Should I See A Lawyer Before Going to Family Law Mediation? Or, Do I Wait Until After?

Mediation is an excellent option for many separating couples to work out the issues between them in separation and divorce. The goal is always to get to a separation agreement that addresses all the issues, or a court order. But, the court order route is much more difficult – emotionally and financially – and expensive. Mediation may not work well where there has been domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, a strong desire to destroy the other spouse or a serious power imbalance.

Even when you are proceeding with mediation, which is an excellent choice for most people, you should see a lawyer first and have a lawyer’s assistance throughout the process.

  1. How much do you know about the specifics of family and how they apply to your situation? Not much? (Don’t rely on rumours you have heard, they are often wrong.) If you think you do not have a lot, immediately download the e-book on Ontario Family Law for Kindle, iPad/iPhone or Kobo and find out. Most people do not know much and make many common mistakes. You need to go into mediation knowing how the law applies to you and what is your best outcome and worst outcome if you went to court instead you know your “settlement range.” When you or your spouse see a lawyer after mediation (see the next point) you don’t want to find out then that you have a “bad deal” that you should throw out and start from scratch. Making informed decisions through mediation leads to better and more lasting results.
  2.  Section 56(4) of Ontario’s Family Law Act says that the Family Courts can ignore or completely discard a separation agreement if either party does not “understand it.” And the Family Courts have also said that almost everyone needs to see a lawyer to fully understand a legal contract – especially complicated ones. So, whenever judges look at separation agreements, including ones for people who went to mediation, they always look first to see whether the parties each had independent legal advice.
  3. When you are hiring a mediator, you are hiring that person to get you and your spouse to a settlement – not to give you legal advice or to get the best settlement for you. Some people are unreasonable and they will only settle if they “get everything”. In that case, the mediator may only be able to get you to that settlement, and it might not be the right one for you. At the same time, mediators are not permitted to give the parties legal advice. There may be a big difference between what you should get under the law and the possible settlements at mediation. You need the advice of a lawyer to know.

You can attend mediation with a lawyer. Some mediators even require it because they want each spouse to know what they are doing and there is no need for the parties to “think about” any proposed settlement with their lawyer. That may get the agreement finalized at the mediation. If you have hired the right lawyer, then he or she will assist you in resolving things quickly and without any concerns regarding changes in the future. A lawyer will also assist by making sure you do not have “buyer’s remorse” over a deal you agreed to at mediation, but which does not seem so good the next day.

In addition, most lawyers do not like to waste time (and money) at mediation. So they get everything that the mediator and the parties need to settle the case together before the mediation – such as financial disclosure. Then you may get the mediation completed in one or two sessions and you will not have mediation sessions discussing “what has to be done next.”

Some people go to mediation without a lawyer to save money. That is possible too – but speaking to a lawyer first is a good idea for the reasons set out above. You may also want to speak to your lawyer by phone during the mediation. If you reach a settlement, and your lawyer is not there, you will need to go back and speak to your lawyer to get Independent Legal Advice and draft up the separation agreement. (Mediators are not allowed to draft separation agreements either.)

If you are thinking about mediation as a way to resolve matters without conflict, you may also want to look into Collaborative Practice, which is another process that many people like to use after divorce.

John Schuman Guide to the Basics of Ontario Family Law book cover

You can get a lot more information about Ontario Family Law issues, including a comprehensive explanation of parenting cases (parenting time and decision making), child support, spousal support, property division, and most other common family law issues by downloading this $9.99 Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook, or iBook for your iPad or iPhone or ordering it from Amazon as a paperback. But to understand how the law works precisely in your situation, it is always best to speak to a good Family Law Lawyer.

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