By Kathleen Wells

Happy New Year.  It may surprise you, but the New Year, is one of the busiest times of the year for family lawyers. Many families make that hard decision after that holiday to separate.  So, with that in mind I wanted to offer top tips on how to manage the process.  As you will read, these tips are focused on families with children.  As this is a child focused publication. If your matter does not involve children, please contact our office to find tips that may be helpful to you. That said, here goes….

  1. The most important rule is “best interest of the children is all that matters”.  As a general rule, that means that unless a parent is causing true physical or emotional suffering or harm to a child both parents will have time with the child.  It is in the best interest of your child to have a relationship with each parent.  What the time looks like is dependent on the facts of your family.  Also, a parent who chooses to stay home over a parent who works does not mean that one is better than the other at parenting.  Nor does it mean that used to work, will continue to work.  You will have to find a parenting plan that accommodates both parents and is in the best interest of the children.  I often hear, parent “X’ can’t parent because or work, they have never been left alone with the child, they don’t know how to cook etc.   Truth is, that parenting is going to be different, get used to it.  Parents do not get to control the other parent and baring true abuse or harm to a child, parents do not get to control what he home of the other parent.   It may sound trite, but being occasionally for pick up’s and drop offs, late, forgetting to do homework, dropping off a sporting piece of equipment, feeding a child a hot dog more than one day in a row, and letting a child stay up late do not represent harm to a child and is not a sign that the other parent is a bad parent.
  2. Treat the other parent how you want to be treated.  That means, don’t label the other parent.  Don’t start off with my “X” is such a …..fill in the blank.” It is my opinion, that when you start off with a mindset that label’s you are closing your mind off to learning. Learn to forgive, not just the other spouse or parent but yourself, for the choices you could have made better – let go of the emotion.  If you need help in that regard, please talk to a counselor.  Most families have extended health care benefits, use them.  There may also be a possibility to deduct medical expenses from your annual taxes.  Call an accountant or the CRA and find out if you can deduct those expenses.  Don’t let the end of the relationship define who you will be in the future.
  3. Learn how to communicate.  It is a rare file where I see two parties that communicate well. However, if you have a commination issue, learn how you can comminate more effectively. If your ex is not responding the way you want that is your issue, you need to learn a new way to communicate. Problem solving is about communication.
  4. Understand the difference between a “want” and a “need”.  Sometimes, folks come to me and say that they want something specific, like the family home.  However, on further discussion what they really need is to have the security of a home and to be able to provide a comfortable home for them and their children. That solution to that may be keeping the family at home, or it may be something different but still meets their overall needs.  Another example is I want to have a specific parenting schedule, but what they need is to find a parenting schedule that accommodates sharing the responsibilities of parenting that may look very different to what they thought they wanted. My advice is to be flexible, be prepared to discuss options.  Sometime the other parent, lawyer, mediator can offer options that we had not previously considered.
  5. Take ‘friendly advice’ with caution.  I get it, we all need to vent and have our story heard but remember, most family and friends are going to tell you what you want to hear not what you may need to hear.  I often hear, “men always loose in parenting matters” and “I am going to lose all my property” .  Those are urban myths and are not true. Yes, the law is not static, and it evolves but, outcomes of family issues are generally predictable and if your facts are unique, then a family lawyer can discuss possible outcomes based on the law and legislation.  My advice, speak to a lawyer.  Wells Family Law offers a one half-hour telephone consultation and or a paid in office consultation. Our office number is 587-356-4324.  You can also contact the Lawyer Directory at: The Lawyer Directory is an online search tool that lets you find a lawyer based on certain criteria. It provides contact information for all lawyers in Alberta.
  6. Stay out of court.  There are at times family matters that must ask for the Courts assistance.  However, it is my experience that most family matters can and should be resolved without court.  Moreover, it is now an obligation in the Court of King’s Bench that prior to even booking court (unless a true emergency exists) the parties must attend some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution.  That means that prior to bringing an application in court you must satisfy the court that you and your ex have at least tried to discuss the matters in dispute between yourself and your respective lawyers and or mediator.  So, if you must start with the process of communication and dialogue, why not just commit to that process. It is my experience that families that come to the table with their and solve the issues between them that way, why not just commit to that process.    Court time is hard to get, so that means your file can take a year or two or more to resolve.  Court can be unpredictable and generally, you do not have control over the process.  Moreover, in my opinion, agreements that flow from an Alternative Dispute Resolution process endure and have more satisfactory outcomes because the parties are active participants in the process.