Self-representation weighs on British Columbia's families and courts

Forgoing a lawyer may sound cheaper, but the consequences can be costly

Among many families, there is often a misconception that a family lawyer is only needed during a divorce or separation if the partners cannot agree on key elements in their split. That misconception has helped fuel a significant increase in the number of people going through a divorce who decide to forgo a lawyer altogether.

As MetroNews reports, however, not consulting with a qualified lawyer during divorce is risky, no matter how amicable the divorce may be. Self-representation in family law opens divorcing spouses up to a number of unforeseen consequences, particularly concerning questions surrounding child custody and property division. The same holds true for couples in so-called marriage-like relationships who decide to separate.

Self-representation in B.C.

A report released last year by the British Columbia Branch of the Canadian Bar Association showed that family law cases in the province have been particularly impacted by self-representation. Approximately 38 percent of family law appeals involve at least one party who does not have legal representation, according to 24 Hours Vancouver.

Self-representation during litigation is particularly dangerous since the court system relies on litigants having considerable knowledge of previous legal decisions - what is otherwise referred to as common law. Common law requires years of education and training that somebody without legal expertise cannot reasonably be expected to possess. Lack of legal training can result in a self-represented litigant being put at a disadvantage, especially if he or she is up against somebody who has such training.

Amicable divorces

Of course, not all divorces or separations end up in litigation. When both spouses remain on relatively good terms during a divorce or separation, then it may seem reasonable to avoid consulting a lawyer altogether. Even during the most amicable of divorces, however, a lawyer is still highly advisable. As MetroNews points out, divorce or separation agreements that spouses agree to without first consulting with a lawyer sometimes end up being unenforceable in courts.

The risk is particularly severe when issues concerning child custody arise. Courts take child custody very seriously and they have rules and formulas that must be followed. If a divorce or separation agreement does not adhere to those rules, then a court will often void the agreement. The same is true when discussing division of property, particularly when a spouse may have agreed to a divorce or separation agreement without having full knowledge of the extent of the marital estate. In other cases, evidence may show that one spouse lacked complete understanding of what was being signed.

Legal representation

Consulting with a lawyer does not mean that a divorce or separation has to turn nasty; it is merely a prudent step to ensure that a divorcing or separating spouse fully understands his or her rights. By talking with a family lawyer today, anybody considering a divorce or separation will have the legal representation that is often needed to ensure a smooth process during what is otherwise an often challenging time.