Lawyers often get a bad rap. Go to the friendliest of cocktail parties (this is pre-COVID-19, mind you!) and you might find yourself sparking up a chat with a person – or several – who’ve had an acrimonious divorce. The conversation usually turns to an exchange of “war stories”. Ones about how unpleasant the process was for them, how nasty their Ex spouses were. Occasionally, they can be about how unscrupulously the involved lawyers behaved. How they weren’t friendly. It can quickly change the mood of the entire room.
The reason for this negativity is simple: people going through divorce usually have a great deal of ill-will towards their spouses. Rightly or wrongly, that negative feeling will be attached (even if only by sheer association) to those spouses’ lawyers. More to the point, when divorces become contentious, the behaviour of those involved becomes unreasonable and spiteful. The lawyers tend to bear the brunt of the blame for it. People tend to assume that that bad behaviour has been suggested or instigated by the lawyer on the other side.
But this is not always the case – and it doesn’t always have to be the case.
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Lawyers Can Be Friendly
TV dramas often make lawyers out to be sneaky, deceptive, and cut-throat. This may make for good television, but it’s not grounded in reality. There are as many different types of lawyering styles, as there are lawyers. As discussed below, some Family Law lawyers actually specialize in resolving disputes without always having to go to court on every little issue.
More importantly, the vast majority of lawyers in all areas of practice pride themselves on maintaining the values and principles of the Canadian justice system. They are passionate about “doing right” for their clients. These friendly lawyers will only do so in a manner that upholds the positive values that form the basis of our system. They are friendly-to-the-cause of ensuring not only that justice is done, but that it is done in the right way. Sometimes this even means actively curbing their own clients’ desires to be aggressive, stonewall, or retaliate against their former spouses.
A high-conflict Ontario case called Alsawwah v. Afifi, where the court expressly cautioned the involved lawyers against taking pride in over-aggressive Family Law advocacy on behalf of their clients. The court reminded them that the role of lawyers involves a balancing of duties towards the client, the administration of justice, and even a child who is before the court in the parents’ dispute. The court then added:
Beyond the balance of those duties, many capable family law lawyers realize that if the cost of victory is too great, everyone loses. Those lawyers realize that their role as advocate should often be as rational counsel not flame-throwing propagandist. Where the client wants to raise the emotional stakes with invective and personal attack, that lawyer must often counsel restraint.
There are many Family Law lawyers who do not subscribe to a “win-at-all-costs” mentality; if you are in the market for a lawyer to represent you, consider hiring one of these. This is not to say that you should find someone who is a pushover; it simply means that you need to retain a lawyer who truly “has your back” when it comes to representing you and your legal interests in your dispute with your former spouse. This will make the entire process less stressful, and more tolerable.
The Process Can Be Friendlier
The same is true for the path you choose to take in the first place. While taking the unavoidable journey towards getting a legal divorce from your spouse.
It goes without saying that the end of a relationship can be devastating at the best of times; throw in some marital misconduct (like an extramarital affair) by one or both partners and the emotions can get downright super-heated. The resulting Family Law processes tend to be highly charged, emotional, and exhausting. But – again – they don’t have to be.
Some Family Law lawyers and firms actually specialize in non-adversarial methods for resolving disputes. These involve a range of established tools: They can be as simple as straightforward negotiation, or they can be more formalized as falling under the umbrella of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). These can include:
- Mediation (where a neutral third party leads the spouses through the negotiation process).
- Arbitration (where an arbitrator is appointed to serve as a neutral decision-maker, with the spouses presenting evidence and making their respective arguments on the disputed issues).
- Conciliation (where the conciliator usually develops and proposes the terms of settlement, and aims to prevent a substantial conflict from developing).
Using ADR methods has several benefits. It allows for flexibility, and tends to be far more cost-effective than going to court. And most of all, it involves a less-adversarial approach by definition.
Those Family Law lawyers and firms who successfully incorporate ADR methods into their practices will understand this. They will tend to be of the temperament that allows for negotiation and compromise. Rather than the type who resort to those antagonistic and aggressive litigation tactics that form the basis for cocktail party banter that sees people sharing their “battle scars”.
Here at Shulman & Partners LLP we are precisely this type of firm. We focus on getting an amicable resolution whenever possible, but without necessarily waiving our clients’ rights. Our lawyers are friendly. Call our office for a consultation or reach us here.
 2020 ONSC 2883.