Posts tagged separation
I’m negotiating an agreement with my ex. Can our discussions be used against me in court later on?
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One question we’ve been hearing more since the launch of MyLawBC is whether what you say or write to your spouse when you’re writing your separation agreement could be used against you in court later on. MyLawBC’s Dialogue Tool is a platform for collaboration where you discuss and negotiate with your ex. Understandably, some people are concerned that what they say in good faith while negotiating could come back to bite them later. There’s a general legal rule that says that if you're in a legal dispute and trying to reach a settlement, then your communications can't be used against you in court. This is called settlement privilege. The idea is that you’ll speak more freely and openly during a negotiation if you aren’t worried that what you say will be used against you.

In this case, communication can become privileged (unusable in court) if:

  1. there’s a dispute that could be subject to a court case between two people. It doesn’t have to go to court, it just has to have the option to; and
  2. the purpose of the communication has to be to try to reach a settlement.

It’s more complicated than this summary though. For example, there are exceptions for threats or fraud. You can read more about settlement privilege in our new fact sheet on the Family Law in BC website.

Hot Off the Press — Coping with Separation Handbook
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Coping with Separation Handbook is for spouses (married or living in a marriage-like relationship) who are dealing with the emotional aspects of separating. It was developed as a help tool for the Make a separation plan pathway and Dialogue Tool in the MyLawBC website. Statistics show that one-third of Canadians, or 40 percent of British Columbians, have separated from their spouses.

Using engaging illustrations, the handbook describes the emotional stages of separation and ways to cope. It includes:

  • a checklist to recognize symptoms of stress.
  • suggestions to reduce your anxiety about the court process,
  • ways to reduce conflict with your spouse,
  • how to communicate with your spouse as you make decisions, and
  • general tips to follow during the short and long term.

There’s also a section on how to help your children cope with their emotions. It lists common signs of stress in children and some do’s and don’ts for communicating with your children.

The last section has links to support services for spouses, parents, and children, and where to find legal help.

Coping with Separation Handbook is available online only.

Failure to provide information to the court could cost you
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Just before the holidays, the Provincial Court of British Columbia made a ruling that could have a big impact on future family law cases. JP Boyd, a family law lawyer, wrote a summary of the ruling. You can read his full analysis on his blog, but this is the long and short of it. The case involved a father who wanted the court to lower the amount of child support he had to pay and to cancel the outstanding debt from child support that he hadn’t paid. When you ask the court for something like that, you need to also provide “complete and accurate financial disclosure.” That is to say that the judge needs to fully understand your financial situation before they make a decision.

Over the course of a few court proceedings, the father didn’t give the judge the information they needed or asked for. Situations like this can be a big problem for the court system. Because the court doesn’t have what it needs to make a decision, the case drags on, costing everyone involved time and money.

This isn’t a new problem.

The recent Family Law Act addresses this problem by giving the court more power to punish people who don’t provide full disclosure, and in fact that was what was used in this ruling. The ultimate result of this case was that the father was ordered to pay the mother’s legal fees due to his failure to provide the information required by the court. The judge found that there was “an ongoing lack of complete disclosure [and some] of the information that has been disclosed has been shown to be materially misleading.”

There are two important factors to consider with this decision:

  1. The father’s disclosure was found to be not just incomplete, but misleading; and
  2. Since he never fully provided the information, and didn’t try to, the court wasn’t going to consider his reasons for not doing so.

A more comprehensive breakdown of the ruling is available on JP Boyd’s blog for anyone interested.

International rugby — Innovating justice with the Netherlands
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I’ve never played rugby. I once went to see a Six Nations game in the rain — and drank a mug of Bovril, which sounds weird, but when in Rome (or Scotland) — but I can’t say that I understand the game. I also don’t understand what rugby has to do with software development, but they both have scrums. I recently spent a week in a scrum developing a roadmap for MyLawBC. For the last few months we’ve been working with HiiL, a non-profit in the Netherlands, to develop a new website called MyLawBC. The heart of the site is guided pathways. The basic idea behind guided pathways is that when you come to the site, it will ask you some questions about your problem. Based on your answers, it will diagnose your legal problem and give you an action plan unique to your situation, which will help you take the steps you need to resolve it. Hiil and the Dutch Legal Aid board created a similar site called Rechtwijzer, so we’ve been working with them to learn from their experiences.

Rechtwijzer screengrab
Rechtwijzer screengrab

Two weeks ago, we held a weeklong scrum in our Vancouver office to map out how these guided pathways will work. When you Google “scrum software development” you’ll probably run across a definition that uses the words agile framework, complex projects, and innovative scope. It’s very different from how we normally think and work, and it’s a lot of work, but it gets results.

November scrum

Two folks from HiiL, Jin Ho and Tsvetelina, came to Vancouver to help us conduct the scrums. We had nearly 30 people from all different walks of life helping us develop the tool: lawyers, community workers, other legal organizations, government officials, intermediaries, members of the public, and LSS staff. We worked on pathways for family law and family violence; wills, estates, and life planning; and foreclosure.

We started with the end points, figuring out where we wanted the user to be at the end of the process. For example, if we take divorce, then one of the possible end points could be the person being divorced, happy, and in stable living conditions with a plan for communicating with her ex. From there, it’s a matter of working backwards and figuring out how the user gets to that point and what information, instructions, and resources they need along the way. Sounds easy right?

I spent most of my time working on the foreclosure pathway, which is based on our booklet Can’t Pay Your Mortgage. I thought that it would be easy enough. I mean, there’s really only two outcomes (you keep your house or you lose it), and the court process itself is pretty linear. I was wrong. There are a lot of ways you can get to or be involved in that court process. It was the easiest of all the topics we covered, but that doesn’t mean that it was easy.

The end of that week was unusual. Most of us had spent over 40 hours working only on this and were noticeably tired, but everyone was still excited to keep working on the project. I don’t know if you can be simultaneously burnt-out and keen to keep working, but somehow we were. The pathways were mapped out, but we still wanted something tangible, or at least as tangible as a website can be.

That comes later. Early next year is when the first prototype should be ready and when the fun will really start.

— Nate Prosser, Online Outreach Coordinator

Need a separation agreement? Help has arrived!
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This post originally ran July 31, 2014 on the ELAN blog. Earlier this month, we launched an entirely new kind of animal: a fill-in-the-blanks/choose your own options 7-part separation agreement guide. The feedback that LSS received through community consultation over the years has revealed a need for material to help people draft their own separation agreements.

How to write your own separation agreement is based on a precedent manual produced by the Continuing Legal Education Society of BC (CLEBC). LSS and CLEBC collaborated on an agreement to allow LSS to rely on CLEBC’s Family Law Agreements: Annotated Precedents as source material.

The new guide is unlike any of our earlier guides, and results in a basic personalized separation agreement, which can be filed at the court registry as a first step toward a divorce.

Users fill in what looks like an online form (section by section), following instructions that are both technical and provide legal information on what words to include. They choose relevant paragraphs by toggling “include/don’t include” buttons on or off, and fill in the necessary dates and names. Some elements (like names) automatically appear throughout the rest of the section after they’re entered once.

Upon completing each section of the guide, the user clicks an “Open text version” button. This strips out all the instructions and unused paragraphs, collects all the selected/entered content, and moves it to a new window.

From that window, users can copy and paste each section into a Word or other word processing document, and tweak or add further details as/if required (for example, sequential numbers for all paragraphs once the agreement is complete). (Numbered paragraphs are required if the agreement is to be filed at the court registry.)

In the interests of keeping this simple, the guide doesn’t store the entered information anywhere once the user leaves each Web page. This protects the user’s privacy, but also means they must either complete each section at one sitting or store partially completed sections by clicking the “Open text version” button and saving their work to another file that they can add to later.

Our guide is based on CLE’s Family Law Agreements: Annotated Precedents, which is available by subscription to the general public for $250 for those who need to write a more complex agreement.

Initial test results have been positive. Users found it easy to use and understand.

Currently, the guide contains sections on parenting, child and spousal support, and debts. In late August, we’ll be adding a section on property and pensions. [Ed. note: this section is now available]

We welcome your feedback on our latest creation! Send us an email and let us know what you think.