How to minimize legal costs in a divorce or separation matter
I am sure you have heard of horror stories about how much legal fees in a family law, divorce or separation matter end up costing, especially if the matter is in litigation. While some times the increased costs are beyond your control (ex. if the other side is being unreasonable, causing delays, etc.), here are a few tips that can help you minimize the legal costs on your end:
1. Retain a lawyer for specific issues: the Law Society allows lawyers to be retained for specific issues ("unbundled"). For example: if you feel comfortable negotiating with the other party on your own regarding custody and access issues, but require assistance to deal with the property division and/or support issues, you can retainer a lawyer to deal only with the property division issues.
2. Be prepared and be timely: once you have retained a lawyer (whether on an unbundled basis or to represent you wholly in the matter), your lawyer will likely ask you to provide documents, such as financial disclosures, copies of prior agreements, etc. If there are financial issues in your matter (ex. child support, spousal support, property division), your lawyer will likely require at minimum your last three years' Notices of Assessment, recent paystubs, and supporting documents for your assets and liabilities (like bank account, mortgage, credit card statements). Ensuring you have access to your records ahead of time and sending the requested documents to your lawyer as soon as possible after the request will help your matter move forward faster, and your lawyer will spend less time (billable!) chasing after you for them. Getting back to your lawyer in a timely manner on questions and/or decisions (ex. making an Offer) usually also means your lawyer is then equipped to advance your matter forward as quick as possible.
3. Try to keep emotions at bay: experiencing family law issues is often very difficult and fraught with emotions. Your lawyer can certainly understand and empathize with the difficulties that you are going through, however, keep in mind that every minute spent on the phone with your lawyer discussing non-legal matters, or the time that your lawyer spends on reviewing your lengthy email about non-legal matters is still billable to you. Your lawyer can best assist you and minimize legal costs when your discussions and communications are focused on the legal aspects of your separation. If you do not feel comfortable talking to family or friends about what you are going through, ask your lawyer for a counselor referral. Many employers also have employee assistance programs (EAP) which may be able to provide a referral to counselling and/or provide some initial counselling - check with your employer to see if your workplace has an EAP and what types of services it provides.
Outside of keeping emotions out of your communications with your lawyer, it is also a good thing to keep in mind if you have ongoing communications with the other party, as this can help minimize acrimony that otherwise may unnecessarily increase legal costs. For example, if the other party engages you in a heated discussion and you said that you will no longer honour the children's time sharing agreement, this can cause unnecessary costs on both ends as your lawyer will have to respond to any allegations that the other side's lawyer makes.
Attached is a link to an interesting Harvard Business Review article that talks about how to control your emotions during a difficult conversation. https://hbr.org/2017/12/how-to-control-your-emotions-during-a-difficult-conversation
4. Be honest with your lawyer: going beyond the basic expectation that you will be honest with your lawyer (ex. your financial holdings) - if there are things that your lawyer needs to be aware of, and you are not proud of these things, you should still let your lawyer know so he/she can help address the issue. For example: emotions run high during an exchange with your ex-spouse and you made a vague threat that you did not mean - while you are not proud of this moment, you should let your lawyer know about this exchange so your lawyer can counsel you on what the next course of action may be. One should not presume that the other party understood that the vague threat was made in the heat of the moment and the more informed your lawyer is, the better he/she is able to prepare for what issues may arise as a result. Other examples may include: gambling, hidden debts, abuse/assault issues in current/past relationships, other relationships, etc.
5. Have a clear understanding of what you want, and be open to advice: share with your lawyer what is the ideal resolution for your issues, and let your lawyer know the baseline of what is acceptable for each issue. That said, it is also vitally important that you are open to your lawyer's advice, especially if what you want is not in line with legislation and/or prior cases on the same issues (ex. amount of child support payable). Your lawyer will advise you on what the law says and may suggest a fair and reasonable resolution as per the facts of your matter - however, what you offer to resolve the issues is your decision to make, and that decision can lengthen or minimize the amount of time the lawyers need to spend on your case to finalize the matter for you.