The content of this blog is meant for general information purposes only and is applicable specifically to Manitoba. The content should not be considered legal advice. Any comments and replies posted do not create a lawyer/client relationship

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Golden Girl Finance

I met a family law mediator at a conflict resolution course last week. Paul Sweatman not only works for Fairway Divorce Solutions in Winnipeg, but he also writes articles for the website Golden Girl Finance. There's a whole section of the website dedicated to women's finances during divorce. The articles are well worth reading for anyone going through a divorce. The link is below:


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Coaching for Resolution

The Resolution Skills Centre in Winnipeg offers an excellent two day course called "Coaching for Resolution". It's part of their conflict resolution curriculum.

Coaching is much different from mediation. Mediation involves working with two people in conflict and by having meetings with both of them, helping them to resolve their dispute. Coaching, on the other hand, is helping someone resolve their own problems, including a conflict they are having with other people. It can be done by an office manager with feuding staff, the sister of a woman having a fight with her boyfriend or a father talking to his son about an illegal check in his hockey game.

Most of us have done some coaching in our personal lives. Family, friends, coworkers or neighbours may come to us to talk about a problem they're having with someone else. Unfortunately, bad coaching can make the situation worse. Ill-conceived theories, assuming the worst about the other side and encouraging extreme reactions can just feed the conflict. In family law, this comes up when one spouse will talk about their marital problems to others, and be fed poor legal advice, encouraged to take extreme positions and seek revenge with a "war" mentality. Not only will this make the problems worse, but it can cause tension between the coacher and coachee if the advice is not taken.

Healthy coaching involves a few steps. When a friend or family member starts talking about their problem and you want to help them by coaching, realize immediately that you cannot give advice or your own opinion. They must come up with options for resolution themselves. This is very, very difficult for most people, but practice makes perfect.

The basic coaching steps are:

1. Let them vent/rant, and ask them questions. Use open-ended questions to make sure they give you (and themselves) a full picture of the scenario. Are there any other sides to the story? Has this happened before? Have they tried any other options to resolve the conflict? This sort of questioning can move the person into a more problem-solving frame of mind.

2. Ask them to imagine a resolution. What would they like to see happen? How would they like to see the conflict resolved? Sometimes people are so caught up in the battle, they haven't actually given a resolution any thought.

3. Once they have an idea as to what they'd like the outcome to look like, explore options to get to that resolution. Again, it is crucial that the coach not start giving advice. Ask open-ended questions and let the person consider their choices. Should they write a letter? Set up a meeting? Talk with a third party? Do more research? Let it go? Ask them to think about the pros and cons of each option.

4. Once the person has chosen their next step, help prepare them for it. What are they going to say in the letter? What if the person they're fighting with refuses a meeting? If they agree to a meeting, how will the meeting begin? What could go wrong with their plan?

Coaching is a powerful tool. Empowering people to solve their own problems is a wonderful feeling.

Spouses Sharing Money

Practicing family law for several years teaching you a lot of things about marriage. One is that no two couples share their money in the same way. It's remarkable, in fact, how many different options there are for merging financial lives. Factors such as the ages of the spouses, their respective incomes, stay-at-home parents, family or pre-owned money and basic fiscal responsibility all come into play in working out the option for each marriage or common-law relationship.

Some couples have arranged for everything to be in joint names. They share absolutely every dollar, bank accounts and investments and purchases. They have to work out some rules for how they each spend. A weekly allowance for each, a spending maximum, following a pre-determined budget etc. These couples often have easiest time sharing their money after they separate. It doesn't feel unusual to them.

Other couples share some of their money - such as in a joint chequing account - for household and children expense but they also retain some of their income to themselves. Maybe the wife puts her extra income into investments and the husband pays for vacations, or his own hobbies. Some of the spouses in this type of arrangement can be upset by the asset sharing laws if they separate. The "saver" has to share his or her savings, and the "spender" has nothing left to share.

Although it's not very common, some couples keep their money very, very separate. They each pay exactly half of the household bills, and when it comes to the rest of their money, they not only keep it separate, they keep it secret. This can be a huge problem if the marriage ends or one spouse dies. Nasty surprises like a huge debt load can come to light. Obviously, these spouses also have a hard time with the law telling them that their incomes, assets and debts have to be shared when they separate.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Emotions of Divorce

It is crucial to know the laws applicable to divorce and separation while you're going through it. However, it is also important to be aware of the emotions and psychology of separations. Most clients would like their case settled as quickly and civilly as possible, so understanding what emotions to expect, from both spouses, can help in choosing a strategy and making decisions. For example, if the separation is a surprise to one spouse, he or she may need time to work through the shock and anger and denial and grief. There is no point in trying to discuss asset valuations and how to share hockey expenses with that spouse until he or she can think more clearly. Forcing them to negotiate before they're ready will just increase the cost and conflict. Below is a link to an article on the emotional side of divorce:


Monday, 9 September 2013

Civility in Law

The annual Western Manitoba Bar Association conference was September 6th and 7th, and the education topic was civility - lawyers being civil to each other and in court. Most of the content was common sense. Dress appropriately for court, stay off the phone in court, but do return phone calls. Be punctual. Don't be sexist or ageist to other lawyers. Be a good winner, and a good loser. Be a decent and respectful person.

Of course, there are many reasons for bad behaviour - letting your emotions get away from you, poor planning and scheduling skills, financial pressures, insecurity, generation differences etc.

One interesting cause of uncivil conduct is client expectations. Clients who may have seen lawyer shows on tv may have a false idea of what a real court case looks like. In Canada, Judges will not tolerate grandstanding - lawyers shouting back and forth, pounding fists on the table, tossing pens in frustration, theatrics. In reality, we have to patiently wait for our turn to talk. We have to be polite and keep an even tone when questioning witnesses, and even refrain from eye rolling or noisy breaths while the other lawyer is talking. It's definitely boring to watch, and some clients may be disappointed that the lawyer they assumed was a "pitbull" or "shark" is behaving so civilly.

Similarly with written correspondence, lawyers are encouraged to be productive and respectful when sending letters back and forth. On occasion, a lawyer will get a blistering letter from a colleague, filled with insults and attacks and threats. Some clients will expect their lawyer to respond in a similar fashion. The reality however is that doing so is unethical, degrading and serves no purpose. A client would be paying good money for their lawyer to show off and engage in a personal battle while not actually accomplishing anything productive for the client. And in family law, it can cause irreparable damage for the family. It's just an expensive waste of time. As one of the instructors at the education topic said, "Don't wrestle with a pig. You'll only get dirty, and the pig will enjoy it".

Monday, 2 September 2013

Mediation is Not Easy

I recently had a client come in with a copy of her mediated parenting agreement. She and her former spouse had worked out the terms of custody, a care and control schedule, holidays, decision-making and some basic parenting ground rules and procedures. Both were pleased with the outcome, but her comment to me was the mediation process was hard, and a took a long time.

This is one of the major misconceptions about mediations. Clients think it will quick, cheap and painless. Yes, it's possible to throw together an agreement like that, but will it have any staying power? Most often no. An effective mediation process involves a couple truly hearing each other out, working on and practicing rebuilding some of the communication and trust issues that have fallen apart as the marriage ended, having a meaningful conversation about the children and negotiating until they can reach a consensus. Of course this is going to take some time and it won't be easy. But until that work is done, the parents will continue saving the same arguments and miscommunications and fall into the same unhealthy patterns that ended the relationship.

It took a lot of time and work, and many hard conversations, to enter into a relationship and parent together, so why would anything think it would be any easier to create a new post-marriage relationship? Mediation can be hugely rewarding, less expensive and faster than court, provides privacy and dignity and shelters children from conflict. But it's not going to be easy.