The Cost of Divorce in Ontario

When couples find that their relationship is coming to an end, there is often stress over finances. This leads to the question: “What is the cost of divorce in Ontario?”. The simple answer is that the cost of a divorce is directly related to how reasonable each person is and how hard they want to work to find reasonable solutions to their problems after marriage. The unfortunate reality is that if even one party is being unreasonable, the costs of divorce will skyrocket.

This blog post looks at the story of one Ontario couple of average means who spent $500,000 in legal fees for their divorce. With that much money spent, the parents risked both of their futures financially.

How do you Spend $500,000 on Legal Fees in a Divorce

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice had four different written decisions on this lengthy divorce proceeding. The father worked for the Toronto Police Service and earned $100,350 per year. The mother was unemployed at the time of separation and for the year of the trial, estimated she would earn $17,000. The trial judge found that the mother was underemployed and imputed her income at $60,000.

The couple met in 1997 or 1998, married in 2004, had one child together in 2007 and separated in 2011. After four years of animosity, the trial was held in 2015. Both parents insisted that what they were doing was in the best interests of the child. After 36 days of trial, hearing from 20 witnesses, the father had spent over $300,000 in legal fees and the mother had spent $200,000 in legal fees.

The witnesses at trial included teachers, principal, vice-principal, children’s aid workers, a family doctor and a custody/access assessor. The judge had this comment: “Custody trials are supposed to be about children. But 36 days – that speaks volumes about the parents“.

While the father was mostly successful and was awarded full custody, the sad reality was that the couple spent almost five years of gross salary on legal fees to get to that point. This means they have effectively destroyed their financial future and that of their child, by continuously arguing about the best interests of the child.

 

Cost of Divorce in Ontario

In the subsequent decision on costs, the father was quoted in a letter sent to the mother prior to the legal battle starting: “We are both reasonable people and I really think we can work this out without spending 40 to 50 thousand dollars a piece in lawyer fees only to have a judge tell use something we could arrange ourselves. Please I’m begging you to be reasonable.”

After the trial and in her argument against having costs awarded to the father, the mother was quoted as saying: “This trial has been financially disastrous for both parties.” Had the parties employed a little bit of reasonableness years before, they could have saved themselves half of a million dollars.

How to be Reasonable During Separation?

This couple separated in 2011. In 2012, the mother began to restrict the father’s access to the child. The father responded by sending a letter to work things out. With no response, the father obtained a lawyer to send the mother a letter. The father offered to go to mediation to get all of their matters resolved. The mother refused mediation and said it wouldn’t have worked.

These actions are what leads to a higher cost of divorce in Ontario. If you want to keep legal fees low in your divorce proceeding, try and work things out yourselves or go to mediation. Not only go to mediation, but go with an open mind. While the initial separation may be an emotional time, after one year has passed and there is conflict, reflect on your own actions prior to looking to blame the other. Going to mediation with an open mind is a good opportunity to demonstrate that you are trying to resolve matters in the best interests of the child.

The best thing that can happen from mediation is that all of your issues are resolved and your child will have certainty of what their future will look like. The worst thing that can happen by offering mediation, is that it will look to others that you are trying to be reasonable and looking to resolve the issues on your own.

Continuous calls to police and continuous litigation over trivial things, while providing some short-term satisfaction doesn’t actually help. Being 5-minutes late to drop a child off is not something to call the police over. Going to court to resolve who should have a car-seat, or blankets, is not being reasonable.

What to do After Spending so Much on Legal Fees?

After spending $500,000 on legal fees and calling it financially disastrous, you would think it would end the litigation between the parties. Shockingly, only two-years after 36-days of trial, the parties were back in Court. The father sought supervised access, the mother said the father was alienating the child from her.

At the time of this decision, the mother hadn’t seen the child in over one year. The mother argued that since she wasn’t seeing the child, she shouldn’t have to pay child support. (That is the topic for another post) So effectively, after spending $200,000 in legal fees on a 36-day trial doing what she said was in the best interests of the child, the mother didn’t want to have anything to do with the child.

One Party Refuses to be Reasonable

After 36-days of trial, it is difficult to identify the reasonable party. The fact that the father was almost entirely successful is a good indicator, but it isn’t the deciding factor. The actions of the parties after the trial is what really shows reasonableness. A mother walking away from her child because she was not happy with the outcome of the trial, is the very definition of unreasonable.

What do you do when one-party isn’t being reasonable? The first step is to look in the mirror and see if there is something you could be doing different. After that, it becomes a very difficult situation and there is no easy answer. Having a lawyer that will explore all avenues prior to litigation is a good start.

What is the Cost of a Divorce in Ontario?

What is the cost of divorce in Ontario in 2020? The answer is, “whatever you want to spend”. If both parties are reasonable, everything can be solved in short order and for very little cost. If even one party is being unreasonable, it increases costs. The couple here demonstrated you can spend five years in salary on legal fees and still not be satisfied.

Get legal advice early in the process and that may help save some cost later on. Contact Hearty Law for a free one-hour virtual consultation to discuss your family law matter.

Hearty Law serves Toronto, Ottawa and surrounding communities. Email toronto@heartylaw.ca or ottawa@heartylaw.ca for more information.

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