pre-trial procedures and a final trial. At court the judge will listen to information that is relevant to the issues, and make decisions based on what is presented to him or her. Less than 10% of family matters proceed all the way to trial. Most court applications are resolved through negotiation. This is usually the most expensive and longest process.

What is a Separation Agreement?

A separation agreement is a document that outlines that a couple are no longer are bound by the laws of the Province that apply to married people, it also provides that both people will live separate and apart from each other in the future. The agreement outlines how you have divided your property and debt and also addresses financial support of each other (it may be that there is none), financial support for children and custody and access of children (where there are dependent children).

How can I keep my legal fees down?

  1. Separate your legal issues from your emotional issues. Talk to friends and mental health professionals about your emotional issues. Don't pay a lawyer to get out your feelings.
  2. Work out the division of inexpensive assets such as the contents of your house on your own. It does not make sense to pay your lawyer to fight over used furniture.
  3. Come prepared to your first meeting with your lawyer.
  4. Before meetings write down any questions you would like answered.
  5. Contact your lawyers administrative assistant first to ask any questions in between appointments, often she can answer your questions for you.

What should I do to come prepared to the first meeting with my lawyer?

  1. Read over the Family Law Guide for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians (pdf)
  2. Bring with you a written history of your relationship. Include when the relationship started, when you started living together, your own and your spouse's roles during the relationship, your contributions to the relationship including financial contributions and childcare.
  3. Bring as much information as you can regarding your own and your spouse's finances, property and debt. This information includes the following:
    • Copies of your own and your spouse's tax returns for the past three years.
    • Confirmation of your own and your spouse's current income such as a recent pay stub or letter from your employer.
    • A listing of all of your own and your spouse's property and debt along with any statements you have confirming the value of the property and debt at the date of your separation and the current date. This includes pension statements, financial investment statements (i.e RRSP and RESP statements), the most recent property appraisals, vehicle appraisals, loan statements and credit card statements. This property statement may help you organize your information.
    • Copies of any co-habitation agreement or marriage contract you may have.

What kind of parenting arrangements (custody and access arrangements) work for children after separation?

Children do best when their parents work out parenting arrangements that meet their children's needs, in particular the child's developmental needs, and that both parents support. One size does not fit all.