Choosing the Right Process to Restructure your Family after Separation.

Family law is rarely just a legal issue.  When restructuring a household from one unit into two, it can be emotionally and financially stressful on the whole family. This strain can have a significantly impact on your legal matters and consequently the costs for those legal services.  But there is a way to make the process easier and healthier when families take the following steps:

1.  Be aware of “The Readiness Factor”:

During separation, there is always one person who has “checked out” of the relationship before the other. This person has usually already grieved and come to terms with the decision to leave the relationship; often before telling their partner about it.  They are “ready” to begin the separation process.  Usually the “ready” person is anxious to move things forward, while the other partner may not have had an opportunity to fully process that the relationship is over or changing. The “ready” person is usually capable of making better decisions because they are not as raw at this stage.  The “unready” person tends to make more emotional decisions over sound ones. Sometimes, the visceral reactions of the “unready” person can then emotionally trigger the “ready” person which can lead to high conflict, bad decisions and consequently high legal fees. 

If possible and safe to do so, it is important to allow the “unready” person time to process and grieve before beginning the legal part of the separation process.  It is easier for families to work together after the pain and grief that often accompanies separation has subsided to the point where feelings can be effectively compartmentalized while the legal decisions are made.  This may sound simplistic, but it should never be underestimated. 

2.  Be Informed and Find the Right Fit:

We are fortunate in Alberta to have a variety of in Court and out of Court services and programs available to assist families through separation. There are Paralegal Companies, Self Representative Litigation Support services, Mediation, Collaborative Law Protocols, Dispute Resolution services and Judicial Dispute Resolution services (or Case Conferencing) at the Courthouses in Calgary and Edmonton, Settlement Negotiations and traditional legal services through Family Lawyers, Arbitration, and Court just to name a few. With an abundance of choice however, comes an abundance of caution.  Each of these services have their own merit, but not every service is the best fit for each family’s unique set of circumstances. In the absence of any formal vetting process, it is important for families to identify what their needs are and ask questions about these different services before retaining any professional. 

Not all professionals are created equal.  What may sound like a great deal, inexpensive or “free” at the outset, might end up costing you more than you think in the long run. Take the time to research, ask questions, and invest in an initial consult with a Family Lawyer who is current and knowledgeable about the dispute resolution processes available to you. An ethical lawyer will explain the different processes rather than simply try to sell you on their services. An effective lawyer will provide you with a legal strategy or plan at your initial consultation which you should be able to use whether you retain their services, retain someone else’s services or decide to represent yourself.  

Regardless of any process you use, at some point you will likely require a lawyer to finalize matters for you.  In Alberta, in order for a separation agreement to be legally binding, the parties must receive independent legal advice from a lawyer in good standing with the Law Society of Alberta. 

Families in transition not only require the legal services of skilled and knowledgeable lawyers, but they often require financial and social supports to get them through their matter as well.  Do the professionals you intend to work with provide any extra supports to assist you during your legal matter? Is there a cost associated with these extra services? If the professional you use makes a mistake on your file, are you protected? For example, all lawyers in Alberta must carry professional liability insurance, whereas there is no such requirement for paralegal service companies, so if you do decide to use a non-lawyer service, make sure they have liability insurance and inquire about what is covered. Ensure their billing practices are transparent. Ask to have all fees and charges explained to you upfront. For instance, a lawyer that bills out at $300.00 per hour but drafts all of their own documents instead of using a paralegal might end up being more expensive than a lawyer who bills out at $400.00 per hour but has a paralegal draft all documents at a lesser charge.  (For a free list of other suggested questions to ask your potential service provider, please contact (

3.  You “Drive the Bus”: 

You know what is best for your family.  A professional should provide you with a variety of available options, explain the pros and cons of each, but the final decision on how to proceed should always be yours. Invest in the right professionals who have your best interests at heart to support and guide you through your process, with you always at the helm. Make the right investment at the outset because your family deserves the best supports for a healthy transition. 


Cyndy Morin is the founder of the multiple award-winning firm, RESOLVE LEGAL GROUP, which practices in the areas of International and Regional Family Law, Wills and Estates and Real Estate, provides legal strategies from a unique client centred, solution focused multidisciplinary approach. In addition to addressing a client’s legal concerns, the firm bridges families with different community and financial supports, to further assist clients during times of transition.  This is achieved through innovative low or no cost programs developed in direct response to client feedback. To learn more about Cyndy and how she can help you please click



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