LAA family lawyer shares top five tips for navigating separation and divorce
EDMONTON—Family Day is usually a time of togetherness. It’s a time for celebrating families from all walks of life.
If you look around, no two families are the same. Each unit comes with their own unique set of circumstances – whether it’s the single, stay-at-home parent or a couple who cherish their one-on-one time.
But there are also those who might be navigating the complex waters of family breakup – whose Family Day might look a bit different than everyone else’s.
Caitlin Zeran, family lawyer with Legal Aid Alberta offers tips to help families get through a tough time as smoothly as possible, so they can make the most out of their holiday.
Keep a level head
“It is important [for clients] to try to proceed in a calm and rational manner, regardless of how the other party may be behaving,” says Zeran. “A good way to do that, depending on the nature of the case, is to remember that the other person is presumably someone that they loved at one point in time.”
Keeping situations civil is beneficial in the long run, especially when things like text conversations and other written communications are required to be submitted as evidence in a case.
“Respect is key – for your spouse, for the lawyers involved and for the court.”
Kids always come first
While it can be easy to set your sights on success in a case, Zeran cautions against doing so at the detriment of children.
“It is extremely important to avoid exposing children to adult conflict or involving children in the separation process,” she says.
“Of course, there are exceptions for children who are participating in the process through lawyers of their own, which would mean that the child is inevitably aware of the litigation; however, parents should absolutely avoid discussing the litigation or resolution with children, or unnecessarily involving them.”
Zeran also notes that both parties can make a breakup easier on kids by speaking about their spouse in a positive manner, encouraging a continuous relationship between their spouse and children – and even extended family, reminding the kids that both parents love them and the breakdown is not their fault, and enrolling them in counselling, if needed.
Consider a separation agreement
Although not all breakups are civil, if you find yourself on good terms with your spouse, a separation agreement can keep the process smooth through to divorce.
“This a contract that clearly outlines what will happen now that the relationship has ended,” notes Zeran. “It keeps the situation controlled by the parties preparing the agreement, instead of a justice or a judge.
“Ideally, the divorce will then just proceed on an uncontested basis when the time comes, because all of the other issues have already been resolved.”
Remember, this won’t last forever
Some situations feel like they never end. But one important thing for people to remember, Zeran says, is that this is a temporary situation.
“It’s easy to get lost in the process, but it’s important for [individuals] to view the situation as something that is necessary to finalize separation and move on with their lives.”
Hire a lawyer – always
A common misconception, Zeran says, is that you don’t need a lawyer for separation or divorce. But this is often a bad idea that can leave people in a tricky situation.
“Family law is very complicated, and I have seen self-represented people in court who have made no effort to research the law – they just filled in forms and asked for the moon and that’s that. It often results in cases taking a lot longer than they really should.”
But if you’re planning to go to court and winging it, Zeran says you must be prepared, because it’ll be expected.
“The law is frustrating for lawyers, so I can imagine how challenging it is for self-represented people.”
Legal Aid Alberta provides full legal representation to nearly 35,000 service-eligible clients per year at all levels of court. LAA also provides Alberta’s Emergency Protection Order, Justice of the Peace Bail, and Duty Counsel programs for all Albertans. LAA has more than 300 employees and 1,200 private roster lawyers serving Albertans in 75 communities across the province.
About Legal Aid Alberta
Legal Aid Alberta is a not-for-profit organization that provides legal representation and support for Albertans facing legal issues.
LAA provides legal services to clients in support of fairness in Alberta’s justice system – services that help ensure Albertans in all circumstances can understand and defend their legal rights.