By Charles Morrison, Lawyer
1. Rules, Procedures & Timelines:
When matters are in court, we are governed by the Family Law Rules. There are 43 of them however, that is a bit deceptive because most of the rules are divided and sub-divided into many sub-rules. They may be difficult for the lay person to understand. Added to this are several court forms and pieces of legislation such as the Divorce Act, the Family Law Act, the Children’s Law Reform Act and others. Our court system moves rather slowly and is very paper intensive. Digital technology has not made very far inroads into the court system. Added to this are the sheer number of cases compared to the available resources of the court to deal with them. As I tell clients, the system does not operate like “Judge Judy” on TV.
Even in the course of negotiated settlements that are not collaborative many lawyers do not initiate systemized efficient negotiation methods nor in many cases time lines for steps to be taken. Negotiations still proceed largely through an exchange of correspondence. In the appropriate case, I prefer collaborative family law as it does adopt a more systemized deadline oriented approach.
2. Information Gathering:
To make informed choices, you need reliable information. Financial disclosure is an extremely important part of a family law file and often occupies the initial stages. Both parties assemble and exchange important information and documentation regarding income, expenses, assets and liabilities. If there are delays, this can slow down significantly the progress of both litigation files and separation agreement negotiation.
Finances can sometimes be complicated and not merely for millionaires. Where for example there are shares in corporations or other business assets, real estate, pensions or other investments (to mention only a few) we sometimes have to turn to third party valuators to provide professional opinions. This too can be time consuming especially when they do not promptly receive the information that they require. Employee pension valuations are carried out by the pension plan itself (if an Ontario pension) and can take several weeks.
4. No Response:
I can count the number of times in a given month that I am writing either to my own client or to the other lawyer asking for a response to letters that I have previously sent. There may be legitimate reasons why there are delayed responses however, it can significantly prolong matters and delay resolution.
5. The Other Lawyer’s Client Has Not Given Them Instructions:
Related to the previous item, sometimes the other lawyer cannot effectively answer a letter because they, in turn, have not heard from their own client.
6. Time Is Needed:
The resolution of certain issues may require time for implementation. For example, where access to a child is being increased or changed, circumstances may dictate a gradual increase and assessment as to how well the child is doing along the way before a full expanded access schedule can be implemented.
7. Unpaid Legal Bills:
I have to mention this as it can be a significant reason for delay. A lawyer may not be willing to continue in correspondence or taking the next steps through a court matter if money is owing for their fees or a further deposit has not been paid by the client.
Many emergencies or incidents can happen during the course of a family law file. Unfortunately, these can take both parties off the main track of settlement and result in unavoidable skirmishes that have to be resolved. To cite only some examples, when an access visit is denied, when holiday access schedules are disputed, when support is not being paid, when nasty arguments have taken place, progress can suffer.
9. Delays From Third Parties:
Related to some of the above, when we depend upon others to provide necessary information (e.g., valuators, therapists etc.,) and the information is unavailable or further time is required, we need to wait.
10. Change of Lawyer:
Sometimes during the course of a family law file whether in court or a negotiated settlement, clients change lawyers. The new lawyer may require sufficient time to familiarize himself/herself with the file.
There can be other reasons for delay as well.
In my next blog, I will list some suggestions as to speeding up the process and having it run more efficiently.