Need a divorce lawyer in Toronto and have no idea where to start
May 12, 2016 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm separating from my common-in-law partner and need to find a divorce/separation lawyer who can help me get a separation agreement crafted and signed. I have only ever used a lawyer twice - when I bought & sold my house, and when I wrote my will. I have no idea where to look or what I should be looking for. Help!

The separation was triggered by me and is mostly amicable. We have two young children who I have been the primary caregiver for - I did the vast majority of night parenting, most of the cooking, the cleaning, and other day-to-day responsibilities, which resulted in years of resentment and is a huge reason why I left.

We plan to split custody of the kids - one week on, week off. Finances are mostly separate though we plan to split the bigger costs for the kids (daycare, camp costs, etc.). Originally we had talked about working out the separation agreement between the two of us but my ex- had her lawyer send me a letter to start the separation agreement discussions recently and I know I need my own counsel.

I understand why she's retaining her own lawyer -- because I was the primary caregiver and she has a documented history of being emotionally unavailable to the kids she's on the defensive when it comes to custody. So where the heck do I start to look to find a lawyer I can trust? I know about the Law Society Referral service but don't know anything about what to ask or what to look for.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total)
You could ask the attorneys you used previously if they have recommendations. They might even do the work, too (the attorney I work for, for example, does work in all three of the areas you've referenced).
posted by Lucinda at 10:03 AM on May 12, 2016

Yes, you can start with asking the other lawyers you have dealt with if they have recommendations. Often partnerships will have lawyers covering a variety of disciplines. And lawyers know other lawyers.

Alternatively, you can ask a friend or co-worker who is divorced about their lawyer and how they found them.
posted by TORunner at 10:08 AM on May 12, 2016

FYI, if you are doing it yourself a Paralegal can do it and save you a bunch of money (PM me for a recommendation) but if she is lawyering up, I would getting a lawyer as well. A personal recommendation from a friend is Ingrid van Weert.

Although you are looking for a lawyer you should also get a therapist to vent to; a lot of people accidentally use their lawyers as therapists at $450/hour.
posted by saucysault at 10:59 AM on May 12, 2016

With kids involved, you really should not do this yourself. Find a family attorney. Ask on your local parenting listserv. Ask friends. But as others have said, remember that you don't want to treat your lawyer as your therapist because it is expensive.

In reading what you wrote, it seems to me that you don't (as most people don't) fully understand the laws and norms around divorce and children. I don't know about Ontario, but in most of the US nowadays, 50/50 custody is assumed and the week on/week off isn't popular for young kids - there are many different ways to do residential schedules that seem to be better for young kids' stability. Also there are a ton of details to be worked out about holidays, etc.

With regard to finances, it is nice that you guys have a plan, but financial separation and payment of things for the kids is highly regulated by the state. You should do some reading online, but take it all with a grain of salt, and get the real deal from your lawyer. There are all these little things - what if Johnny wants to go to expensive equestrian camp and one parent says yes and the other parent says no? Does Johnny go? Who pays? Is the parent who didn't want to pay still responsible for transporting Johnny to camp on their residential days? What about clothes? Does Johnny need winter boots at each house? What if Johnny needs a laptop for school? All of this stuff is planned for and worked out legally with multiple spreadsheets and lots of contingencies.

Moreover, even if your ex has been emotional unavailable in the past, at this point now there is nothing you can do about this. Outside of straight up documented abuse, the parent has a right to be with the children 50% of the time and parent the way that they want to. And YOU as the other parent are going to need to learn to deal with this and this is a very difficult thing for many people. Ex doesn't make kids eat their veggies? Brush their teeth? Do their homework? Lets them watch TV all day long? You have absolutely no say in what goes on at the other house unless it is truly abusive. It sucks, but you (and a good therapist and bottles of wine) will have to learn to deal with this.

And all that stuff that you were doing to manage the household - well, the ex is gonna have to do them all now and you can feel good inside that somewhere in ex's brain they are now realizing how you did all that stuff. But they'll never confess this to you. However, all the kid-related stuff, well, you're still gonna be doing it. Someone on AskMe once wrote something along the lines of "non-residential days just mean that I'm parenting from afar." If you were the one scheduling dentist appointments, you probably still will be. If you were the one making sure that there were enough socks, you probably still will be. If you were the one sending in the money for the group gift for the daycare teacher, you probably still will be. Just because you're in separate households doesn't mean that your ex will suddenly get good at this stuff.

So, get a lawyer, get a therapist, find a parenting plan specialist, and start educating yourself. The Co-Parenting Handbook is a good start.
posted by k8t at 11:15 AM on May 12, 2016

Building off what K8t said, there are other factors to consider: how to handle your wills? do you have to keep insurance to look after the kids/the ex if you pass away? what happens if one of you has a material change in circumstances?

You want a rigorous process in establishing your separation, otherwise it is vulnerable to attack later.

The Law Society of Upper Canada has a directory of all the lawyers and paralegals who practice in Ontario. You can search by city and practice area. If you are interested, also check out which is a group of lawyers who are willing to do sliding scale rates.

posted by LegallyBread at 11:21 AM on May 12, 2016

Originally we had talked about working out the separation agreement between the two of us but my ex- had her lawyer send me a letter

Yes, you're wise to have separate counsel for the two of you. The lawyers will know all the issues to cover in the separation agreement and will help you to negotiate them clearly and effectively. Your own work would have been incomplete for sure.

On preview: what k8t and Bread just said.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:48 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's how I did it. We both got our own lawyers. I had one or two discussions with mine, and found myself redrafting his correspondence, so I told him I was going to do the next bit (the negotiations), and I would check back with him when the document got close to finalisation and get his all-clear/advice on any changes. I then negotiated the document with her lawyer. My lawyer then ticked off the document without any changes. 25 years later, I am very happy with the outcomes of that process.

It helped that there were no major differences between us that led to the sort of fights that you read about, and I (a layman) knew enough about the law as it related to our situation to feel confident that I would not be caught out on a damaging mistake (and if I did make a big - or small - mistake my lawyer would catch it before it became locked into the document).

This was my experience. YMMV.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:14 PM on May 12, 2016

As someone who used to work in high-conflict child-focussed mediation and arbitration, we found that our couples had a lot more success and less friction when they worked in a collaborative law model - one that is focussed on representing each of their interests while working together towards a common goal.
posted by robot-hugs at 1:08 PM on May 13, 2016

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