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Three Lessons About Family Law

In November I had the opportunity to move from my Corporate Immigration practice and join the talented and experienced team of family law lawyers at Moe Hannah LLP. When I tell people about my previous legal experience the typical response is along the lines of “that must be quite the learning curve!” but there are more similarities than you would expect. Both immigration and family law involve working with people who are going through an extremely stressful and transitional time in their lives. Both immigration lawyers and family law lawyers are involved with helping clients find a resolution that allows them to move forward with their lives whether it be in a new country or in a new family arrangement.


With that being said, I wanted to share three of the things I have learned about family law since joining Moe Hannah:


1.There are many paths to resolution   


I have quickly learned that my life as a lawyer was not going to be like what I have seen on TV – I am not in court everyday conducting intense cross-examinations of hostile witnesses in my best power suit. The truth is, for many people court is not the best method of resolution for their family law problems.


My colleague Doug Moe Q.C. uses a spectrum to describe the choices available to parties trying to reach an agreement on family law issues. On one side of the spectrum is the kitchen table where yourself and your partner can sit together, incur minimal legal fees and be in total control of the agreement that you reach. On the other end of the spectrum is the court process. This is more expensive as it requires more involvement by lawyers. It also takes the control over the decision making out of the hands of the parties and puts it into the hands of the judge.


The best method for some may be one of those options but, for most, it will likely be somewhere in the middle of spectrum. Other options include mediation, four way meetings with the other side and their lawyer, arbitration or some combination of all the above. In family law, we work with clients to find the best method of resolution considering their unique circumstances.



2. Don’t always believe what you read!    


Family law is governed by many different statues including those that apply across Canada, such as the Divorce Act, and those that apply only in Alberta, such as the Matrimonial Property Act.


For example, under the Family Law Act in British Columbia cohabitating couples may receive similar treatment to couples who are married in the event of relationship break down. In Alberta, couples who are not married are subject to different rules.


As the laws and rules can vary so drastically from province to province it is very difficult, if not impossible, to simply search the internet about your family law issue and receive a correct answer. The information you find could be from British Columbia or Ontario where the law is very different.


With the wide range of differences it is so important to consult a qualified family lawyer in your province to ensure that you are receiving the correct advice


3. Families are like fingerprints, each one is different.   


What works best for your family may not be what works best for anyone else. Everyone has different priorities. For example, you may want to keep your pension intact or you may want to set aside funds for post -secondary education for your children. It may be important that each parent has set time with the children or it may be important to keep parenting schedules flexible.


Identifying goals and objectives for important issues such as parenting or division of property and sharing those goals is an important step on the way to resolution. I was surprised to learn that spouses and partners going through relationship breakdown often have similar goals. Usually both parties know what is going to be the best for them, best for their children and what will allow them to move forward with their lives in the most positive way.


A family law lawyer will help you communicate those goals and objectives. If there are places where your priorities do not align with the other party, we can help you find a way to work through those issues and find common ground or, at least, a solution that you and your family can live with.


It has been my pleasure to help families through transitional times in their lives throughout my legal career. I look forward to learning more valuable lessons about family law and sharing that knowledge with clients to help them find resolution and reach agreement in a way that is in the best interest of themselves and their families.


Thank you for reading,

Catherine L. Fitzgerald