It may be tempting to try to resolve issues arising from your separation without a lawyer. However, people often end up being bound by Agreements that are different than what they wanted or thought they were agreeing to, and which do not reflect their entitlement under law.
There was a recent case whereby an arbitrator was tasked with deciding whether a separated couple’s children should be vaccinated. The parties had previously entered into a joint custody arrangement. The settlement between the parties provided that they would engage the services of an arbitrator if they were unable to come to an agreement on a parenting issue in the future. The mother opposed vaccinating the children, while the father wished to have the children vaccinated. In a controversial decision the arbitrator sided with the mother, and refused the father’s request to have the children vaccinated. The father did not have a lawyer at the arbitration and is now appealing the decision in court.
This case highlights the importance of having a lawyer that will work with you to preserve your rights and entitlements and ensure that your case is handled fairly. The father did not have a lawyer at the arbitration. The mother presented testimony from a doctor who gave evidence that is widely rejected by the scientific community. The arbitrator relied heavily on the doctor’s testimony in arriving at his decision. The validity of the doctor’s opinion was not questioned, nor does it seem as if her evidence was challenged in any meaningful way. The father’s case would have benefitted immensely from having a lawyer raise these important legal issues and by presenting reliable scientific expert evidence through his own witness to debunk the evidence of the mother’s witness. A different result may very well have occurred. Unfortunately, the father is now left in a position where he must proceed to court to have the arbitrator’s decision overturned. This outcome, and the resulting financial and emotional costs, could very well have been avoided.
Just because your case is not in court, does not mean that you will not benefit from having a lawyer. From beginning to end, there are several ways that you will benefit from having a lawyer.
First, even before litigation is commenced, a lawyer can assist you in arriving at a comprehensive Agreement. While it is impossible to imagine every parenting scenario that may arise, having a comprehensive Agreement in place that focuses primarily on the child(ren’s) best interests will go a long way to avoiding disputes in the future. The more issues that can be resolved or addressed in your Agreement, the less likely that conflict will arise in the future.
Second, a lawyer will explain what your Agreement/settlement actually means and how it may affect you in the future. It is important that you are aware of the implications of your Agreement. For example, it is common for Agreements to include dispute resolution mechanisms to deal with parenting issues that may arise, but it is important to understand exactly what that process entails and whether it is right for you. Are you okay with having an arbitrator resolve future parenting issues? Or would you prefer to engage in other methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation, using a parenting co-ordinator, joint counselling and/or negotiations through lawyers? Regardless of your preference, understanding your Agreement and the implications it will have on you in the future, before you sign it, is essential.