Family Law

Choosing to Use a Lawyer for Family Law Matters

Q: When should I hire a family lawyer?

A: We understand that the time in your life when you need a family lawyer can be an emotional and difficult one. We are here to help you navigate the legal issues that can arise. People will see a family lawyer when: they are moving in with or marrying a partner and want to create a cohabitation or prenuptial agreement, they are anticipating changes in their relationship and want to understand their rights and obligations, or, a relationship has come to an end and there is a need for a separation agreement or divorce. At any time in a relationship it may be important to be sure of your rights and responsibilities; a lawyer can ensure that these are understood.

Q: What is a prenuptial agreement?

A: A prenuptial agreement will address the sharing of property and spousal support at the end of a marriage. Creating a prenuptial agreement comes with sometimes difficult discussions, but offers an opportunity for each partner to know what the expectations are going into a marriage, and gives some certainty about the future should the relationship come to an end. Prenuptial agreements are particularly useful when one partner has significant assets, if a partner has an interest in a family business, or where there are children of previous relationships.

Q: What is a cohabitation agreement?

A: A Cohabitation agreement is very similar to a prenuptial agreement. It is made between people who are, or are planning to, live together in a marriage-like relationship. It can include details about how the relationship will be managed, but more commonly deals with what will happen if the relationship ends. Specifically, it can outline who will get what property or assets, and what kind of support obligations a spouse may have to the other.

Q: What is a separation agreement?

A: Separation agreements are made at the end of relationship. They generally deal with the division of property and debt, spousal support, child support, as well as parenting time and responsibilities (also known as custody and access). Separation agreements can be broad and include all of these elements, or they can be more specific, reflecting particular areas where parties have been able to come to agreement, while other issues are negotiated or litigated.

Q: What is a parenting agreement?

A: Under the BC Family Law Act – which applies to all separated parents, married or not – parenting arrangements are made between the guardians of a child and include parenting time (the time a child spends with a guardian) and parenting responsibilities (the making of day-to-day decisions like schooling, healthcare and activities). A parenting agreement sets out the schedule for parenting time and the responsibilities and expectations for each parent. Under the Divorce Act, which only applies to married or divorced parents, custody is the right to exercise authority over a child, including where the child lives and day-to-day decisions. Access is the visiting time and right to be informed about the health and welfare of a child that a non-custodial parent may have. The guiding principle under both pieces of legislation is the best interests of the child.

Q: What is mediation?

A: Mediation is a type of assisted negotiation. A mediator is a neutral third party that allows each partner to represent their own interests while still working toward a consensus that meets each person’s most important needs. There is no obligation to come to agreement in mediation, and it can happen at any time in the process. Mediation is often successful in reaching an agreement that works for both parties and participants report a high degree of satisfaction with the process.

Q: What is litigation in the context of family law?

A: At times litigation is necessary to ensure that rights or interests are recognized. At this point one or more of the parties involved has decided to have the court decide the matter. It is good to be aware that litigation can be time-consuming and stressful, and outcomes can be uncertain. This is an important time for effective legal representation.

Q: What if my partner and I are able to make an agreement on our own?

A: Even if you and your former partner are able to create an agreement without involving lawyers, you should have a lawyer review the agreement before you sign it. Each person should have their own lawyer, so that each person can ensure their interests are being represented. The agreement is binding when it is signed.