Ontario Bar Association to Divorcing Couples: ‘Keep those cheques coming’

Many years ago, a couple I knew fairly well got divorced. They had two children and were in no way rancorous; they were intelligent and civil. They no longer wanted to be married, but didn’t hate each other. It was a classic example of a divorce that should have happened easily, quickly and cheaply. It didn’t. The process drew out and out and out over months extending close to two years. Why? I’ll give you a hint. He was a very successful doctor and she was a very successful art conservator. And to any divorce lawyer worth his/her bar card, that spells M-O-N-E-Y.

I watched in awe as their attorneys did things that didn’t need to be done, raised the level of acrimony and the pair got more and more resentful of each other.

Their final settlement was not significantly different from what it would have been if, on day one, they’d sat down across from each other at the kitchen table and said “let’s see how we can work this out.” The lawyers walked away with well over $100,000, and that was in the early 80s when that was real money.

Now, as most people who read this site are aware, there are movements afoot in various places to make divorce easier, cheaper and more civil. I’ve said before that, in fact, there are rarely any real legal issues in a no-fault divorce. Occasionally there may be a dispute about property ownership or the level of spousal support, but those are usually easy to understand by the parties. So the truth of the matter is that, most divorce and custody cases need only the minimal involvement of lawyers or judges.

For the last three + years, Australia has been trying to make the process less tendentious and people there report considerable satisfaction with that aspect of the new law. In England, Lord Chief Justice Wall recently assailed warring parents in divorce and custody cases. The U.K. is reviewing its family law and the smart money is on mandatory mediation before divorce.

In short, governments are starting to realize the pernicious role attorneys play in the process of divorce and are taking steps to ameliorate the situation, i.e. reduce the role attorneys play. And in light of that, this article tells us that the Ontario Bar Association

delivered a report to Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley addressing some concerns. And one of its big concerns? Making sure lawyers get paid.

You see, the system can get so expensive, it might ruin a client and threaten his or her ability to pay. Well, we can”t have that, so the bar association has come up with a novel plan: Put a tax on marriage licences, and introduce a provincial lottery to ensure no divorce lawyer has to go without…

Being “creative’ is something divorce lawyers can do. It”s amazing how long a case can be dragged out, while the unhappy couple sinks deeper into financial ruin. A lottery is just the thing: even after both parties are broke, there would still be a way to squeeze cash out of the case!

Of course, an alternative would be to change the laws and legal practices so they weren”t so skewed towards prolonging and inflaming an already rancorous situation. Reducing the opportunities for confrontation, rather than encouraging and nurturing them, would do a lot of good, both emotionally and financially, for the aggrieved parties.

But nah. A lottery is better. Gotta keep those cheques coming in (National Post, 9/29/10).

I like to think that divorce lawyers are the dinosaurs of the profession. Face it, there are concepts in the legal system that lay people don’t grasp, but things like parenting time, support and who gets the sofa aren’t among them. I repeat: you shouldn’t need an attorney to decide those things. At most you should need a skilled mediator. That would keep conflict to a minimum which in turn would benefit both adults and children not only during the divorce process, but far into the future.

In the meantime, if you need a divorce, stay out of Ontario.

Thanks to Paulette for the heads-up.

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