A PLEA FOR FAMILY LAW EDUCATION
Family Law and How it Pertains to Everyone
I see lots of unhappy people in my office. Many are first time clients. Clients who have come to meet with me to learn about how the law will impact them. People who have either separated or are considering separation, and want to know their rights. These clients are very rarely pleasantly surprised with what I tell them the law mandates. Mostly because the first time they are hearing about these obligations is from me. That cannot continue. If only because I hate constantly being the bearer of bad news…..
In my respectful opinion, our government has it backwards. At present, they are spending our resources on education which is provided after the fact, instead of pre-emptively. There is a family law information office at most courts, which provides pamphlets, reference to websites and even duty counsel. Too little, too late. The time to educate people on marriage and divorce is not once they have already separated, which is what happens now, but before.
Similarly, once a proceeding has been issued, both parties are required to attend a court run “Family Information Session”. At that session, a lawyer and a social worker present legal information on separation and divorce as well as the impact of conflict on children. But the parties attending the sessions have already separated. Much of the damage has already been done.
People need to be educated at a time when they can actually benefit from the information being provided. You may ask, in the context of family law, when is that time? Marriage is a significant step, with far-reaching legal implications, yet few know what that means. I would suggest that it is essential for parties who want to marry to be educated on family law. Before they tie the knot. This is an opportunity that is not yet being utilized and one of which, I think, our government should take immediate advantage.
Parties who want to marry in Ontario must obtain a marriage license. You can apply for and obtain a marriage license at municipal offices and city halls. Forms must be filled out and identity confirmed. Parties are already interacting with bureaucracy. It is a pain. But they are ready and willing to do so because they want something i.e. the marriage license. Parties are prepared to tolerate the short term paperwork pain to enjoy the long term gain of wedded bliss.
What better time to insert a mandatory information session than before parties are granted a marriage license? You have a captive audience. They want what we have. Information could be given about marriage contracts, property division for married and non-married spouses, the unique treatment of certain special assets like the home, financial support, parenting and custody. Would parties be able to pass the family law portion of the bar admission course after three hours? No. But they would at least have a little bit of information with which to determine whether or not further investigation is required. They would know the questions to ask and the discussions to have before they enter into the legally binding contract called marriage. And that, to quote Martha Stewart, is a good thing.