Updated: Nov 15, 2021
We’re not legal experts, and we’re not here to tell you what to do, but in our experience a meeting with a lawyer or mediator in family law is extremely valuable to understand your options and next steps.
Understand your legal landscape
Referrals are a great way to find a lawyer if you don’t already have someone in mind. You can ask friends and family for a lawyer they like and trust—or, ask them to ask their friends.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with a google search and a review of law office websites and testimonials to find a local lawyer, but it certainly calmed our nerves to know we were approaching someone that already came vetted by our inner circle.
Things you might want to think about when selecting a lawyer is if their approach and experience matches your needs (e.g., if you have kids, own your own business, are anticipating or are already in a high-conflict separation, are looking for mediation, plan to write the separation agreement yourself, or are looking at updating or changing an existing agreement.)
What you can expect during your first meeting with a lawyer
We know this step can be really intimidating. The potential costs, feeling unprepared or overwhelmed by jargony legal documents, and the stigma associated with “lawyering up” can stop us from seeking out even the most basic information about separation and divorce.
In our experience, it was entirely worth the battle of nerves and self-doubt to make that first consultation appointment. Even if you don’t really know what to ask or what you specifically need help with, it’s a safe bet that a good family lawyer can walk you through what needs to come next in an hour or less.
You may be able to find a lawyer that bills at their hourly rate for the first informational meeting. Conversations about future legal needs and retainers etc. can happen at that first meeting, so it can be a more affordable, stand-alone information gathering session.
You can also prepare yourself with some basic questions and bring along information like:
recent income tax Notice of Assessments
details on your current or ideal custody arrangement or any existing or drafted separation or divorce agreement
the name and firm of your spouse’s or ex-spouse’s lawyer if applicable
your desire or potential needs for legal representation (drafting or reviewing a separation agreement, court or case conferences etc.)
The peace of mind that can come from good legal advice versus the unfounded fears and anxieties that might be swirling in your head can be a game changer. It won't eliminate all the stress that comes along with getting unhitched, but meeting with a lawyer can be very empowering and comforting to understand where you really stand legally and what options you have.
Yes, it can also mean you’ll end up with some homework, like filling out the dreaded Financial Disclosure Form or paying to have your pension officially valuated, but you’ll also now have a connection, a direct line, to a person who knows the best answers to “What now?” and “What next?”.
More resources for getting legally unhitched
Justice Canada: Divorce and Separation: Where to Start