It is never easy separating from your spouse. In addition to the emotional havoc, comes the cost associated with maintaining two homes, acquiring new contents, dividing or equalizing property and paying support. It may also come with significant legal fees, which are paid with after tax dollars.
Some people deal with the high cost of lawyers by representing themselves. While this is certainly an option, not everyone feels that they can adequately handle the task or they may feel that their best interests (or children’s best interests) could be compromised without proper legal advice or representation.
Another option which has recently gained some traction in the legal community following changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct, is hiring a lawyer through a limited scope retainer. Limited scope retainers (sometimes called “unbundled legal services”), allows lawyers to provide some legal services to an individual, while the individual handles the rest. What this means is that a person can hire a lawyer to do very specific tasks. Some examples are preparing one or all court material, attending court for all appearances or a specific conference, motion or even just for trial, assisting on all aspects of a mediation, preparing and negotiating settlement terms, or drafting a Separation Agreement.
The benefits to limited scope retainers is that the individual can get the legal advice or representation they want or need, without the potentially onerous obligation to incur legal fees throughout the entire process. This can be especially helpful in family law matters when not everyone can afford to have legal representation throughout a protracted litigation, or lengthy negotiation, mediation or arbitration. Ultimately this makes family law services more affordable to Canadians.
While this option may not benefit everyone, it is certainly something to consider when you feel you need some legal expertise for a particular aspect of your case. For example, you could have a motion coming up and while you feel that you can make the arguments and prepare the motion material, you may feel that the task of researching the caselaw and preparing a factum may be too daunting. Alternatively, you can retain a lawyer to do all aspects of the motion (e.g. prepare the motion materials and attend on the motion), but nothing else in the litigation. This is the time when you hire a lawyer on a limited scope retainer based on what you want the lawyer to do.
So if you feel that you cannot afford a lawyer to handle your entire case, consider finding one that offers unbundled legal services. Having worked in family law for approximately 14 years, I know how hard it can be to go through separation or divorce without any legal assistance and it is important for people to be aware of the fact that unbundled legal services are available in Ontario. I provide these services and would encourage more lawyers to offer them as part of their practice as well.