Separating Emotionally

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This section talks about the emotional dimensions of separation. Although the section Separation and the Law goes into the legal dimensions of separation in a lot of detail, the law and the courts only deal with a narrow slice of all the things that go on when a relationship ends and often ignore, because they must, many of the larger emotional and psychological issues. Even though the law doesn't talk about them, these issues sometimes have a huge influence on people's ability to work together after separation and often play an important role in determining how separating adults will go about resolving their legal problem, the length of time it takes to find that resolution, and whether they will be able to work together to solve future problems after that resolution. An understanding of the emotions involved in separation can help to reduce conflict and the cost of resolving the legal issues arising from separation.

This section applies to people in both married and unmarried relationships. It provides an introduction to the emotional aspects of separation, looks at the grieving process that accompanies the end of a long-term relationship, and discusses how the emotions involved in separation can impact on wrapping up the legal issues you may need to deal with.


Ending a long-term relationship, whether married or unmarried, is not just a matter of packing your bags and walking out the front door. Separation stirs up incredibly powerful emotions that can take a surprisingly long time to work through; many counsellors liken these emotions to the grieving process that follows the death of a loved one. Chief among these emotions are love, anger, remorse, and sadness, and separating couples often find themselves experiencing these emotions in a very intense manner and cycling through them over and over.

These emotions often wind up clouding a person's judgment. You can find yourself doing things and saying things you never thought you would, or doing things you promised you'd never do again. (In fact, there's a rather cynical saying that you never really know someone until you break up with them.) You can find yourself looking at your partner and wondering who the hell this person really is, and how can they possibly be so different from the person you were with for so long. Unrecognized and unmanaged emotions can take over the emotional and legal processes of separation like a runaway train and take you down tracks you never anticipated.

The turbulent stew of emotions involved in separation are normal. Everyone experiences these emotions, although we each process them in our own way. From a lawyer's perspective, the key problems that need to be sorted out in the midst of these distorted and confused feelings include:

  • settling the legal issues that crop up at the end of a relationship, about things like parenting, paying support and dividing property,
  • getting sensible, reasonable and rational instructions from the client,
  • separating anger from the negotiation or mediation process,
  • separating anger from the arbitration or litigation process, and
  • making sure that as little conflict as possible spills onto the children.

The vast majority of people can resolve their issues through negotiation or mediation, no matter how angry they are with one another. When people simply cannot separate the emotional baggage of separation from the resolution of the legal issues that come at the end of their relationship, arbitration or litigation may be inevitable.

A number of studies have shown that mediation and collaborative negotiation processes produce agreements that are better for both parties and better for their children, and last longer than the results of litigation. Parents tend to deal with each other, and with their children, with a lot less rancour following a mediated or collaborative resolution of their problems rather than a litigated resolution.

Litigation is sometimes necessary, even when people are capable of engaging in a less antagonistic dispute resolution process, including when:

  • someone threatens to flee with a child,
  • there's a history of family violence, or where family violence seems imminent, and
  • someone is threatening to do something rash with family property.

However, when litigation is provoked by the emotions arising from the end of the relationship and isn't necessary to resolve an urgent issue, you can run into some serious and expensive problems you may not expect:

  • One or both people may adopt entrenched and unreasonable positions about things like parenting after separation or support. It's never good when people adopt positions out of spite or vindictiveness.
  • Emotional tensions will escalate, particularly when you see things you thought were buried in the past put into an affidavit. There will be backstabbing, accusations, recriminations, and a whole pile of wounded feelings.
  • There is an increased chance that the children will be used to goad the other parent, although this can happen unintentionally.
  • There is an increased risk that the children will become alienated or estranged from a parent, potentially with a permanent impact on the quality of the child's relationship with that parent.
  • There will likely be an unusually large number of applications brought before and after trial. In cases like this, the litigation may not end until the children are independent adults.
  • The litigation will cost an enormous amount of money. Some people have lost all they own paying for court fees, experts' fees and lawyers' fees.
  • At the end of the day, the parties risk losing their ability to effectively communicate with each other. This can be a serious problem when there are children and the parties need to maintain a functioning relationship with each other as parents.

As a result of all of this, it can be critical to get a grip on your emotions — or to at least start getting a grip on your emotions — right out of the starting gate. While all of these feelings are common, natural, and entirely understandable, failing to recognize and manage them can lead to disastrous short- and long-term consequences to your emotional wellbeing, your relationships with your children, your children's emotional wellbeing, and your financial situation. If you are having trouble managing your feelings, see a counsellor as soon as possible... especially if you have children.

Parenting after separation

When people have children, they must accept that they'll remain a part of each other's lives until their children predecease them, whether they like it or not. They may no longer be partners, but they will always be parents. Parental relationships don't end along with romantic relationships.

It's impossible to emphasize enough how important it is to always put the children first. This may sound a bit trite, but putting the children ahead of yourself can be an extremely challenging task when you are also trying to cope with the intense emotions involved in separation. It can be tremendously difficult to refrain from badmouthing your former partner to the children, "forgetting" to drop them off on time, or using them as a weapon in your dispute.

The Parenting After Separation Program is available throughout British Columbia. In my view, all couples with children can benefit from this program, no matter how well or poorly you think you and your former partner get along. The program is free and available online. It offers important advice about talking to your children about the separation, talking about your ex with the children, and talking with your ex in ways that avoid hurting and wounding each other and are focused on the children.

Information about parenting after separation, including contact information for the different agencies that offer the Parenting After Separation Program, is available in the Children and Parenting after Separation chapter, in the section Basic Principles of Parenting after Separation. As well, some very good studies about parenting after separation, the cost of high-conflict family law disputes, and other topics relating to children's wellbeing and outcomes after separation can be found on the website of the Department of Justice. These papers are of a uniformly high quality and are well worth the read.

A few notes from John-Paul Boyd

I am not a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a counsellor, nor are the other lawyers who help maintain this resource. As a result, this section should be read with a grain of salt as it's largely based on my observations of my clients' experiences, my understanding of the social science on separation, divorce and parenting, and a healthy dose of common sense.

There are a ton of resources available to help you cope with the separation process and keep the emotionally harmful aspects of that process away from your children. In addition to public programs, many private counsellors specialize in helping people work through the emotional turmoil that follows the end of a long-term relationship. Since counsellors are unregulated, anyone can hang out a shingle saying that they offer counselling services. What you should be looking for are people with the designations Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC), Certified Canadian Counsellor (CCC) or Registered Psychologist (RPsych). Make sure that the person you're talking to is properly trained and licensed to provide quality help.

Separation and the grieving process

Many counsellors liken the process of emotionally separating from a long-term relationship to the grieving process that happens when a loved one dies. In general, this process can be expected to take one to two years to complete. Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, in her book On Death and Dying, describes a five-stage model of grief, and how grief affects our ability to make decisions in each stage.

  • Shock and denial: "This isn't happening to me!" An initial paralysis at hearing the bad news; trying to avoid the inevitable. People usually avoid making decisions or taking action at this point.
  • Anger: "Why is this happening to me?" A frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotions. Making decisions at this point is difficult because all of one's energy gets put into emotions rather than problem-solving, and the other partner is usually and often unfairly demonized.
  • Dialogue and bargaining: "I promise I'll be a better person if..." Seeking in vain for a way out; seeking paths that might offer a solution and go back to the way things were. People at this stage are generally more willing to explore alternatives and discuss compromise.
  • Depression and detachment: "I just don't care anymore." A final realization of the inevitable. It's hard to make reasonable decisions at this stage because of an overwhelming, fatalistic sense of resignation.
  • Acceptance: "I'm ready for whatever comes." Finally finding the way forward. Decisions are much easier to make because people have often found new purpose, finally having begun to accept their loss.

Dr. Robert Emery agrees that the Kübler-Ross model applies to the end of long-term relationships, but he looks at grief in a slightly different way. In his book Renegotiating Family Relationships, Dr. Emery describes the grieving process as a cycle of love, anger, and sadness, which gets repeated in varying degrees of intensity as a person works their way through the Kübler-Ross stages, from shock and denial at the end of the relationship through to acceptance of the end of the relationship.

In his excellent book The Truth about Children and Divorce, Dr. Emery says this:

"Over time the intensity of the emotions diminishes and people usually find that the feelings begin to blend. Early on, the grief of divorce is experienced as an intense period of feeling nothing but love, followed by an equally intense period of feeling nothing but anger, followed by an equally intense period of feeling nothing but sadness. ... Over time, however, the intensity of the feelings begins to wane, and the cycles of each emotion begin to blur and run into the other two. This overlapping of emotion results in a realistic, less emotionally painful view of the divorce.

"When the blending does not occur, people get stuck in one emotional cycle or another. Someone who gets stuck on love may deny the reality of the breakup and pine for reconciliation; someone caught up in anger will act out of vindictiveness and a need for revenge; those mired in sadness will assume an exaggerated and unrealistic sense of responsibility for what has occurred."

For most people, the difficult thing is that knowing about the stages of divorce and the grief cycle does precious little to actually solve the problem. You can intellectually know what's going on, but knowing what's going on doesn't mean that the emotions go away; there's no magic light switch that you can flip to turn your emotions off. Knowing about the emotional roller coaster can, however, keep you aware of what may be motivating your reactions to your former partner and help you contain your emotions while you are negotiating the fallout from the end of that relationship.

It's important to remember that you and your former partner are probably not going to be at the same stage of the grieving process at the same time. One person can come to the conclusion the relationship is over long before separation and reach acceptance, while the other person is still in shock and denial that the relationship has ended at all. This is another factor that can aggravate feelings between you and your former partner.

Each person's goal at the end of the day is to find acceptance and be at peace with the fact that the relationship has ended. As Dr. Emery has observed, the opposite of love isn't hate; it's indifference.

A warning about allies

All of us seek allies as we cope with the end of a relationship. It's human nature. Allies can be found in family members, friends, co-workers, or a new boyfriend or girlfriend. While we all appreciate the support that allies offer, allies also tend to polarize your feelings about your former partner, and sometimes encourage you to adopt an unreasonable and entrenched position when what you really need is more flexiblity.

Allies take sides. That's just what they do. Imagine going to your mom or dad in tears, complaining about your former partner. Your parent's job isn't to say "Well, really, Bob is a fine person and a great father, you really should lighten up a little and remember his good qualities." Their job is to comfort you, and that usually means saying something like "Yeah, you're right, I can't believe what a complete asshole Bob is being! Whatever did you see in him anyway?"

You shouldn't stop seeking reassurance and comfort from your allies, but you should try to be alert to the influence allies can have, even though they're not intentionally trying to worsen the problems you and your former partner are dealing with.

A warning about parenting

Some people best manage a breakup by walking out the door and never looking back, and doing their grieving alone. This just isn't possible where there is property to manage and divide, and it's especially not possible when people have children. You can't change your phone number, you can't stop answering the phone or replying to texts, and you can't refuse to see your former partner if you have children. You are still mom or dad, and you'll always be mom or dad and have a relationship with the other parent .

As a result, it's even more important that you properly manage your emotions after separation when you have children. You may be caught up in a whirlwind of anger and remorse at the present, but you have to think of the long-term effect of any rash behaviour. Do you want to be able to attend your child's graduation ceremony? Do you want to go to your child's wedding, or be there when their own child is born? How do you want your child to think of you in five years, or look back on your separation when they're young adults?

It is enormously difficult, but you simply must keep a lid on your emotions while you grieve. Dr. Emery offers these suggestions in The Truth about Children and Divorce:

  1. First, draw clear boundaries around your relationship with your former partner. Let your partner know what you're prepared to talk to them about, what information you're prepared to share, and what if anything you're prepared to do with the children together.
  2. Second, use those boundaries to form a more business-like relationship with your former partner. The two of you may not be friends, but together you are engaged in the "business" of parenting your children. Keep your emotional distance from your former partner and focus on the work you must do together.
  3. Third, respect these new rules. Don't intrude past those boundaries; keep your discussions focused on parenting. It may be hard not to react when your former partner pushes your buttons, but you're best off following this old saying: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

A warning about children

It can be extremely tempting to rely on your children for support and comfort as you go through the grieving process, especially children in their teens. One word: don't. Whatever else you may do, don't do this.

Children will be well aware when something's wrong. They will know when you're upset, when you're withdrawn, and when you're crying. Younger children will react with confusion and possibly fear. Older children who are more emotionally sophisticated will want to comfort you. There's nothing wrong with this either, but you do need to control your emotions.

When a child becomes too involved in soothing a parent, there are two main risks: you may develop an overly adult relationship with the child and burden the child with too much information about what's going on, information that is usually age-inappropriate; or, the child may turn into a caretaker, handling your emotions, picking up the housework that's falling behind, and assuming a parenting role towards any younger children.

According to Dr. Emery, "extreme emotional care taking is developmentally inappropriate and can have long-term consequences on children's mental health;" this view is shared by other researchers as well. Children who grow up too soon are robbed of their right to be children. In the long-term they may have trouble forming meaningful relationships, they may be emotionally distant, and they may be compulsively over-responsible.

Resolving the issues

There are lots of ways to resolve the issues that arise when a relationship ends, the most common of which are negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and litigation. Collaborative negotiation, which this resource also talks about, blends negotiation with a lot of the skills that are usually used in mediation. It's like negotiation on steriods.

Litigation is a contest between two parties, at the end of which there will be one winner and one loser. That's a gloss on how it all works, of course, but litigation is a fundamentally adversarial process, pitting one litigant against the other in a battle about credibility, reliability, and history. If the parties can't come to an agreement between themselves, a trial will eventually be held and a judge will impose a resolution on the parties. Arbitration is like litigation, except that it has fewer rules, it's faster, and you get to pick the person who will decide the legal issues. Arbitration is also an adversarial process.

With mediation and negotiation, it's the people at the centre of the dispute who come up with the resolution of their legal issues. Both processes are cooperative since settlement is only possible with everyone's agreement. The parties must commit themselves to calmly discussing their issues in the hopes of reaching a compromise that settles those issues, knowing that neither of them will get everything they want. There is no winner and no loser.

Unless there is a pressing and desperate urgency, in my opinion, negotiation, mediation, and arbitration are generally to be preferred over litigation. Curiously, this view is shared by a lot of other family law lawyers. The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family published a study in 2017 examining the views of 166 lawyers from across Canada on the use of mediation, collaborative negotiation, arbitration, and litigation in family law disputes. These lawyers said that mediation, collaborative negotiation, and arbitration were all faster, more efficient and cheaper than litigation, and that mediation, collaborative negotiation, and arbitration were all more likely to produce results that were in the interests of their clients, and in the interests of their clients' children, than litigation.

Emotions and dispute resolution alternatives

In The Truth about Children and Divorce, Dr. Emery describes three general categories of divorcing couples: the angry divorce, the distant divorce, and the cooperative divorce. While these categories aren't exactly exhaustive and are drawn from an American legal context, they are useful in discussing the impact of a highly emotional separation on the usefulness of negotiation, mediation, collaborative negotiation, arbitration and litigation.

The "cooperative separation"

People engaged in a cooperative separation have usually worked out a lot of their emotions and resolved much of their grief. They recognize their emotions for what they are, and avoid acting out of spite or tearfully reminiscing about the lost relationship. These people attempt to work things out between themselves, with or without help from lawyers, mediators and arbitrators.

For people involved in this sort of separation, negotiation may be all that's required to resolve their legal disputes. Mediation or collaborative negotiation may be necessary when there's a genuine difference of opinion. Cooperative separations usually result in a separation agreement or an order that they agree the court should make, called a consent order. Often, whatever litigation occurs is limited to the court processes that are required to get a divorce order.

The "distant separation"

People involved in a distant separation are able to keep their conflict from their children, but are still dealing with feelings of hurt, resentment, anger, and pain. While there is plenty of intense anger, this emotion usually fades over time to dislike or simple indifference. These people have done a lot less work on their feelings, and their recollections of the relationship are characterized by bitterness rather than sadness.

These people are not friends with each other but know better than to become enemies, perhaps because of the children or past experiences with the court system. They deal with each other minimally, without a great deal of either warmth or demonstrated anger.

For people involved in this sort of separation, collaborative negotiation may be the best option. First, the process requires a fair bit of commitment, and that commitment can help encourage people to continue trying to find compromise even when emotions run high. Second, the process allows other people to be brought in to help, including counsellors who work with each party to process the difficult emotions resulting from the end of the relationship and from the dispute resolution process itself. However, when one or more issues simply cannot be resolved despite everyone's best efforts, arbitration can be used as a less-adversarial alternative to litigation.

The "angry separation"

This, of course, is the type of separation to be wary of. Separations like this involve an enormous amount of conflict. People in elevated levels of conflict are estimated to make up between 5 and 20% of people going to court to resolve family law problems, depending on which study you read. People in an angry separation have trouble letting go of their relationship, and feel intense pain and anger about both the relationship itself and its end. Their emotions are usually quite raw, as neither person will usually have done a great deal to manage their feelings.

These people have the hardest time dealing with each other and the legal issues they have to resolve, as they tend to focus on fault and blame, and are often unable to stop themselves from lashing out hurtfully. Resolving the issues arising from the end of a long-term relationship is most difficult for these individuals, and they are the most likely to get involved in protracted, ugly litigation.

People in an angry separation, particularly those with children, generally need help dealing with the emotional fallout from the end of their relationship if they are to avoid court and learn to cope with each other and their feelings in the months and years to come.

Angry separations are the sort that lawyers most often wind up dealing with. The epic nature of the battles between people engaged in angry separation can barely be described. They usually and involve repeated trips to court, hiring expensive experts, and trials that often take longer than ten days to wrap up. The legal issues arising from separations like this are rarely concluded in less than three years, and, when there are children, can run for much, much longer. Making things worse, trials rarely provide a meaningful conclusion to the hostilities, as high-conflict people often find themselves back in court over and over again afterward.

Arbitration and litigation are the dispute resolution processes most likely to be used by people engaged in an angry separation. While the highly structured, adversarial nature of litigation will be most appealing to people who are more interested in vengeance and vindication, there are a number of reasons why arbitration is also well-suited to high-conflict disputes. First, arbitrators usually adopt a strong case management role and are heavily involved in processes before the hearing to keep everything on track and limit disputes. Second, the flexibility of arbitration allows creative procedures to be developed to handle evidence, hear from experts, and manage multiple expert opinions. Third, people can agree to hire their arbitrator for a term that extends beyond the end of the hearing, so that the same decision-maker will resolve new disagreements between the same parties on the same issues.

Anger and its consequences

By now, you will have guessed that the irrational thinking anger triggers can be the most significant roadblock to resolving family law issues in a reasonable, cooperative manner. Anger is an incredibly powerful emotion, characterized by Dr. Emery as "the toxic residue of unresolved grief."

Anger also does a lot of very odd things that not many people are aware of. If you're not careful, anger can slow the grieving process, entrench extreme and unreasonable positions, and delay the resolution of the legal issues following the end of a relationship.

  • Anger avoids other emotions: Anger can be used to divert blame from yourself and avoid feelings of guilt. Anger is easily used as a shield to avoid accepting responsibility for, perhaps, an affair, being the one who announced the end of the relationship, not being an involved parent, or not being a particularly caring partner. It can also stop you from experiencing the other primary emotions involved in the grieving process, sadness and love.
  • Anger prolongs the relationship: Intense anger can also signal that you are not yet done with the relationship. Conflict can be a way of drawing a former partner closer, or maintaining a relationship with a former partner, by getting their attention and maintaining the emotional relationship. Underneath this kind of anger remains love and a continuing attachment to a former partner, as illogical as this sounds. Affection and anger are both very intense emotions, and are about as far away from the detachment and disinterest promised by the end of the grieving process as you can get.
  • Anger hides fear: The end of a long-term relationship is difficult for everyone. The emotions involved in separation often include a lot of fear and anxiety about the future, usually fears that go right to the heart of our financial and emotional wellbeing. A lot of my clients worried about things like whether they'd be able to keep a roof over their heads, keep the kids enrolled in the same school, stay living in the same neighbourhood, or continue to be actively involved in their children's lives. Fears like these can trigger a fight-or-flight response, and anger is often evidence that you're more on the fight side of things than the flight side. The problem with anger is that fears and anxieties about issues like these are fundamentally reasonable. These issues need to be put on the table and talked about if they are to be resolved, not hidden behind anger's righteous bluster. They are the non-legal "interests" that mediators are trained to identify and address.
  • Anger blinds: Anger can stop you from recognizing the positive steps your former partner is taking for what they are. It can lead you to assume that your partner is acting on false pretenses or pursuing a hidden agenda. This kind of anger breeds suspicion that is often unwarranted, often along the lines of "she wants to get a counsellor to help the kids through our separation; she must be trying to gather evidence against me!" Anger can also stop you from acknowledging your former partner's good qualities, especially around parenting issues, making it easier to hold onto an objectively unreasonable position.
  • Anger is easy: For people who are emotionally bottled up, the emotions involved in the grieving process can be extremely challenging to process. Both sadness and love can be difficult to acknowledge and deal with, particularly when feeling those emotions is associated with a sense of vulnerability or a loss of face. As a result, anger can be the easiest emotion to deal with. It's certainly a lot less painful to experience.

Apart from slowing down the grieving process, anger inevitably delays the resolution of the legal issues that come from the end of a relationship. An enraged person isn't going to be able to negotiate since negotiation involves making concessions; an enraged person is mostly going to want to litigate. People in this state of mind make threats like "I'm going to take you for everything you've got," or "you'll never see the children again." They'll also tell their lawyers that "it doesn't matter what it costs or whether I'm likely to lose, it's the principle of the thing!"

Sometimes these threats come true, and the consequences to both parties can be enormous.

  • Someone who takes an unreasonable position out of anger will almost certainly lose, but in carrying out their crusade they risk draining all of the family's assets to fund the litigation.
  • Rage can permanently impair a couple's relationship with one another. Where there are no children, this may not be a problem, but where there are children this can be disastrous. If you are both going to remain meaningfully involved in your children's lives, you must be able to develop a civil relationship with each other!
  • People can jump to ridiculous conclusions by expecting the worst from their former partner, leading to conflict after conflict, and court application after court application. Redness on the buttocks of a toddler becomes evidence of molestation, rather than simple diaper rash.
  • Rage can trigger "affidavit wars," in which each person makes overly-inflated claims about the purported evils of the other. Minor events are exaggerated beyond all proportion. The costly "war" is triggered because the other party is put to the burden of addressing each bizarre claim. Making things worse, people are rarely able to refrain from making reciprocal claims about the misconduct of the other in retaliation. "You said I drink all the time? Actually, I only drink socially, but you smoked pot when you were pregnant." What's a judge to make of claims like these?
  • Anger can strip you of your ability to see common sense and lead you to adopt positions that are objectively unreasonable and doomed to fail. In the process of failing, however, you can expect to spend a lot of money and further worsen your relationship with your former partner.

Rage, as Dr. Emery and others observe, is a symptom of unresolved grief. Whatever the cause, failing to move beyond anger can be poisonous to you, to your former partner, to your children, and to your relationship with your children. Some counselling, whether by yourself or with your former partner, can be critical in moving forward and out of anger.

Choosing your lawyer

Your choice of lawyer can play an important part in determining how your separation unfolds. Most lawyers are quite open to negotiation, mediation, collaborative negotiation and arbitration, and see them as the preferred ways of resolving family law problems. A few others see litigation as the only sensible means of resolving a dispute, particularly lawyers who have a reputation as being "bulldogs" or "sharks." Other lawyers tend not to take their duty to respond promptly to correspondence particularly seriously, which will delay things and may result in an unnecessarily large number of interim applications in the absence of responses. Still other lawyers see their duty in family law cases as militantly carrying out their clients' instructions, without supplying much in the way of options or sensible advice about the likely effect of those instructions.

The best family law lawyers give their clients a common-sense analysis of their situation, based on their expert knowledge of the law and the outcomes that are probable outcomes in the client's circumstances, and encourage their clients to take positions that are objectively reasonable. These lawyers will usually pursue settlement, both before and after litigation has started, and often see litigation as a last resort or as a way of dragging the other side to the settlement table. They are open to negotiation and mediation and other out-of-court processes, although they may prefer a results-oriented, evaluative mediation process rather than one in which the mediator is strictly neutral and expresses no opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of the parties' positions.

While some people, particularly those in angry separations, feel an almost irresistible urge to go out and hire the toughest lawyer around to exact revenge from their former partner, bulldog lawyers usually see only two options for resolving a legal dispute: a settlement on exactly the unreasonable, extortionate terms their client demands; or, a knock-down, drag-'em-out fight over the course of a twenty-day trial. These lawyers cost the most, and you can expect the litigation process to drag out for an ungodly amount of time, with absolutely no guarantee of a better result than what you would have had if you'd taken a different, less antagonistic approach.

Even if you are in an angry separation, step back and take a deep breath. Take several breaths. Remember that even though you may hate your former partner at present, you'll have to live with the consequences of a hasty decision to litigate, and the unreasonable positions you take now may haunt you well into the future. You might also lose your house to pay your lawyer's fees.

How do you find a reasonable lawyer? By reputation. Ask around; talk to friends who have had to deal with family lawyers before; ask for referrals from the other professionals in your life. You can also window-shop. You don't have to hire the first lawyer you have a consultation with; go ahead and set up meetings with a bunch of different lawyers until you find one you like, but remember that the best advice isn't necessarily the advice you like. You can find additional information about hiring a lawyer in the Understanding the Legal System for Family Law Matters chapter, in the section You and Your Lawyer.

You should also know that many lawyers who litigate are also accredited family law mediators and arbitrators. If the lawyer you're speaking to is also a family law mediator or a family law arbitrator, you may want to enquire about the possibility of using their services to resolve your dispute before you say much more about your case. If you give the lawyer too much information about your situation, they may not be able to assume the impartial role demanded of mediators and arbitrators.

Required reading

Resources and links




This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by JP Boyd, April 7, 2021.

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