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Friday, October 18, 2013

Communication Tips for parents

Although most separated parents would agree that communication with the other parent about their children is important, many find it difficult.  This should not be surprising, as communication problems were likely a factor in the relationship breakdown.  Depending on your style, you may be inclined to avoid communicating, or you may go beyond the boundaries of what should be communicated.   Here is a link to a Decision Tree circulated by the organization Kids in the Middle, based out of Kansas City, MO.  It provides tips on when and how to communicate with the other parent.

Alison Bennet

Posted by Alison Bennet at 12:00 AM 0 Comments

Thursday, October 03, 2013

What Can I do to Keep my Legal Fees Down?

What can I do to keep legal fees down?

By Alison Bennet

Partner with Bennet Waugh Corne, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Let’s face it – legal fees incurred to pursue a separation or divorce, and to sort out all the other hard issues that come with that step, are another unwanted strain to an already tight budget.  There are things you can do to help keep those costs down.  Here are some tips, many of which apply to minimize legal fees for all types of legal issues:

1-       Do your homework

When your lawyer asks you for information, get it to him or her, and do it as quickly as you can.  If the lawyer has to remind you to get the information, or has to review parts of the file to see if she has what she needs, this will increase her time, and accordingly increase overall fees.  If a long time passes without the information coming in, the lawyer will have to review the file to refresh his or her memory as to why that piece of information was needed in the first place. Sometimes it is more efficient for the lawyer to send out requests for information, if the request is more complicated.  Take your lawyer’s lead and don’t be afraid to suggest ways you might be able to help.  Recognize the lawyer might have her own efficient ways to handle the compilation of information.


2-      Organize your information as best as you can

When you supply documents to your lawyer, don’t just bring in all the papers you have, and expect the lawyer to piece through it, sort it out, and figure out why each paper matters.  Tied into the first point, bring in what was asked for, and not other things.  For example, if the lawyer says she needs a statement showing a bank account balance on January 1, 2010, a statement showing what was in the account yesterday will not help her.  If she gives you a list of things to gather, try to return the list with the requested papers, in the same order.  Do not write on the documents, but do place post it notes with explanations to help the lawyer understand what you have provided.  Do point out anything that you are still trying to get together.

Do not copy your lawyer on each and every email that you send to your spouse.  If you send them to your lawyer, expect to be charged.  A better way is to keep copies of the emails yourself, in a binder, or folder, and let your lawyer you know you have them.  If your lawyer needs them, organize them in a way to be discussed with your lawyer.


3-      Prepare for meetings and phone calls

Before you meet with your lawyer, try to get a sense of what will be discussed so you can prepare yourself.  Make your own list of things you want to discuss with your lawyer.  Rather than calling your lawyer each time a questions comes up, write it down, so you remember it the next time you speak.


4-      Keep a journal of information. 

If parenting plans are at issue, keep a journal of important or significant events, and share the information with your lawyer at your next meeting.  Generally the lawyer does not need details of daily events as they happen.  At a future date however, having that information may be important.  If money is changing hands between you and your spouse, keep a record of how much you received/paid, when, and for what. Keep the cancelled cheques, or record of the cheque number handy too.

5-      Communicate with the other side directly, if possible

While some lawyers prefer to limit communication between spouses once a court process has started, in most cases most lawyers would agree that working out small matters with your spouse is positive, financially and otherwise.  Rather than asking your lawyer to set up holiday time, try to have a conversation with your spouse directly.  Be courteous and cautious in all communications with your spouse.  If you do have detailed discussions, make your lawyer aware.  If you are having settlement discussions with your spouse, keep your lawyer in the loop, as you do not want different negotiating strategies to undermine the process.  Always let the other side know that you want to talk to your lawyer before you agree to anything.


6-      Decide what matters

Do you want to go to court to fight about whether time sharing should switch at 8:00 or 8:15?  Years from now, will you feel it was a good choice to fight over that couch?  With a separation come numerous possibilities for battles – decide what is important to you, and think about why.  Do a cost benefit analysis to decide what makes sense for you, and what doesn’t.   We realize that a price tag cannot be put on some things, but think about whether the stress and cost of the battle will erode the pleasure associated with what was sought.  Sometimes you may have to take a firm stand and see it through – decide when.


7-      Remember your lawyer is not a counselor, tax preparer, etc     

Remember that your lawyer is a professional, and while he may be knowledgeable in many areas related to the law, you must be mindful of your lawyer’s role.   Your lawyer will need to know about medical, financial, or other issues you are facing, to the extent they might impact the approach taken, but there are some things the lawyer cannot do. Similarly, if you call your lawyer when you are angry, worried, or otherwise in need of someone to listen, don’t blame your lawyer for listening, as he is human.   Expect the lawyer to charge you for his time.  Be open to suggestions from your lawyer about other professionals that might assist.  Talk to friends.  Another caution here; don’t accept legal advice from a friend.


8-      Remember your friend is not a lawyer (likely)

 Your friend’s cousin’s uncle that didn’t have to pay spousal support may have been in a very different situation than you.  If you have hired a lawyer, you have to have faith that the lawyer is knowledgeable in the area, and is steering you the right way.  While it is perfectly acceptable to ask a question based upon a result you might have heard of through a friend, accept that it may not be a result that is achievable for you.  Adjust your expectation based upon what your lawyer tells you is a reasonable position based upon the facts of your case.


9-      Read your retainer agreement/letter and statements of account when you get them

If there is anything you don’t understand, bring it up right away.  At Bennet Waugh Corne, whenever we are retained based upon an hourly rate, we provide detailed time entries on our statements of account.  Look to see how your lawyer is spending his or her time, and what you can do to help.  You will get a better sense of the time it takes to prepare certain documents, and gain an appreciation for time demands to help better manage your own file.

10-   Choose a lawyer with whom you are comfortable

Is your lawyer knowledgeable?  Is she approachable?  Does she have your interests at heart? One client once told me that his new partner joked he spent more time emailing and phoning me than he did her.  Make sure that your lawyer is someone that you like on a professional basis.  We understand that respect is key to any good relationship.  Your relationship with your lawyer requires a degree of team work; be open and honest, and work together.   If you do not have faith in your lawyer’s advice, or if your personalities clash, optimum results will not be achieved.    Choose a lawyer that can help you understand your options.    

Posted by Alison Bennet at 12:00 AM 0 Comments


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The articles on our website are for general information purposes only, and are not intended to be complete or exhaustive descriptions of the law. The articles and comments should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The articles are current only as at the date they are posted on the website, and the law is subject to change without notice. If you require legal advice or opinion on your own unique fact situation, we would be pleased to offer you our assistance and we invite you to contact us.