What You Can Do
As someone trying to resolve a family law issue, there are ways to help yourself, your children and other loved ones.
Whatever family law issue you’re dealing with, whether it’s divorce or separation, surrogacy or adoption, parental coordination, parenting arrangements and child support, negotiation and mediation, protecting your property rights at the outset of a new relationship, making elder care arrangements or anything else, you can take control of your situation by seeking help from legal professionals.
At Brown Henderson Melbye (BHM), we understand the difficulties that come with family issues, and the emotional strain that these difficulties can cause, whatever the nature, and we will work with you to minimize conflict and encourage a communicative approach between yourself and the other parties involved. It is important to us that, as much as possible, you and the other parties involved focus on repairing the relationship between you that has broken down as a result of conflict and move towards a final resolution of the outstanding matters.
If you’ve decided to take action, here’s what you can do to facilitate the legal process and get yourself started:
- Decide whether you are going to retain a lawyer to assist you, and if so, prepare for your first meeting with that lawyer;
- Keep in contact with your lawyer and let them know if you are served with any court documents, or any relevant documents become available;
- Look into resources for children in family law disputes, to see what services available may assist your family;
Work on bettering your communication habits with the other party – it is important that you maintain BIFF (Brief – Informative – Friendly – Factual) communication whenever communicating with the other party. Remember – anything you send them could later be provided to a Judge in Court, so it’s important to keep these messages respectful and friendly.
Prepare for your first meeting with a BHM lawyer
Here are some ways you can help us to be more efficient and to better match and support your needs:
- Complete our client intake questionnaire. This helps us to fully understand your situation, your thoughts, your worries or concerns, and areas of law that you need help with.
- Beforehand, send us copies of any court documents that have been filed and/or agreements that have been finalized between you and the other party so that we have time to review those prior to our meeting with you.
- Think about your goals in the situation or what you want in 1 year or 5 years’ time. Setting markers is a great way to keep your head above water in tough times, and it gives you purpose, confidence, and a milestone to work towards.
- Review the Form 8 Financial Statement and the specific list of income and financial documents that will be required if we represent you. It is important that you start putting together those documents in a timely fashion.
- Write down your questions so we can be sure to answer them. Ask any questions or address any concerns that you may have, as it’s important that you feel comfortable and in the loop from the very beginning.
Make sure that when you leave you take our business card and confirm with the lawyer the best way to provide any follow up questions you might have after the meeting.
Call us when you receive court documents
Court documents are generally time sensitive, so as soon as you receive them, you should meet with your lawyer to discuss the next steps. It is the most helpful if you drop off or email the court documents, concurrently with calling our office to arrange to speak with your lawyer.
Your case may be in the Provincial Court of B.C. or the Supreme Court of B.C.– this will be outlined in the documents. The Provincial Court can only deal with issues of parenting arrangements, child support and spousal support. The Supreme Court can deal with all of these issues, as well as division of family property and debt, and divorce.
If your case is going to the Supreme Court, generally this is commenced by the filing of a Notice of Family Claim, and then the responding party has the responsibility of filing a Response to Family Claim and if necessary, a Counterclaim within 30 days, unless otherwise agreed with the other side’s lawyer. After the Notice of Family Claim and Response to Family Claim have been filed, generally the next step is to go to a Judicial Case Conference with a Judge or Master of the Court, or to attempt negotiation between the lawyers outside of Court.
If your case is going to the Provincial Court, generally this is commenced by the filing of an Application, and unless it is filed on an urgent basis, the responding party has 30 days to file a Reply and Counterclaim, unless otherwise agreed with the other side’s lawyer. After the Application and Reply are filed, generally the next steps is a first appearance in Family Remand Court to determine what next steps would be most appropriate, ranging from mediation or family case conference to procedural hearing or substantive trial of the outstanding issues.
We will work through the court documents with you and explain any questions or aspects that you may be unfamiliar with, as well as what next steps are most appropriate given the circumstances of your case.
Help your children in a family dispute
When the family dispute involves children, whether it’s divorce, child support, parenting coordination, or anything else, the only factor to consider is your child/children’s best interests. Minimizing conflict is essential to create a stable and calm living environment to minimize any disruption to your child’s life. Here are 10 tips that can help.
- Never speak poorly of your spouse in front of your children. It’s important to keep your relationship issues separate as you don’t want to taint your child’s perception of your spouse.
- Do not use your children as messengers between you and your spouse.
- Reassure your children that they are loved and that the separation or divorce is NOT their fault. This is very important as children often feel vulnerable and confused throughout the proceedings.
- Encourage your children to see your former spouse frequently. This helps them to maintain a good relationship.
- At every step remind yourself that your children’s interests – not yours – are the most important thing. This can be difficult when tensions are running high, but you shouldn’t forget that.
- Resist the temptation to have your children take care of you.
- If you have a drinking or drug problem, get counselling right away. You need to be strong, sober, and have mental clarity for your children.
- If you are required to pay child support, do it.
- Don’t tell the children that you have not received child support you are supposed to receive.
- If you can, try to create stability at home and school to help buffer the trauma children feel. Minimize change to keep things as normal as possible.
(Drawn from Stepping Back from Anger: Protecting Your Children During Divorce, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers)
Click here for more information about child brain development through parental conflict.
Communicate Effectively - BIFF
Communicating with your former spouse or other family members can be incredibly challenging given the emotions involved. However, communicating effectively and avoiding hostility is one of the most valuable things you can do, as you’ll resolve disputes much quicker and it’ll make the whole process much more smoot and will reduce the effect of your conflict on your child or children.
By communicating openly and effectively, you end up with a more cooperative approach to resolving things and it may help your case should it come before a judge or other decision-maker.
When sending emails, texts, or any other form of communication to your former spouse, we recommend that you use the BIFF method and be:
This will help to keep your communication clear, concise, and friendly, to avoid any negative exchanges and disputes.
Remember: Anything you write to the other party can be shown to a Judge in Court at a later date, as well as anything you say could be overheard by third parties who can be called to court to testify about what they overheard. It is important that you remain calm and friendly in all of your communications with the other party, and that you ensure that your children are never exposed to conflictual communication, either orally or written. Courts will also look poorly on parents who make negative comments about their other parent in front of their children or in such a way that it would get back to their children.
If you are concerned about how your spouse communicates with you or want to learn more about how to become a better communicator with your spouse, we can assist you with this.
Prepare for a Mediation or Meetings with other Parties
If you have a mediation or another type of meeting with the other party to discuss your situation come up, you can prepare yourself with these four techniques:
- Manage your emotions – Focus on keeping your own emotions in check and staying calm when your former spouse or other party is talking. Take deep breaths to help you remain composed and reasonable in the meeting, so you can focus on finding a solution rather than getting upset or angry. If you feel like you are having trouble keeping your emotions in check, you can always ask to take a break or to speak with your lawyer separate from your former spouse.
- Flexible thinking – It is important that you are open to methods and suggestions on how to resolve your situation. During these types of meetings, various ideas and suggestions will be discussed in an attempt to resolve the outstanding matters. Even though you may not have thought about it before, it may actually work for you so you need to be flexible and be open to ideas. If you need more time to consider something, let your lawyer know.
- Moderate behavior – Consider your behaviour and how it will be perceived by the other client – how would you be effected by that type of behaviour? Try to communicate with neutral language so you do not unnecessarily make the other party defensive or shut down, as you need to encourage a form of open conversation without any barriers. Be aware of terms or words that may be a trigger to your former spouse, and let your lawyer know about those beforehand.
- Check yourself – Check in with yourself to see how you are doing with the above techniques during the meeting. If you feel yourself getting off track, remind yourself to keep calm and composed, be open minded, use neutral language and promote an open conversation to achieve the best result for you and your family. Again, you can always ask for a break or an opportunity to speak with your lawyer before going further.
There are many great resources to assist you in navigating family law processes in Victoria. Mediators Bobbi Poushinsky and Amy Robertson have graciously agreed to allow us to share their Greater Victoria Resources Guide to help you locate the services that will be of assistance to you. Please note that this guide is not intended as an endorsement of any particular service.
Other useful resources are as follows:
Family Law Act (BC): http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/11025_01
Divorce Act (Canada): http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/d-3.4/
Canlii (Case law search engine): http://www.canlii.org
Further Family Law Information:
Supreme Court of BC – Online Help Guide: http://www.supremecourtbc.ca/
Dial-A-Law Legal Information: http://www.cbabc.org/For-the-Public/Dial-A-Law
JP Boyd’s Wikibook: http://wiki.clicklaw.bc.ca/index.php/JP_Boyd_on_Family_Law
Who are High Conflict People (Bill Eddy) – http://www.highconflictinstitute.com/articles/most-popular-articles/78-hci-articles/published-articles/131-who-are-high-conflict-people
Legal Services Society on Family Law in B.C.: http://familylaw.lss.bc.ca/
CBA Tax Matters Toolkit for Clients: https://www.cba.org/getattachment/Sections/Family-Law/Resources/Resources/2014/Tax-Matters-Toolkit-for-Clients/taxMattersToolkitClients_Eng.pdf
Pacific Business and Law Institute: http://www.pbli.com/
Local Services and Resources:
Family Services of Greater Victoria: http://www.fsgv.org/
Victoria Justice Access Centre (Family Justice Centre): http://www.familylaw.lss.bc.ca/help/jacSelfHelpAndInfoServices.php
Mediate BC: http://www.mediatebc.com/
Collaborative Family Separation Professionals: http://www.collaborativefamilylawgroup.com
International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP): https://www.collaborativepractice.com/
Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC): https://www.afccnet.org/
Justice Education Society: http://www.justiceeducation.ca/
Pacific Centre Family Services: http://www.pacificcentrefamilyservices.org/
Access Pro Bono: http://accessprobono.ca/
Triple P Positive Parenting Program: http://www.burnsidegorge.ca/programs/triple-p-positive-parenting-program
Victoria Child Abuse Prevention and Counselling (previously Mary Manning Centre): http://www.vcapcc.com/
The Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island (previously Queen Alexandra Foundation for Children): https://childrenshealthvi.org/
Boys & Girls Club Services of Greater Victoria: http://www.bgcvic.org/
Bridges for Women Society: http://bridgesforwomen.ca/
Victoria Women’s Transition House Society: http://www.transitionhouse.net/
The Cridge Centre for the Family: http://cridge.org/cthw/
The Men’s Centre (Nanaimo): http://themenscentre.ca/