Meet Robert, a man standing at the precipice of one of life’s most challenging decisions – divorce. He’s not just grappling with the emotional turmoil that comes with the end of a marriage, but also the daunting legal labyrinth that lies ahead. Robert is like many of us, not well-versed in legal jargon or the intricacies of the divorce process. He’s a man in need of guidance, a beacon in the fog of uncertainty.
Robert’s story is not unique. It’s a tale shared by countless individuals who find themselves in the throes of a divorce, unsure of how to navigate the complex legal terrain. The stakes are high, the decisions he makes now will shape his future and that of his children. The pressure is immense, the fear of making a wrong move ever-present.
In the midst of this chaos, Robert finds a lifeline – a divorce lawyer. But not just any lawyer, a lawyer who understands his fears, who can guide him through the process with empathy and clarity, and who can help him make the right decisions for his future. This is the story of Robert’s journey through the divorce process, a journey that is as much about finding his own strength as it is about navigating the legal system.
Collaborating Effectively with Your Toronto Divorce Lawyer
A successful divorce hinges on navigating the divorce process efficiently and understanding the roles you and your divorce lawyer play during this time. Although you’re hiring the divorce lawyer and paying for the legal services, you must be actively involved and understand that it’s a task for you too. Here are some strategies to work effectively with your experienced divorce lawyer, saving you time and money.
The Role of Your Divorce Lawyer
Developing Realistic Expectations
One of the initial tasks you’ll undertake with your divorce lawyer in Toronto is to discuss what you can anticipate regarding spousal support, child support, child custody, and the division of matrimonial assets. Your experienced divorce lawyer can provide expert guidance on what a realistic outcome might be. Striving for a result your divorce lawyer doesn’t believe is achievable will only lead to increased legal fees, heartache, and frustration.
Maximizing the Economic Outcome
Lawyers view their role as securing the best possible outcome for their clients. However, the best deal may be smaller, as other factors must be considered. Sometimes, a divorce lawyer might prefer a smaller deal to ensure that the client will receive what was agreed upon or avoid a trial that might further strain the relationship between parties who must continue co-parenting their children. For this reason, a divorce lawyer’s idea of the best deal and the client’s idea might differ. Lawyers often need to help clients understand that what’s best for them is different from what they initially think is best.
Prioritizing Your Children’s Best Interests
Many family lawyers prioritize working out the children’s best interests with their clients. Unfortunately, some parents, still emotionally distraught or poor parents from the start, act in their own best interests, not the children’s. They attempt to hurt the other parent, ultimately detrimental to the children. Ethical lawyers will not entertain destructive agendas.
Your divorce lawyer will advise and recommend, but the final decision on any course of action rests with you, the client. If you want to work effectively with your divorce lawyer, it’s as much a task for you as it is for them. Make sure you ask plenty of questions, do your research, and stay informed.
Choosing a Solution-Oriented Divorce Lawyer
In my previous column, I explained that the practice of law has shifted from resolving conflict between parties to creating it, as law schools teach lawyers only to identify problems, not to solve them. Since positive problem-solving seems to have become a nearly lost art—even though it has traditionally been the hallmark of a good divorce lawyer—it is incumbent upon the client to carefully interview a divorce lawyer before making a hiring decision.
The client might ask the divorce lawyer to give an example of a case they resolved through creative problem-solving. There might be better ways than this, as the divorce lawyer might realize that a potential client is trying to find a solutions-oriented divorce lawyer and formulate an answer they think would satisfy the client.
However, a direct question may still yield helpful information. Suppose the divorce lawyer obtained a degree in a problem-solving or quantitative field (e.g., mathematics, physics, economics, engineering, business administration, biology, chemistry, or computer science). In that case, the client can be reasonably sure that the divorce lawyer’s skills are well-developed. If the divorce lawyer’s undergraduate degree was not of that variety, the client should inquire about the lawyer’s extra-curricular or life experiences.
For example, people may learn problem-solving through artistic activities because one must think creatively to perform music or act in a play successfully. Some sports can also teach problem-solving skills. Therefore, a client might ask the divorce lawyer whether they ever played in a band or orchestra, performed in a play, or played quarterback on any football team. Not everyone who plays a musical instrument or acts has developed quantitative reasoning skills.
However, a musician who regularly performs live with a band or orchestra must have developed those skills because problems or mistakes will occur during or in preparation for the performance, and the musicians must be able to problem solve to resolve and/or mask those problems/mistakes. The same is true for actors who perform in the theatre.
Many lawyers obtain problem-solving training through formal mediation programs or other means. Basic mediation training is a 40-hour course. However, whether a person who graduated from law school without a well-developed set of problem-solving skills will acquire them sufficiently through basic mediation training is questionable.
Unfortunately, I have found that clients need to focus on the right things when interviewing a divorce lawyer. They often want to know about the law on a particular issue for which they need representation. Bear in mind that any divorce lawyer who practices law in a specific field should be able to give a reasoned legal answer to such a question.
A response to a legal question in no way guarantees that a divorce lawyer will properly handle the case nor that they will be a solution-oriented representative. Therefore, specific legal questions should be asked after one is reasonably sure that the divorce lawyer will strive to find positive solutions to a legal problem. Clients also tend to get into the specifics of their cases because they want the divorce lawyer to tell them the most likely outcome.
The clients need to realize that cases are either resolved through the consensual agreement of the parties involved or because a judicial officer decides the matter. Lawyers cannot determine whether or not the parties will ultimately reach a contract or the terms of any such agreement.
Lawyers lose control over the outcome when they allow the matter to be decided by a judicial officer. Judges or juries are responsible for deciding factual issues, and judges are expected to apply the law properly. Only at great expense can a person successfully appeal a judicial ruling, and only if they can establish that the judicial officer failed to apply the law properly.
However, judges are given a great deal of discretion, and factual findings are not reversible by the appellate court. Unless the facts are undisputed and the law is apparent on the issue, how likely is it that a divorce lawyer can accurately assess the outcome of a case? Research shows that lawyers need to be more confident in their predictions.
Thus, focusing on the background, reputation, integrity, and problem-solving orientation of any divorce lawyer is the best insurance in selecting a divorce lawyer to represent you in a legal case.
Strategies for Keeping Your Legal Costs Down
I know from the many people I speak with that the monthly statement from their divorce lawyer’s office is the last mail to open. It’s not like you are running to your mail to see if it is there. And the questions you ask yourself as you open the statement can make you anxious. Are there enough funds in the retainer to cover this bill? Do I need to submit additional money? Why can’t I keep the tabs down? Why does the bill add up to so much so quickly? Why? Why? Why?
Instead of asking yourself why, utilize the how-to strategies to keep your legal costs down while maintaining control over what is going on in your file.
Here are some cost-saving tips to help you cut down on your legal bill:
Maximize Your Meeting Time
- Schedule your meetings through your divorce lawyer’s assistant.
- Make a list of questions you would like to discuss, organized by topic or issue.
The Evolution of Legal Practice: A Focus on Divorce Law
Historically, the role of a divorce lawyer was to facilitate peaceful resolutions, not to instigate disputes. The Anglo-American tradition of divorce lawyering, including litigation, was established as an alternative to trial by combat. However, this role has shifted due to changes in the demographics of law school entrants.
Research indicates that since the 1960s, individuals pursuing a career in law have been primarily motivated by wealth and power rather than a desire to address societal issues or assist others. Studies also suggest that law students tend to be insecure, uncooperative, and less concerned about justice than established behavioural norms. They often overemphasize objective reasoning when evaluating resolutions and fail to consider the ultimate consequences of their actions. Their legal training often exacerbates this emotional disconnect.
In 2002, the Section of Litigation of the American Bar Association prepared a report titled “Public Perceptions of Lawyers Consumer Research Findings.” The report revealed that Americans perceive lawyers as greedy, manipulative, and corrupt. Lawyers are believed to prioritize winning and profit over client interests. These perceptions are not solely media-driven; personal experiences corroborate them.
A 2005 UCLA School of Law, Public Law & Legal Theory Research article, titled “Perception of Lawyers – A Transnational Study of Student Views on the Image of Law and Lawyers,” published in the International Journal of the Legal Profession, revealed that only 21% of UCLA Law School students believed lawyers are trustworthy and ethical. This perception discourages many from joining the legal profession.
However, it’s important to note that 21% of incoming law students did believe that lawyers were honest and ethical. Some of these students may have been idealistic, believing they could bring about change within the profession. Unfortunately, such individuals often represent a small percentage of the law school student body, are likelier to drop out, and tend to leave the profession quickly.
According to the same 2005 UCLA article, lawyers are among the most distrusted professionals in the United States. This distrust extends beyond lawyers to journalists, politicians, and business executives. As public perception of lawyers’ behaviour worsens, those entering the field exhibit an increasing lack of honesty, ethics, and integrity.
Despite this, my journey into law was unconventional.
I never intended to practice law, but after graduation, career counsellors advised me that the degree was primarily useful for legal practice. I reluctantly began my career as a divorce lawyer in Toronto but soon realized I enjoyed law practice. I successfully achieved positive outcomes for my clients, and they appreciated having a divorce lawyer who was a healer, not a creator of conflict. In researching and writing this article,
I realized I am an old-school divorce lawyer. Many lawyers I’ve met during my legal career have also been trained in mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution.
Modern Lawyers: More War, Less Peace
Law schools train lawyers to identify problems but often need to teach them how to resolve them. This lack of problem-solving training has shifted law practice from resolving conflicts to creating them. This is particularly harmful in cases involving children and families, as escalated conflict can cause lasting damage.
When I took the LSAT for law school admission in 1986, part of the test involved problem-solving, this section is still part of the Bar examination because problem-solving is a traditional hallmark of a good divorce lawyer. However, we need to be taught to problem-solve in law school.
Problem-solving involves a creative attempt to discover a result that may be outside the specific provisions of law, ruling, or statute but that will represent the best reasonable outcome for all parties involved. The American Bar Association (ABA) advises aspiring lawyers to enter law school with a reasonably well-developed set of analytic and problem-solving abilities to become competent divorce lawyers.
The ABA further suggests that lawyers take the initiative to learn analytical and problem-solving skills, a basic understanding of human behaviour and social interactions, and good listening skills. However, since these skills are optional for a law degree, most lawyers do not learn them. Consequently, a lower standard of divorce lawyering has been created, where lawyers generate more problems and rack up billable hours doing so.
In a recent case, the parents of a newborn litigated a parenting plan issue, even though both parents were unemployed and used all their savings. The court ordered child custody, visitation, and child support at the hearing. After that, the father secured employment. Since his job required him to travel out of town, he could not exercise all of his court-ordered visitation.
Rather than agreeing to a more flexible schedule that would accommodate his changing work schedule, the mother filed a motion with the court, requesting that the father’s visitation be terminated. At the hearing, the judge ordered that his visitation rights would be duly completed unless the father complied fully with the original visitation schedule–which was made while he was unemployed. Since the father did not want to risk losing his visitation rights, he advised his employer that he would no longer be able to travel for work. He was terminated as a result. Had the judge been trained in problem-solving, the result, in this case, may well have been better for all involved.
Problem-solving has become a lost art in the practice of law. Not all lawyers lack problem-solving skills. Many lawyers obtain outside problem-solving training through mediation programs or other means. For example, the collaborative law movement has become increasingly effective in developing lawyers’ abilities to problem-solve effectively and wisely in family proceedings.
However, mediation is unregulated in most places, including California. Thus, a person can practice as a “mediator” without receiving formal training. On the other hand, collaborative law organizations typically have requirements for membership, which tend to include significant training in collaborative divorce, mediation, and conflict resolution. Thus, when selecting professionals from such organizations, a person can be confident that the members have received at least the minimum training required for membership.
Those who find such an individual to handle their legal matter can be sure that at least their divorce lawyer will be interested in resolving their problem with the most reasonable and positive outcome, rather than simply defining the problem and litigating it in court.”
In the evolving landscape of family law, the role of a divorce lawyer is more critical than ever. The traditional perception of lawyers as instigators of conflict is gradually shifting towards a more solution-oriented approach. This shift is particularly vital in family law matters, where the stakes are high, and the emotional toll can be significant.
Divorce lawyers in Toronto, and indeed globally, are increasingly recognizing the importance of problem-solving and negotiation skills. These skills are essential in navigating the complexities of divorce proceedings, whether they involve child custody, spousal support, or property division. An experienced divorce lawyer can provide expert guidance and help clients develop realistic expectations, maximizing the economic outcome while prioritizing the best interests of the children involved.
The practice of law has evolved from merely identifying problems to actively solving them. This evolution is particularly evident in the field of family law, where the focus is on resolving conflicts rather than creating them. This shift is crucial in cases involving children and families, where heightened conflict can cause lasting damage.
In Toronto, divorce lawyers are increasingly adopting a no-nonsense communication style, providing legal guidance in a timely manner. They offer free consultations and strive to serve clients in a quick and efficient manner. They understand the emotional stress involved in divorce cases and offer sincere advice to help clients navigate the legal process.
However, it’s important to remember that the final decision on any course of action rests with you, the client. Your divorce lawyer is there to advise and recommend, but the ultimate choice is yours. Therefore, it’s crucial to stay informed, ask plenty of questions, and do your research.
At The Smart Divorce:
We understand that you’re standing at a crossroads, facing one of life’s most challenging decisions. Like Robert, you may be grappling with the emotional turmoil that comes with the end of a marriage, and the daunting legal labyrinth that lies ahead. You’re not alone in this journey. We know the stakes are high, and the fear of making a wrong move is ever-present.
Our team of professionals at The Smart Divorce is here to guide you through this process with empathy, clarity, and a solution-oriented approach. We’re not just about legal representation; we’re about offering support, guidance, and solutions during this difficult time. We’re about working towards a fair settlement in a stress-free environment. We’re about ensuring that your future and the future of your children are in capable hands.
We believe in empowering you with knowledge, helping you develop realistic expectations, and prioritizing the best interests of your children. We understand that the final decision on any course of action rests with you, and we’re here to provide the advice and recommendations you need to make informed decisions.
We encourage you to reach out to us. You don’t have to navigate this complex terrain alone. We’re here to help you find your own strength, just as we helped Robert.
Schedule a Get Acquainted Call with us today. Let us guide you through this process in the most effective and compassionate way possible. You’re not alone. We’re here, ready to help you navigate your journey towards a smart divorce.
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