Deciphering the Family Law Process: The Litigation Option
At Watson Goepel LLP we offer ‘all things Family Law’, from traditional Litigation to Mediation, Arbitration, or Collaborative Law, as well as Adoption services and legal advice for both pre and post marriage agreements. This blog post, however, is meant for those who are involved in (or are contemplating) a litigation based process.
Finding your way through family law litigation is challenging. To help you guide you through the process here are a few basic steps that you may go through when we are tasked with helping you through the Courts.
Setting up your File
- First, we will do a “conflict search” to ensure there is no conflict of interest in our representing you (confirming that your partner has never received legal advice from us).
- You will be provided with a ‘Client Information Form’ to complete. This will give us an initial understanding of your situation before you arrive at our office.
- A 1-2 hour initial consultation is then set up to discuss both your individual situation and the relevant legal advice to address that. We will discuss what will be required of you and the process in general. This is a ‘paid for’ consultation specific to the time spent.
- Should you decide to work with one of our lawyers, a retainer is then required. The amount depends on the services necessary to resolve your situation.
Commencing the Court Process
- A Notice of Family Claim is the first document filed with the Court to initiate a proceeding in family law. This document must outline ALL issues you wish to have dealt with through the Court system and may include: divorce, support (both child and spousal), division of family assets (which may include business), parenting time, and division of family and business debt. This document must be personally served on your former spouse, and your former spouse is required to file a Response to Notice of Family Claim, within 30 days, if he or she does not agree with your version of events and what is being requested.
- A Judicial Case Conference, or JCC, is often the first contact you will have directly with the Court system. A JCC is an opportunity to sit down with your lawyer and your former spouse (and their lawyer) and a Judge or Master of the Court to discuss the case. You are each able to provide your version of the situation and have the Master or Judge listen and provide input on what is the likely legal outcome if you continue down the path of litigation and to set procedural dates, for Discoveries, Trial, etc. If there are terms that can be agreed upon between your former spouse and you, a ‘Consent Order’ can be obtained at a JCC. * This is an excellent opportunity to secure a resolution in a cost-effective way to limit the issues proceeding to Court.
- One week before the JCC you and your former spouse will need to exchange ‘Financial Statements’, called a Form 8. The Form 8 gives each of you and the Court a clearer picture of your income(s), family and business finances and expenses for yourself and children, as well as the financial issues that will need to be addressed.
- Once the JCC has been completed, you will be required to exchange a “List of Documents” which literally lists the documents that would be relevant to the issues in your family law matter. The attached Documents Often Required Form will assist you in knowing which are relevant. We note that the more you organize your documents before providing them to your lawyer the more cost effective things will be.
- Another step after a JCC is when one or both parties choose to bring an ‘Application’ to Court to deal with interim issues relating to the care or support of children, support for a spouse, or even some preliminary division of asset and debt questions. This is done by way of a Notice of Application, and a supporting ‘Affidavit’ or other evidence.
- This is also when, your lawyer or the lawyer for your spouse may wish to ‘examine’ the other party’s evidence by way of an ‘Examination for Discovery.’ This process is stared with the delivery of an ‘Appointment to Examine for Discovery’ (Form 21) which sets a day and time, along with retaining a Court Reporter, for the Discovery to take place.
- Finally, if matters have not settled, a Trial would be held. Take some comfort, however, in knowing that some 95-98% of family law cases will settle, in one way or another, before an actual full Trial is held. As for what happens with a Trial, stay tuned for another Blog on that particular topic.
The BC Supreme Court website provides access to all the forms that may be required in a family law matter.
Visit the BCSC website HERE.
Some thoughts on the Court Process
- You should be aware that divorce and all the issues that come with that adventure are of secondary consideration to establishing care and support of children. The “best interests of the Children” are paramount to the Court. As such, a divorce will not be granted until clear care and support plans for the Children have been established.
- At Watson Goepel, in our Family Law Group, we offer an option of legal services, both comprehensive and unbundled. Concerning the latter, when it comes to litigation, it is also possible that you assume the responsibility for your own family law proceedings and then work with one of our lawyers on a “limited retainer” basis. We can explain this more if you are interested.
- A Watson Goepel Family Law lawyer on a full retainer will take charge of your file and help guide you through the process of communicating with opposing Counsel, meeting deadlines, advancing Court process and pushing as little or as much as may be in your interest to obtain the best result for you.
- We also aim to look at ways and means to minimize the trauma of separation and divorce to get you into smoother sailing waters, sooner rather than later.
We would be happy to speak with you about your case and invite you to speak with one of our lawyers to ascertain the best global strategy for your situation.