Do I need a lawyer to file for a simple divorce in Toronto (Sept 2018)?
September 26, 2018 2:07 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I are divorcing. We live in Toronto, Ontario. We've got no kids, no house, no assets or debts to speak of. I spoke to a good lawyer today who said her fees would likely come to $2500-5000 (CAD). I don't have that money; I'd have to put it on a credit card or maybe borrow it. I'm wondering if I should just file the forms myself instead. My big concern is speed: I'm worried it will take me a long time to pull all the forms together somehow (I work full time) and I'm also worried that my divorce filing could get bogged down in the courts. I'd like to be separated from my husband as soon as possible. Is it worth it to pay for the lawyer?

I'd especially love thoughts or feedback from people who have experience with the Toronto family law system or who know something about it firsthand, and especially people who can tell me whether a lawyer is likely to help me get through the system faster somehow. Thank you!
posted by lotf629 to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there any chance of your husband contesting the filing?
posted by soelo at 2:33 PM on September 26, 2018

In New York, there are indeed "forms" that are not hard to fill out. If Ontario also has "forms," you should be able to take a stab at it and see how it goes. If however Ontario divorce papers need to be drafted from scratch with all kinds of nuances, you would need a lawyer.

That said, CA$2500-5000 seems high. Searching for "cheap Ontario divorce" gets you lots of hits, and prices way less than CA$2500.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:44 PM on September 26, 2018

I'm also worried that my divorce filing could get bogged down in the courts.

Why? Are you anticipating difficulty with your spouse, or are you just apprehensive about the process? If you both want an uncontested divorce, the two of you can jointly file online. You do need to be separated for a year to file regardless of how you do it, though.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:00 PM on September 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thank you so much for your responses. I'm not expecting difficulty with my spouse, and we do both want an uncontested divorce. We haven't yet been separated for a year--we separated in July. My understanding was that you could file paperwork before the term of the one-year separation was finished, even though the divorce couldn't be finalized before the one year mark. Do you have any idea if that's true?

I've heard that the Toronto courts are backlogged and that it can take a long time for divorces to go through, with many delays possible, but that's only hearsay.
posted by lotf629 at 3:08 PM on September 26, 2018

Perhaps you or your soon-to-be-ex qualify for Legal Aid Ontario? (A quick phone call for "summary advice" might help figure out your timeline.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:08 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm in York Region so not quite T.O. but my divorce could not have been simpler. Granted my wife did the legwork and I just got papers but I did visit a free Family Services paralegal (I think) who explained the process.

I also visited a divorce lawyer and she basically said why are you wasting my time?

Must admit I'm curious why the rush. But I suspect that a lawyer may help speed up the completion and filing of the paperwork but not processing of it. My not very helpful advice would be to just plow through the paperwork, submit it and in the meantime live your lives as if you were divorced.
posted by raider at 4:13 PM on September 26, 2018

It's kind of hard to say without knowing more about your specific situation. Some of the things a lawyer would advise you on are CPP credit splitting and pension splitting if one of you has paid into a pension plan and the other did not over the course of the marriage. This may not be a thing for you, if you weren't married for a long time or there wasn't a large difference in income between you two, but it may affect your future retirement income. Unfortunately, one of us in this current marriage had their divorce done on the cheap by a paralegal in Ontario who made an egregious error in the applicable law about pension splitting, and a decade later after a sudden job loss and resulting pension fund handover, we were unexpectedly obliged to pay out a very large cash sum to an ex-spouse. It was not a pleasant experience and would have been avoided had an actual lawyer been paid to handle the divorce in the first place instead of being paid to try and sort out the mess later.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:50 PM on September 26, 2018

You might want to check these guys out:
posted by foxjacket at 7:12 PM on September 26, 2018

It sounds like the system where you are is similar to the system where I live and where I got divorced. In that case, I also ask why the hurry? In my experience the only thing you can't do while separated that you can do if you are divorced is get married, it makes no other difference to life. I was living with another partner before I got around to getting divorced, I don't recall her reacting particularly.

If you are not expecting any complications you should be able to file it yourself after the year separated is up and it should just kind of happen.
posted by deadwax at 7:54 PM on September 26, 2018

I divorced in Canada (BC) a few years ago and would not recommend skipping the lawyer. My divorce was also uncontested and not messy, but the lawyer thought of things that I would not have thought to cover. We could have divorced using a notary and the [BC Family Law guide]((, but I am certain that I would have been kicking myself now had I done so.

The lawyer was incredibly helpful in dealing with the splitting of assets and equalization payments as well as dealing with some complicated stuff involving the transfer of our townhouse to my ex and the removal of myself from the joint mortgage. Another example where they were very helpful was noticing that some of my assets were not joint assets and dealing with that accordingly. I probably saved $5,000-$10,000 that I would never have figured out on my own at the time. Lastly, when the bank screwed up an equalization payment ($20,000) the lawyer was able to get it for me and get the bank to pay me interest and a little extra. (FWIW, this was not the fault of my-ex. The money had left their accounts and it was a problem with their representation and bank. They did not have to pay anything extra, that came from their lawyer and bank.)

Truth be told, even though the divorce was relatively amicable, I was also not emotionally equipped to handle it at the time. I would have skipped over things and rushed just to get the ordeal over with. At the time I would have told you that I was fine and rational and probably seemed that way to most people. In retrospect I can tell you I was not and I would be furious with myself today over some of the things above had my lawyer not thought about/caught them.

That said, my lawyer was excellent and very fair. He actually encouraged me to do the filing and some other things myself in order to save me on his fees, but was also very responsive to email if I had questions. I met with him in person three times: once to discuss my needs and for general council, once for document signing and to go over everything and once, and once to go over assets and discuss physical object division. All said, he charged me about $1000. He prepared the documents, but I filed them at the courthouse and handled that kind of thing. I consider that $1000 some of the best spent money of my life.

I am sorry you are going through this and I understand how you feel. Separation/divorce is emotionally difficult, it's exhausting, money is tight, and when you aren't feeling stressed or overwhelmed you're just sad and depressed. Get the lawyer. Do it for future you. Do it for the beautiful person you will be five years from now when you can look back on this chapter of your life as nothing more than a stepping stone. Sell some belongings or open a line of credit if you have to. Worst case you've just exchanged money for piece of mind and a confident, hopefully empathetic professional that is on your team. Best case is you save thousands of dollars you'd otherwise miss.

Do shop around, though. You can do better than that quote you received and find a lawyer that understands what you want.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 8:05 PM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am doing this right now in the GTA. It really couldn’t be simpler or cheaper. Go to your FLIC (Family Law Information Centre at the Family Law Courthouses) to talk to the lawyer for free to get an overview. They will give you the forms (although I recommend you use the online forms because you can type in them). Bring the forms back to a lawyer at FLIC to review before you file, just in case. If there are any issues flagged by the lawyer (such as the CPP) use the free mediation service to hammer it out. File your papers and wait (you are correct the courts are backlogged, hence the HUGE push to use FLIC and mediation by making them free to divert people away from the court system. (PS that lawyer is scamming you, I have a VERY difficult ex who is costing me way less than that in lawyer fees and I have been at the courthouse evey month for the past year). Congrats on your new life!
posted by saucysault at 8:32 PM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, and my experience is that lawyers make things slower, it isn’t in their interest to rush and appointments / court appearances are based on their busy schedules. Much faster to file it yourself!
posted by saucysault at 8:39 PM on September 26, 2018

this is not my area of expertise but I did hear someone speak rather passionately recently in favor of collaborative negotiation with regard to family law. Link is to a particular firm's website (the first thing that came up when I googled "collaborative divorce Toronto". Good luck.
posted by philip-random at 10:09 PM on September 26, 2018

I got divorced in Ontario a few years ago. There are two ways to get divorced in Ontario: contested (ie through the courts), or via a separation agreement. I chose separation agreement. And here’s something important: you can backdate your separation agreement. You can say you’ve been separated for as long as you like, the courts don’t care, as long as you and your spouse both agree on the date and therefore sign the agreement. I vote for filing that way, and doing it yourself. Saucysault has good advice!
posted by yawper at 4:50 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

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