What Do Family Lawyers Do Anyway? A Toronto Family Lawyer’s Thoughts on Our Unique Role in Marriages, Upon Separation and Divorce

Ivan Steele, Toronto family and immigration lawyer

Ivan Steele, Toronto family and immigration lawyer

Family lawyers have received a colorful and varied treatment in the media. From blockbuster Hollywood movies (think Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney in “Intolerable Cruelty” to lawyer dramas and sensational news articles, we are frequently led to believe that family and divorce lawyers invariably fall into one of two categories, neatly pre-packaged for late night television enjoyment.

If you are a family lawyer, you must be either a high flying, insufferable, impeccably dressed shark, with Ben Franklins bursting out of your leather Prada briefcase (that incidentally costs more than an average car). Alternatively, you are a kind hearted, dedicated, legal aid, politically correct, save the children (and the whole word while you are at it) type. Production variety demands minor character twists and idiosyncrasies, but for most part, these archetypes prevail.

I am a family lawyer in Toronto, Canada, formerly trained as a psychotherapist. In a few years that I have practiced family law, I have encountered several walking caricatures and self-proclaimed legal celebrities (you know who you are) roaming the hallowed hallways of Her Majesty’s courts, with egos and wallets too inflated for everyone’s comfort. And yes, the crunchy, earthy, granola types also abound. These fringe types notwithstanding, a majority of family lawyers in Toronto are kind, industrious and balanced individuals, dedicated to their craft, their clients and their families (you have to learn something from seeing broken families day in and day out).

So what do most of us do that is so darn important and that justifies our (greatly variable) hourly rates? While no profession is immune to greed and bad judgment, despite the prevailing stereotypes, family lawyers are a caring bunch. We do run our businesses and need money to support our families, but we earnestly try to help our clients to live their lives on their terms, within practical and legal constraints.

Marriages are great – until they are not. If we do our jobs right, we are the best prevention and the best remedy for all parties in failing marriages. We take on your worries, cope ԝіtһ the legal, emotional and practical headaches that plague once happy unions, and we try to find the best solutions for your children. Because divorce is emotionally volatile, we are here to provide objectivity and guidance. What family lawyers do not do is make decisions about your lives. That is your responsibility and we are here to try and bring your plans to life, whenever possible.

Along with psychologists and psychiatrist, we are the confessors of the modern times. We actively listen to your stories and then we think, plan and strategize about issues involving children, visitation rights, property division, spousal abuse, spousal support, divorce etc.

The bеѕt time tо hire one of us іѕ bеfоrе you get married. I will get angry letters for this – I just know it. Sounds cynical? “Where is the trust?” you may be asking? While creating а prenuptial agreement (marriage contract) mау ѕееm like a cold and calculated decision rooted in mistrust, this piece of paper may be the kindest thing that both spouses can gift to one another – ever. If you are married for life, you will never look at this document again. If your marriage breaks up, however, a marriage contract will set оut precisely һоԝ your property will be divided and how much, if anything, you need to pay to your spouse as support. While prenups have limitations (i.e. cannot agree on a custody of a child), they are true money and sanity savers. Divorce proceedings and protracted, contentious negotiations leading up to a Separation Agreement саn wipe оut аn average savings and eat significantly into your retirement funds.

If you separate without a domestic contract in place, do not despair. We are here to make your separation as efficient and cost-effective as possible. The billing horror stories that fill the family lawyer lore are true, but not as prevalent as the rumors would lead us to believe. While paying a family lawyer is not cheap, being reasonable and following sound legal advice will save you a great deal of money in the long run.

When selecting a divorce lawyer in Toronto or elsewhere, be picky (but not unreasonable. Unfortunately for everyone involved, we are not wizards. If we were, would we still be working?) Legal expertise is important but insufficient by itself. Honesty and transparency are essential. Make sure that a family lawyer that you retain is someone that you like and that can relate tо уоur life and your circumstances. Judgment and bias have no place in our line of work. Consult ԝіtһ friends who went through a similar process, but do not expect your case to mirror theirs. Your life is unique and your family matter will be as well. Read reviews іf any are available. In the end, with some research and a bit of good luck, you will find a family lawyer that is just right for you.

Ivan Steele, M.A., J.D.  – Ivan Steele Law Office

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Foreign Divorce Opinion Letters in Ontario – Explanation from Ivan Steele, Toronto Family and Divorce Lawyer

Wedding dress is done, caterers are on a standby and the guests have RSVPed. You are ready to get married! Maybe not – if you were previously divorced outside Canada. Before dropping by the City Hall to apply for your marriage license, you will need to submit, among other documents, a letter from an Ontario lawyer that your divorce would be recognized for purposes of determining your marital status in Canada. This additional, mandatory authorization from the Ontario government must be presented before the marriage license is issued, along with a completed marriage license application signed by both you and your intended spouse.You also need to provide:

(2) The original divorce or a copy of the divorce certified by the administrative officer of the court in the granting jurisdiction, or sealed or otherwise properly authenticated by the court. When the divorce is in a language other than English or French – a certified translation, is also required.
(3) A copy of a legal opinion of an Ontario solicitor, such as myself, addressed to both of you, stating that the divorce would be recognized as valid in the Province of Ontario and providing the legal reasons for recognition, which must include reference to the relevant facts and the specific legislative basis for recognition.
(4) Statement of Sole Responsibility, which states that the validity of a foreign divorce remains the responsibility of the license applicant, and that the Ontario government assumes no responsibility if the foreign divorce turns out to be invalid.

In the foreign divorce opinion letter a lawyer will analyze the person’s unique circumstances and apply not only current legislation, but also case law. A divorce from another country is likely valid in Canada if either: (1) when you obtained your divorce you had a “real and substantial” connection to the place where you obtained the divorce; or (2) when you obtained your divorce, either you or your spouse had been ordinarily resident in the place that granted the divorce for a year beforehand. Generally speaking, if you normally lived in the place where you divorced, the chances are good that your divorce will be recognized in Canada. On the other hand, if you obtained an “express divorce” in a place that does not have residency requirements or you otherwise had nothing to do with that place, the chances are that your divorce will NOT be recognized in Canada. As an illustration, if you came to Canada from Pakistan and you live in Canada permanently, but you obtained a divorce in your original country, your divorce will likely NOT be recognized in Canada and Ontario. Divorces obtained by fraud or through coercion are also not recognized.

Foreign Divorce Opinion Letters, drafted by a Toronto or Ontario lawyer must include a careful consideration of statutory provisions contained in the Divorce Act, but they must also take into account the pre-existing case law. This means that the ground for recognition of foreign divorces in Canada are fairly wide.

The starting point, and the most relevant legislative reference is section 22 of the Divorce Act, which provides:

(1) A divorce granted, on or after the coming into force of this Act, pursuant to a law of a country or subdivision of a country other than Canada by a tribunal or other authority having jurisdiction to do so shall be recognized for all purposes of determining the marital status in Canada of any person, if either former spouse was ordinarily resident in that country or subdivision for at least one year immediately preceding the commencement of proceedings for the divorce.

(2) A divorce granted, after July 1, 1968, pursuant to a law of a country or subdivision of a country other than Canada by a tribunal or other authority having jurisdiction to do so, on the basis of the domicile of the wife in that country or subdivision determined as if she were unmarried and, if she was a minor, as if she had attained the age of majority, shall be recognized for all purposes of determining the marital status in Canada of any person.

(3) Nothing in this section abrogates or derogates from any other rule of law respecting the recognition of divorces granted otherwise than under this Act.

A thorough legal analysis does not not stop here. A foreign divorce opinion letter lawyer ought to keep in mind the operation of subsection 22(3) which states that  statutory provisions do not limit or restrict any existing rule of law applicable to the recognition of foreign divorces. This means that an overly narrow and technical approach to drafting foreign divorce opinion letter may be deficient.  Often, a determination of “real and substantial connection” with a jurisdiction is highly fact specific and could lead to a recognition of a divorce under  subsection 22(3), even when the divorce would otherwise not be recognizable under subsection 22(1).

With letter in hand, you need to mail the entire package to the Office of the Registrar General. If you are getting married in a City Hall, you need to contact that particular place directly for availability. Clearly, if you and your spouse were both divorced outside of Ontario, you will need two separate foreign divorce opinion letters. Please note that not all Foreign Divorce Opinion Letters are created equal. The quality of legal analysis will differ from one lawyer to another, so choose wisely.