February 21st, 2019

Collaborative approach cuts divorce costs

By Mabell, Dave on September 28, 2018.

Lawyer says option is friendlier and less expensive

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald


Want to get divorced? That could set you back more than $80,000. But there are still more costs, a Lethbridge lawyer pointed out Thursday. There’s the pain of a lengthy, acrimonious battle, the time spent in court, the long-term impact on two people’s finances . . . and the trauma that’s inflicted on the children.

There’s a far more friendly way to go about it, family lawyer Robert Harvie pointed out – and it’s far less expensive. Yet only one in 20 divorcing couples in Lethbridge make use of it.

Collaborative divorce services have been available in Lethbridge since about 2000, he said. They’re now offered in every province.

But are southern Albertans aware of that option, and taking it?

“It’s maybe five per cent,” Harvie said, in response to questions at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. “That’s a concern to me.”

Instead of mounting a costly court battle, he explained, the collaborative approach involves counsellors, specially trained lawyers, and other professionals if there are children involved.

And the result, Harvie said, will be the two people making the important decisions – not a judge.

The cost? While a lawyer could charge $500 per hour, a couples’ counsellor (or “coach”) might be closer to $200. So if the discussion and agreement process requires perhaps three or four two-hour sessions with a lawyer, the legal bill could be closer to $3,000 or $4,000.

And all going well, the children would be able to benefit from close contact with both parents over the years that followed.

By comparison, Harvie said, it’s the judge who decides the children’s fate in a contested divorce.

“The children have almost no voice in the litigation process,” he said.

“If you have young children, it’s really damaging to the children.”

Studies, he said, have shown children subjected to that trauma are more likely to become involved in drugs, alcohol abuse, criminal activity – and suicide attempts.

“They could have life-long problems.”

Accountant and business evaluator Harvey Labuhn, who joined Harvie for the presentation, said one of the issues that’s sometimes overlooked in claims or counter-claims for alimony is the cost of running two homes instead of one. When higher-income people are involved, he added, the battles are more often about the money than the children’s best interests.

On the other hand, Harvie agreed with a questioner, many lower-income couples today may simply split, without dealing with legal issues through some kind of divorce settlement. Many simply can’t afford the expense.

Citing Manitoba, he said some provinces may be considering creation of a simple, no-lawyer system of registering a mutually agreed divorce. But federal and provincial governments – and law societies – haven’t shown much enthusiasm, he noted.

“There’s not enough political will to do that.”

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