THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Andrew Feldstein Headshot

Simple Changes In Divorce Laws Could Save Canadians Thousands

Posted: Updated:
CANADA DIVORCE
Gajus via Getty Images
Print

A popular buzzword today is "disruption." Disruptive technologies and processes are all around us: Uber is a ride-sharing company; Airbnb is a service that allows you to make money by renting your home; Netflix is a video streaming company that allows you to watch the programs you want, when you want to watch them.

But disruption has not reached Family Law in Canada.

I have been a divorce lawyer for 20 years and the last time Canada's Divorce Act was changed was in 1986, pre-dating the internet. In other words, Family Law in Canada operates as if the internet didn't happen. It's as if the practice of Family Law has been vaccinated against change that has been shaping all other parts of our lives, mostly for the better.

Why is this a problem?

Canada's 30-year divorce rate stands at 40 per cent. Divorce touches almost every Canadian family. Who doesn't know someone who is affected by divorce? Parents, children, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents are all affected by divorce.

I will be the first to admit that lawyers are expensive. And when divorce drags on and on, no one's account is a bottomless money pit.

In fact, many people do run out of money and then try to represent themselves in court. "80 per cent of family court cases in Canada are trying to represent themselves in a complex, intimidating system that was designed for lawyers, not laypeople," wrote Lorne Sossin, Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, on February 25, 2015, in The Toronto Star.

Here's where things get sticky: not hiring a lawyer and representing yourself in divorce court doesn't save money. I have just published my 3rd white paper, The good, the bad and the ugly of self-representation, all about self-represented litigants (SRLs). In other words, people without a divorce lawyer.

When I am in court and I see that the other spouse is self-represented, I know legal costs will climb for my client and judicial resources will be squandered because of the SRL's lack of understanding of how the judicial process works.

That's why I am pushing for change.

And I'm not asking for more judicial appointments or more courtrooms, which would be expensive.

First, I want politicians to make simple changes in the legal system, such as allowing the use of email to arrange a case conference or a motion to change. I also want to use Skype for case conferences, which would save clients hundreds of dollars. Right now, family law lawyers must follow a process based on hardcopy letters to arrange case conferences and trial dates.

And procedural divorce reform must move up the priority lists of all political parties, on Parliament Hill and at Queen's Park. I have sent a news release as well as Edition 3 to all members of Parliament, Queen's Park, and the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Second, I am urging other family law lawyers to offer so-called "unbundled services" or limited scope retainers. This would allow Canadians to hire lawyers for the most difficult portions of their divorce, and do the rest themselves.

I would much rather help a dozen clients for a few hours each, on an unbundled basis, than spend weeks representing one client in a drawn-out trial. I am confident many of my colleagues feel the same.

Since 2013, I have been leading advocacy to push for much needed changes in Family Law in Canada at It'sTimeForJustice.ca where you can read Edition 1, Change Family Law in Canada. Now., and Edition 2, Best Interests in the Children.

If you are Canadian journalist working in justice, social justice, social reform, the legal profession, and immigration, please use your voice to hold politicians accountable to Canadians.

If you or someone you know has been through divorce and have comments, and like me, see the need for change in Family Law in Canada, please comment here at The Huffington Post or comments@itstimeforjustice.ca and share your experiences.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook