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Q: When is the right time to hire a lawyer? 

Photo of couple with children, arranged by lawyers at The Family Law firm, who handle family law legal matters such as child custody, child support, spousal support, family violence and property divisionA: Going the do-it-yourself route often costs you more than hiring a professional.  For example, hiring a professional mechanic could cost you $25 per hour; doing the same repair yourself could cost you $50 per hour.  The same rule applies when it comes to your lawyer.  The only difference is that the cost delta could be bigger.  Much bigger.

Time also matters, especially in any Family Law legal matter.  Don't make the mistake of assuming that you can go it alone, at least in the short term, because nothing important happens early in a legal process.   Court orders on key issues such as Custody, Access, Support and Matrimonial Property can be issued at any time -- and an unfavorable Court Orders may be difficult or impossible to reverse even with the best possible legal representation. 

Remember this simple rule:  the quicker you hire a lawyer the better.  

Q: What is the difference between Divorce Law and Family Law?

A:  Divorce law is one aspect of Family Law.  A lawyer who practices in either Divorce Law or Family Law is typically competent in both areas of the law.

Q:  When is the right time to file for Separation?

A: Decisions on when to file for Separation involve multiple legal considerations and, as such, should be done with the help of an experienced Family Law lawyer.   For example, if you are sure that you are going to get divorced and still file for Separation, your actions could be viewed as duplicitous (read as doubly expensive).  Alternatively, if you are unsure about whether to file for divorce and file for Separation, the Courts will consider your separation effective from that date, a decision that may or may not be favorable for you.  

Q: What is Collaborative Law?

Collaborative law is an out-of-court proceeding that treats divorce or separation as a process of trial and error and problem solving, not a process where one side wins and the other loses.  Both parties retain separate attorneys who help them settle disputes. If any of the parties decide to go to court, the collaborative law process is terminated and both attorneys can no longer be involved in the case.

Parties to a collaborative law arrangement must sign contractual agreements.  

The Family Law Firm does not participate in Collaborative Law.  However we regularly represent individuals through mediation services who failed to reach agreement through the Collaborative Law process.

Q: What is a Retroactive Support?

A: A party can apply to the Court for Child Support that should have been payable in the past, but was not paid.  Generally, the Courts will go back 1-3 years.   The Court has the ability to Order support retroactively beyond three years, but that is usually contingent on the "blameworthiness" of the payor.   Applications for Retroactive Support can be made regardless of past Court orders (unless a retroactive claim has been heard for that same time period already) and regardless of previous payments.  

Is financial disclosure mandatory in the province of Alberta?
Yes, Financial Disclosure is now required in Alberta.   If you do not provide it voluntarily, your ex may apply to the Court to force you to do so.  Failure to comply often results in a Contempt of Court Order.  The purpose of financial disclosure is to determine the amount of Spousal Support and/or Child Support that may be payable.  Once this information is provided, your ex can use it to apply for Support from you.

What constitutes matrimonial property?
The Matrimonial Property Act of Alberta sets out how the Matrimonial Assets and Debts of a marriage will be divided between the parties.  The Division of Property between the parties is dependent on a number of issues, including the length of the marriage, how and when the Assets and/or Debts were obtained or incurred, what the Value of the Property is and what it was at the beginning of the relationship, if applicable. 

If the parties are willing to enter into a Separation Agreement, the Division of Assets and Debts can be set out in that agreement. 

What is excluded (exempt) property?
Exempt Property is Property that is not dividable under the Matrimonial Property Act of Alberta.  This can include Property that a party has had prior to the relationship, gifts or inheritances, settlements or awards from personal injury lawsuits (in most instances), insurance proceeds (in many instances), trust funds and property purchased or acquired using these assets.   Numerous exceptions exist.  Learn more by requesting your free introductory consultation with an attorney at The Family Law Firm. 

Q: What constitutes Family Violence?

The Protection Against Family Violence Act states that Family Violence includes:

The Family Law Firm represents victims of Family Violence as well as people who have been accused of committing Family Violence.    

Q: Should gender be considered when you hire a lawyer?

No.  There is no evidence that the gender of a lawyer impacts Court decisions.   

Q: How much do lawyers cost?

Lawyers' fees tend to vary depending on the complexity of the matter, the quality of services, and the nature of the client's needs.

Most law firms have three types of legal fees:

Fixed fees
A fixed fee is applied when a lawyer knows ahead of time and with certainty the cost that will be incurred. This type of fee is generally used when the factors in the matter are quite clear and free from major changes.  The Family Law Firm has fixed rates for Separation Agreements, Prenuptial Agreements and uncontested Divorces.

Contingency Fees
Contingency fees often arise in legal matters such as labour law or personal injury claims where a lawyer will likely have to obtain money on the client's behalf. The lawyer is paid a percentage of the settlement amount.  This fee arrangement is not available for Family Law Matters.

Hourly Rates
The most common type of fee is an hourly rate, based on a lawyer's record keeping of all hours spent working on a case. This type of fee is used frequently when there is no way to predict the time commitment required by the lawyer.    Hourly rates are based on the lawyer's experience and the nature of the client's case.  This is the method used by The Family Law Firm for Divorce and Family Law cases.  We will ask for a "retainer" to open your file with our firm.  A retainer is a deposit against the hours spent on your case.    

Q: Can I get financial support?

Financial support is available through the Legal Services Centre of Legal Aid.   It is the frequent starting point for individuals requiring financial assistance in resolving legal issues. The Legal Service Centre provides legal information and referrals to all Albertans. For qualifying individuals, they assist with preparing court documents, advice and legal representation through an assigned lawyer.  

Q: What are Legal Costs?

Legal Costs are court costs that are awarded with discretion by the Courts.  In Alberta, these costs are well below what you pay to your lawyer for legal services.  Legal Costs are set out (the court has the discretion to vary from these guidelines at any time) in Schedule C of the Alberta Rules of Court.

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