Do I Really Need to Hire a Divorce Lawyer?
Hiring a divorce lawyer is a bit like brushing your teeth. You don't necessary have to, but not doing so can potentially have long lasting negative effects. In deciding whether you should hire a divorce lawyer, first ask yourself if any of the following statements are true:
- If parents have joint custody of children then neither parent pays child support;
- If a spouse leaves the matrimonial home he/she will lose all of their rights to the home;
- If a parent is an "access parent" they do not have the right to information about a child from schools, doctors, etc.;
- Common law partners share property in the same way as married people;
- People are considered "common law" for family law purposes after having lived together for one year;
If you answered "yes" to any of the above, then you would benefit from a consult with a family law lawyer. The above statements are common myths that I often hear from clients who were provided with information from "a friend of a friend". They are all inaccurate and misleading. If someone were to enter into a separation agreement believing these myths to be true they may find themselves in a situation where their separation agreement is unenforceable and may find that a court will refuse to grant their divorce until the agreement meets certain legal criteria.
If you and your spouse cannot agree and you find yourself in the Court system, the court process in real life is very different from what you see on the television. Most people are unaware of the rules of the courtroom or how to present their case. Another common myth of unrepresented parties in a court appearance is that they will be allowed to simply appear before the Court and present their case in a speech to the Judge. There are specific rules about what evidence can be accepted by the court, and what evidence cannot be accepted.
If you attempt to represent yourself in a court proceeding and you make a mistake in filling out your documents, these mistakes can have unintended and sometimes serious consequences and can affect how your case is processed or decided.
It is certainly understandable that given the financial strain that often accompanies a divorce or separation people would want to avoid paying legal fees. However, you should always consult with or retain a family law lawyer to assist in drafting a separation agreement or to represent you in Court. Not doing so could potentially cost you more than the legal cost you will incur.
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The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (Family Division) has specific rules about financial and other disclosure. Attempting to navigate your way through completing these documents can be very overwhelming. When completing your forms, either for the Court or for your lawyer, it is important to remember that when filed with the Court, the contents of your documents form your evidence before the Court. Your lawyer will rely on them to pursue or defend a support or property division claim.
It is also important to remember that when you sign your documents, you are making representations under oath and swearing that the contents in them are true. Do not rush through filling out the forms, and do not guess. Guessing at your entries can have unintended effects on your credibility to the reader, which can ultimately include, most importantly, the Court and the Judge hearing your matter. You should try and include bank statements or other documentary evidence to support as much of your financial and property disclosure as possible. The more documentary evidence you provide, the better the foundation you will build for your case before the Court.
Don’t forget to ask your lawyer for help. Your lawyer and his/her staff have experience at this task and will be able to advise you about what is required and help you through any writer’s block you may encounter.