This article was written by Linda Rainaldi of the People?s Law School with funding assistance from the Law Foundation of BC.
?When you talk to a lawyer about a legal problem, the lawyer should not automatically tell you that you need to go to court to solve the problem,? says family law lawyer John Anthony. There are lots of other ways to reach a solution, like:
·working it out yourselves, without legal help
·working with collaborative law lawyers.
Many people believe that family law disputes should not be resolved through the adversarial system in court. It is possible to work through a separation or divorce (at least in the early stages) without the help of a lawyer.
Many resources are available to help you understand the basics principles of family law, such as publications at your local public library or the library at the courthouse in your area. Some self-help publications can also be found in your bookstore.
There is also a wealth of information available over the Internet. Start, for example, with Family Law in British Columbia offered by the Legal Services Society of B.C.
(www.familylaw.lss.bc.ca). You?ll find information that explains family law issues, online self-help kits, information about how to resolve family law problems (such as counseling and mediation services), a listing of services available throughout B.C., and links to other sources of information and services, such as free legal advice.
?Mediation is becoming a common way to resolve family law disputes,? says Anthony. Mediation means that a third person gets involved to help the couple settle a problem. Mediators are specially trained professionals, not always lawyers, who are qualified to help people reach agreements. If it is helpful, you can even bring your own lawyer to mediation sessions.
?When you reach an agreement with the help of a mediator, that person will draft an agreement,? explains Anthony. ?Even if the mediator is a lawyer, he or she can?t act for both you and your partner, so you need to take the agreement to your own lawyer for independent legal advice.?
The benefits of mediation, says Anthony, are that problems can be solved in creative ways. He has seen people reach agreements in situations that have seemed impossible to resolve. Sometimes the solution could not be reached within the stricter limitations of the law and legislation.
Collaborative law is a new approach to resolving family law disputes. It grew out of a movement in the United States by lawyers who were determined to take family law out of the adversarial arena. This new model for dispute resolution is designed to be supportive to the partners and other support services, such as counseling and financial advice, is readily available.
In a collaborative law setting, both partners retain separate, specially trained lawyers who help them settle the dispute. Everyone agrees to work together to find a solution. No one may go to court, or threaten to do that. In fact, the whole process ends if one person can?t work within this framework.
When asked about ?the best? approach to resolving family law disputes, Anthony says there is no correct answer. ?Think carefully about what works best for you,? he says, ?and try to reach an agreement with your partner on as many issues as you can before you take it to a lawyer.?
John Anthony is a partner with Owen & Company in Nanaimo, B.C.
The purpose of this article is educational in nature. It is not intended as legal advice. It offers general information only. If you have a legal problem, you should seek professional advice.