Train Creeps (and Family Violence)

I’d guess that most people in B.C. have traveled on the SkyTrain in the Lower Mainland.

I love it.  I can get downtown from my home in New Westminster faster than driving and it gives me time to catch up on overdue texts and emails with friends.

But, there is also something a little lawless about it, isn’t there?

If you have taken the train in the wee hours of the night, you’ll know what I mean…

It’s not uncommon to see someone drinking, vomiting, or causing a scene.    And, for that reason, I am very thankful and appreciative for the Transit Police.   They truly have a hard job, keeping the train safe for the rest of us.

But, sometimes, Transit Police are not always there to help…  So, what happens then?  What should you do?  What can you do?

Here’s my story…

On October 31 this last year, two buddies came to visit me for the Halloween weekend.  It was a Saturday and we decided to go for a jog on the seawall in Vancouver.   So, we packed up our jogging gear and boarded the SkyTrain.

Once on the train, we noticed a fellow in his 20s talking on his cell phone, sitting near where we were standing.  Everyone within 25 feet could hear this fellow’s every word.   He was describing his prior night, telling his friend (and everyone else) about how much alcohol he drank and about his most recent sexual conquest.   It was wildly inappropriately (and I won’t reproduce what he said here).

A few moments later, a young woman stepped onto the train and stood near my friends and I.   Without skipping a beat, the fellow approached and unleashed his own brand of ‘courtship’.  She informed him that she had a boyfriend, but he persisted nonetheless.   It was uncomfortable (to the say the least) for everyone within close proximity.

My friends and I looked at each other.  We had to something, right?  But, what could we do?  Engaging with the fellow would have surely invited conflict.

So, seeing a break in the conversation between the young fellow and woman, we began a conversation with the woman.  With her attention focused on us, the young fellow returned to his seat and left the train shortly thereafter.  And, when exiting the train, the young woman thanked us.   As well, a collective sigh of relief was felt on the train.   Things could have got been a lot different – it could have been violent for myself and my friends. But, even more important, things could have been violent for the young woman!

Imagine that she accepted a date with him.  And, that she started a relationship with him.  Or, imagine that she had a child with him.   It isn’t that far-fetched: love can be blind, after all…

In my family law practice, I’ve seen a lot of people (often women) victimized in abusive relationships.  It is awful to see.  Some women physically tremble with fear.

In such cases, there is plenty of legal advice to give.  Among other things, I’ll generally recommend journaling/documenting the abuse, contacting support groups and emergency services (such as women’s shelters), and creating a safety plan.  In addition, the violence should be reported to police.

Here’s why…

When I am hired by someone who is being abused, one of the first things I’ll immediately consider is getting a protection order against the abuser.

To explain, a protection order is a court order that prevents any direct or indirect contact (i.e. messages being passed through third parties) between the abuser and the victim.  For more information, I discussed protection orders at length in a prior column:  Afraid of a family member?

A helpful fact in helping my client get a protection order is the presence of prior police files relating to the abuse.

Think about it: just like sick people are expected to go to a doctor for medical treatment, victims of abuse are often expected (often unfairly) to go to police for help.   Also, if the victim has a child, it is even MORE important that the victim remove himself/herself (and the child) from that abusive situation (and call police).

Now, with that said, if a victim of abuse has not reported the abuse to police, it will not necessarily be fatal to the victim’s application for a protection order.  But, the presence of prior reportings often helps the victim’s cause.

Please know, too, that it’s absolutely appreciated that reporting abuse to police can be incredibly difficult.   But, please remember this: if you happen to be in an abusive relationship, you do not need to suffer in silence.    There are people who want to help you.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought. 

Column originally posted on on June 10, 2015 at: Train creeps!

Grandparents: no grandkids for you!

People love grandkids.

And, why not? It’s exciting, right?

You get to play with and spoil a child WITHOUT all the early mornings or dirty diapers. Good deal, right?

Sadly, though, it’s not such a joyful time for everyone…

Sometimes, grandparents are denied any time with their grandkids. And, sometimes, grandparents want to assume all responsibility of the child because their own children (i.e. the parents of the grandkid) are not fit parents, themselves.

And, when this happens, grandparents sometimes go to court.

These cases can get ugly; they can be long, expensive, time-consuming, and emotional…

In cases in which grandparents want more parenting time, the courts will give an enormous amount of respect and deference to the wishes of the custodial parents (i.e. either the biological or adoptive parents).

Here’s an example: Branconnier v. Branconnier, 2006 BCSC 2020.

In this case, the grandparents wanted to spend extra time with their grandchildren during school holidays, and spoiled the children (by giving gifts), all despite (and in the face of) the wishes of the mother. For additional context, the grandparents’ son / children’s father was dead.

In denying the grandparents’ application for extra time, the judge made some important comments:

  1. The wishes of a parent must be respected and must not be interfered with without good evidence;
  2. Grandparents need to accommodate themselves to a parent’s decision regarding the amount and type of access; and
  3. When a judge does order access to a grandparent, that access is (typically) quiet limited, sometimes only one day a month.

Another case you may want to read is Chapman v. Chapman, [1993] B.C.J. No. 316 (BCSC). This case goes through the general rules that are used when determining access relating to a grandparent.

In these types of cases (i.e. when grandparents want to spend more time with their grandchild), it is often best that the parents and grandparents work cooperatively. Grandparents will often get more time this way (vs. going to court). And, in the end, a judge will not typically give more (or much) time to a grandparent if it will only increase conflict between the parties.

Now, how about those other types of cases? How about the cases in which grandparents want to assume all responsibilities and care of the grandchild? Well, they can get ugly, too…

In certain circumstances, a judge will give a grandparent full control and care of the grandchild. But, it’s not an easy case to make.

When it happens, the Court needs to be satisfied that the best interests of the child are served if the grandparent were to assume all care and control.

And, there typically needs to be some strong evidence that the parents are not able to effectively parent on their own. There will often need to be strong evidence of:

  1. drug or alcohol use;
  2. abuse / neglect;
  3. unstable lifestyle;
  4. abandonment of children; or
  5. poor parenting skills.

Again, there is strong presumption in favour of parents, either natural or adoptive, keeping care and control of their children.

Admittedly, this column doesn’t paint the ‘rosiest’ picture for grandparents. But, grandparents shouldn’t fret…

In the end, judges will make orders that are in the best interests of the child. And, a child is no one’s property, no two cases are exactly the same, and there are plenty of cases in which grandparents have ‘won big’.

And now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Column originally posted on on January 23, 2015 at: Grandparents: no grandkids for you!

Lying about rape, violence, drug dealing?

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve heard the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby.

And, in light of those accusations (and the overwhelming assumption that they are both guilty of ALL such accusations), it got me thinking:  we need to be VERY CAREFUL to not simply presume that someone is guilty.

Now, you may be thinking, “How can this guy think that either Jian or Bill is innocent?”

To be clear, I am not saying that, at all.

I am simply saying that we shouldn’t be so quick to presume guilt in light of ANY accusation.

The truth is that not ALL accusations are accurate and SOME people lie.

Think about it…

Would you ever tell a lie to get something that you wanted?  How about something that was really important to you, like your freedom, your job, or your children.  Would you lie in those circumstances?

Maybe you wouldn’t.  And, I hope that you wouldn’t.  But, fact is: some people do.

And, sometimes, people even lie to a judge.

In various areas of the law, including in family law, people sometimes fabricate accusations against an opposing party, typically for the benefit of their file (or their life).

It’s (relatively) rare; but, it happens…

Sadly, these accusations often revolve around ‘who gets to live with the kids.’

As I wrote in a prior column, emotions typically run the highest in family law files.

Imagine this: a separated mother and father are fighting over who has more parenting time with little Johnny.   Now, imagine that one parent has a criminal charge against them, which could be sexual assault, assault, or drug dealing/using.  The one parent is likely going to benefit (in their own family law case) if the other parent is convicted of a crime, right?

Think about it: if the other parent is found guilty of being abusive or a drug abuser, then that would probably hurt that parent’s argument that he/she is such a great parent and that the child would be in ‘good hands’ with them, right?

In these circumstances, an opposing party may stand to gain when the other party loses.

Some people seemingly think, “If I can convince a judge that my former spouse is a violent person or is a drug/alcohol abuser, I may receive a more favorable outcome in my family law case.”

It is an awful reality.  But, it happens.  And, it doesn’t work in the end.

Fortunately, when accusations occur in family court, judges and lawyers are keen to explore the issue and determine whether or not there is truth to the accusation.  People who work in family law recognize that it’s an incredibly emotional area of law and that there is often a fine line between love and hate.

So, in the end, here are my suggestions:

  1. If you hear an accusation against someone, don’t blindly believe it. Some accusations can ruin innocent lives.  And, remember: there are always at least two sides to every story.
  2. If an accusation is made against you, get some legal advice/assistance. The consequences of having a false accusation ‘stick’ could be devastating.

And now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought. 

Column originally posted on January 9, 2015 on Lying about rape, violence, drug dealing?

Separating from partner? Big dollars!

Separating from your partner can be painful.

Maybe you still love your former partner and you wish you were still together.

Or, MAYBE you’re really happy that you no longer have to wake up with that person; but, you’re miserable because you have to deal with the money issues of the separation…

One of the big financial issues of a separation is dealing with spousal support: either paying it or receiving it.

For your sake, I hope that you never have to learn about spousal support first-hand. But, if you do or if you know someone who is going through a separation, here’s some information…

So, what is spousal support?

Put simply, spousal support is a payment from one spouse to another. It is primarily designed to:

  1. Make sure that neither partner will face financial hardship as a result of the separation; and
  2. Ensure that each partner becomes financially independent after the separation.

You should know, too, that after your relationship is over, you don’t automatically pay or receive spousal support. It is nowhere near that easy.

The first hurdle to getting spousal support is that you must have been married or, if not officially married, been living in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years.

If you’ve cleared this first hurdle, then you must consider whether or not you’re even entitled to spousal support. I’ll explain….

There are three ways in which a partner can be entitled to spousal support:

  1. Contractual Support;
  2. Compensatory Grounds; and
  3. Non-Compensatory Grounds.

The above-noted terms have legal definitions. So, I’ll explain each one below.

Under the “contractual grounds”, a support payment (to pay or receive) is created out an agreement that you may have made with your partner. If you haven’t agreed to anything, then consider the next basis for entitlement.

Under the “compensatory grounds”, a spouse is entitled to spousal support if they agreed (even implicitly) to not maximize their earning potential and instead, for instance, raise children and/or accept a lower paying job. At the same time, then, the other spouse is able to leave the home and pursue their employment potential.

Under the “non-compensatory grounds”, a spouse is entitled to spousal support if one spouse (truly) needs the money and there is a big difference between the incomes of the two spouses. In this case, the court will say, “There is a social obligation that the disadvantaged spouse be supported by the other spouse who is earning more money.”

If there is entitlement (under any of these above-noted grounds), then the court may require one spouse to pay spousal support to the other.

The amount of money payable in support will typically be dependent on the incomes of both spouses and the length of the marriage. And, for your information, the longer the marriage and the larger the difference in incomes between the parties, the more money one spouse will need to pay to the spouse.

And, please also remember that spousal support can be payable by either the husband or the wife: it does not discriminate based on sex.

And, sadly, as with most columns, I can only give you the tip of the iceberg.

If you have any questions, I recommend either contacting a lawyer or reviewing the case law on the following website, providing free access to court decisions: CanLii.

And now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Column originally published on on November 27, 2014: Separating from partner? Big dollars!

Sex offenders and their children

Few, if any, people are as hated in our country as sex offenders, particularly those sex offenders who commit crimes against children.

With that said, then, the purpose of this column is not to further demonize those offenders.

Instead, the purpose of this column to briefly address what happens to the children of these sex offenders…  And, no, I am not referring to children who were the direct victims of crimes.   Rather, I am referring to the children that ‘belong to’ the sexual offenders (i.e. their biological or step children).

Think about it…  We rarely ever hear about what happens to those children, right?   Well, that’s the purpose of this column.

The collateral damage to the children of the sexual offenders is huge.  These children have elevated risks of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies.   It may surprise you, too, to know that the children of sexual offenders experience stigmatization and harassment from others (like their parent).   This is, of course, completely unfair; but, it’s a reality.

Now, of course, these are longer term effects.  So, what happens in the short term?    What happens to the children immediately after their parent’s conduct becomes known?

Well, in the short term, it is often unlikely that the offender will receive much, if any, unsupervised parenting time with their child(ren).

Once the offence is discovered (depending on the seriousness of the offence), the Ministry of Children and Family Development would likely oppose the child being in the (unsupervised) care of that parent.   The Ministry’s mandate is, of course, to protect children.

Beyond that, too, it probably won’t surprise you to know that the other parent (who was NOT involved in the sexual offences) will likely oppose any contact between the child and their former spouse.  If that occurs, then a bitter court action will likely ensue.

Now, it is generally presumed (in court) that a child will benefit from spending time with both parents.  But, that presumption can be ‘set aside’ when one of the parents has a history of criminal or dangerous behaviour that may harm the child.    And, of course, that includes a parent who has a history of committing sexual offences.

So, as a result, if the matter went to the court, a parent who has a lengthy and/or serious history of sexual offending behaviour would likely have a difficult time getting unsupervised parenting time (and may even receive ZERO time with their child).

For instance, in J.M.G. v. T.H.P, 2007 BCPC 142, a father had a history of sexual offences that occurred prior to the birth of his son, who was three years old at the time of trial.   In that case, the judge found that it would be in the best interest of the son to grow up (at least for several years) without a relationship with his father, who was a thought to be a very bad influence.

With all that said, though, it is POSSIBLE, depending on the facts in a case, that a sexual offender may receive parenting time.   Such parenting time would likely be supervised, though.  And, to explain, supervised parenting time refers to time that the parent can spend with the child in a supervised setting, typically supervised by a social or community worker or a friend or family member.

Please know that this particular topic is huge.  And, my column surely can’t do it justice.  But, if there is one thing that I can make clear, it’s this: have sympathy for the children (and don’t take out your frustrations on them).   Because of their parent’s actions, their lives are forever changed.

And now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Column originally posted on on September 17, 2014: Sex offenders and their children.

Afraid of a family member?

Whether or not you choose to believe it, domestic violence is incredibly, incredibly common.

Here are some Canadian statistics:

  1. In 2006, 12% of all criminal prosecutions in BC were domestic violence cases;
  2. Only 28% of victims of spousal violence will actually report these incidents to police;
  3. 30 to 40% of children who witness abuse on their mother will also experience physical abuse;
  4. Of those children who were physically or sexually assaulted by someone, in 60% of the cases, the parents were the abusers; and
  5. 1/3 of all reported violent incidents committed against elderly adults were committed by a family member.

Clearly, for many, many individuals, those people who are supposed to be their best friends are their worst enemies…

I have seen many people who are victims of family violence and, it is awful. Some people are so incredibly scared that they burst out in tears at the thought of being with their abusive partner; AND, at the same time, they burst out in tears at the thought of being without their abusive partner.

So, if you are one of these people who desperately need protection, what should do you?

Well, first and foremost, you should call police. Police are of course, there to protect us, right? And, if you feel any threat to your safety, then absolutely call police.

Often, though, women (or men) who call police (initially) are not cooperative with police after they attend. As a result, criminal convictions against the abusers are often difficult to get.

Consider this: if the primary and only witness in a domestic violence case does not want to give evidence (against the abuser) in the trial, how can there be a trial? How can the Crown Prosecutor get a conviction against the abuser?

Now, what else can someone do other than call police?

Well, for one thing, they can apply to court and get a protection order. On television, these are common referred to as ‘restraining orders’.

In order to get a protection order, you need to go to court and convince a judge of two things:

  1. You are a family member of the abuser, which includes a child, parent, or spouse or ex-spouse/partner (of the abuser); and
  2. There is a risk that you will be hurt.

If you can convince a judge of these two things, then you will get a protection order.

Convincing a judge that you are a family member is usually very easy: it is typically as simple as explaining that you are the ex-spouse, child, or parent of the abuser.

The next step, though, isn’t quite as easy…

In order to convince a judge that you will be hurt, you need to describe the recent threatening conduct of the abuser. This includes past police incidents, past incidents of abuse, and past stalking behavior. Be prepared to describe the dates and events of abuse for the judge.

I can hear you thinking, “So what? What good is a protection order?”

Well, the answer is that it is an incredibly powerful document that can be shown to police if the abuser violates the order in anyway. In fact, it is a crime to violate a protection order.

Imagine this: you get a protection order against your former spouse, which says that he/she cannot have any direct or indirect contact with you. Now, let’s say that your ex-spouse sends you multiple Facebook messages.

Without the order, what would you do? Would you call police and tell them that you are getting Facebook messages?

How likely is it that the police will be able to do much against this person? After all, they aren’t committing a crime, right? They are just sending Facebook messages…

But, with a protection order, your ex-spouse IS committing a crime and the police have some ‘teeth’ to speak to the abuser and do whatever else they deem fit to ensure that your ex-spouse leaves you alone.

Here’s the bottom-line: if you are being abused, contact your police department, your local YWCA, a women’s shelter, or any other service that you choose.

You don’t have to live with abuse and there are services and people waiting to help you.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Column originally posted on on June 20, 2014: Afraid of a family member.

Child Support: A must read for parents

Ever wonder why the women on the Maury Povich show want to confirm ‘who the father is’? My (jaded) guess: they want child support.

On that note, child support is one of the most commonly misunderstood subjects in family law. And, rightly so: it’s complicated.

So, in the interest of clearing up some of those misconceptions, this column will address some of the general laws/rules around child support.

To begin, what is child support? Put very simply, it is money paid by one parent (who doesn’t primarily reside with the child) to another parent (who does reside with the child) to cover those costs associated with raising that child, such as food and clothing.

How much money does someone actually pay? Well, this question is usually very easy to answer. Typically, the amount is based on the number of the children (who are receiving support) and the income (of the person being asked to pay support).

I’ll explain further…

There are Child Support Guidelines (i.e. tables) that state how much money someone should pay based on how much money that person earns and how many children that person has to support.

For your (extra) information, here is an online calculator provided by the government (that incorporates the Guidelines) that quickly calculates how much child support someone should pay: Child Support Calculator.

To illustrate, if you refer to the calculator, you’ll see that someone who earns $50,000.00/year and has two children will pay $758.00/month. It’s that simple…typically.

Now, there are exceptions; but, this is the general rule that applies to the vast majority of families.

And, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter how the person earns the $50,000.00/year: it could be from investments, employment, or self-employment. It really doesn’t matter. And, on that note, it doesn’t matter how much someone’s expenses are, either….

In child support claims, it is very common to have the person who has to pay child support tell the judge/lawyers that they cannot afford it. They’ll explain that they have other expenses, that they just bought a new house, that they have other children, etc. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter.

Here’s the ugly truth: if you earn a particular amount of money per year, then it’s a ‘done deal’ – you pay ‘x amount’ based on the income you earn and the children you have to support. Your expenses are your problem and, if your expenses are too high, then don’t have those expenses.

Now, it may not surprise you to know that some people will tell a judge that they earn less money than they actually do, so their child support obligations are lower. Well, that doesn’t work…

Lawyers and judges are clever enough to calculate your income based on your expenses and your career. So, if you won’t provide an accurate annual income, one will be ‘assigned’ to you. And, you will pay child support based on that amount.

So, who exactly has to pay? Well, of course, biology is the big thing. If you’re a biological parent, then you’re going to owe child support.

But, what about former step-parents? Answer: a former step-parent is likely responsible for child support if he/she supported the child for at least one year and if the parent starts a lawsuit (against the step-parent) within one year of the support being last provided.

And, how long does someone have to pay child support? Answer: child support is payable for as long as the child is 18 years old or younger or is dependent on the parents. A child can be dependent on their parents if they are attending full-time university or if they have a medical condition (that prevents them from being self-supporting).

And, also know that dying won’t necessarily relieve you from paying child support. If a non-custodial parent passes away, then child support may continue to be paid from the person’s estate.

As a last general tip, try your best to resolve child support disputes, as well as other family law disputes, outside of court. You’ll likely save a lot of money and a lot of stress.

And now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought. 

Divorce? Get out of my house!

In the wake of Valentine’s Day, I thought I would write a column about family law. Ironic, I know…

This column’s topic isn’t exactly pleasant or in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, but it is useful information. If not for you, then for someone you know…

So, here it is: ever wonder what happens to the family home when a couple separates? Who gets to live in it? Do both partners have to share it?

After a marriage or a common-law relationship ends, both parties probably don’t want to continue living together, right?  So, what happens?

Well, the Family Law Act in BC (section 90) allows a judge to give one partner exclusive occupancy of the family home.

But, how does a person get that?  Well, the person who wants to have exclusive use of the home has to go to court and show the judge two things:

  1. That it is practically impossible for the two people to live together in the same home; and
  2. That it is more convenient for the person applying to court to stay in the home as the occupant (vs. the other partner staying in the home).

So, what is does all this mean? What exactly makes living with your ex-partner ‘practically impossible’?

As you can imagine, what makes living together ‘impossible’ can vary from person to person.  Some people would find that just seeing your ex-partner would be impossible…  But, that isn’t good enough…

So, what makes it impossible to live with the other person?  Well, the following factors have been used to show that it is impossible for two former partners to continue living together:

  1. Yelling and arguing;
  2. Belittling the other person;
  3. Growing marijuana;
  4. Playing loud music, disturbing the other spouse and children;
  5. Leaving anti-freeze out where the former partner’s dog could drink it;
  6. Continuously leaving the doors of the home unlocked when the other partner is home alone; and
  7. Physical violence.

The more ‘bad conduct’ that a former spouse displays, the easier it will be to convince a judge that the other spouse must ‘get out’.

So, for example, one incident of physical abuse would probably be enough to have the other person ‘kicked out’.

But, the opposite also applies…

So, a few incidents of your former spouse playing loud music will not likely get your former spouse ‘kicked out’. Instead, if that was all your evidence, the judge would likely not appreciate your use of court time… And, your application to get your partner ‘kicked out’ would fail.

Now, this is only the first step…

Next, you need to show that, of the two of you, YOU are person who should remain in the home. This is referred to, in legal circles, as the ‘balance of convenience test’.

Here, the court will consider several factors, including whether one partner earns significantly more money than other partner, allowing one partner to have more ‘options’ in finding alternative housing. Here, the ‘richer’ partner (who can afford to pay rent elsewhere) may be forced to ‘get out’.

The court will also consider which partner is the primary caregiver to the children.

For instance, if a stay-at-home father is the primary caregiver to the children, the court would more likely allow the father to stay in the home.

Imagine the opposite: if the father was ‘kicked out’, the children would be forced to leave the home (to stay with the father) or they would be in the care of the go-to-work mother who isn’t home often enough to care for the children. The court doesn’t want to disrupt the lives of children, so that’s why the father would have exclusive use of the home after the separation.

These court applications should not be taken lightly; they can be lengthy, bitter, and expensive. So, if possible, try to resolve your issues with your former partner amicably.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Legal aid: horrendously underfunded

This week, I am writing about legal aid.

Yes, I’ve written about it before: Politics and Legal Aid in BC. But, it’s a crucial topic, so I am going to discuss it, again.

To start, legal aid is a vital program for our province. It’s VITAL.

But, despite it being so vital, very few people know much about it (until they need it, of course).

So, what is it?

Well, it’s a program that allows poor families and people to have a lawyer when they really, really need it. That’s basically it.

The legal system is complicated. And, lawyers can be expensive. And, unlike doctors, the client (and not the government) typically pays the lawyer fees.

So, that’s why legal aid is important: it’s a safety net, designed to catch people who genuinely need a lawyer, but who can’t afford legal fees.

So, what’s the status of legal aid in BC? Well, as you may be able to guess from my tone, it isn’t good…


At present, legal aid services are only provided to people who may go to jail or be deported from Canada or to people who are involved in a family dispute that involves violence, abuse, or a custody dispute (for children). AND, in order to qualify for legal aid, you must earn very little money.

So, that’s it. Doesn’t seem like much, right? Well, it isn’t… Legal aid is horrendously underfunded.

You may ask, “So, what is happening with legal aid going forward?” Answer: it’s getting worse.

Legal aid in BC is facing a big budget shortfall, which means that the legal aid program is going to have cut even more services. And, who does that hurt? You guessed it: poor families.

It is very sad. But, it isn’t THAT surprising because the BC Liberals have NOT been reprimanded for all their budget cuts to legal aid (and to the court system, generally).

Here’s some history…

After the BC Liberals took office in 2001, they slashed legal aid’s funding almost in half. And, with the cuts, many family law services and poverty law services (previously provided to poor families) were completely eliminated. In effect, a lot of poor families were ‘left on their own’.

In 2011, a report was given to the Liberals, recommending that legal aid be recognized as an essential public service. The report called for stable funding. The report was ignored.

Then, there was the 18 month job action by legal aid lawyers that was supposed to draw public attention to poor legal aid funding. But, that ended (and failed) recently.

And, what’s legal aid doing now? It’s asking the government for more money. And, what has the government said in response? Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said that she would be happy to discuss the issue, but that the province is already being generous. Generous?!

Our court system is crying out for adequate funding!

So here’s my advice: stop listening to the government’s propaganda regarding our justice system.

We have one of the best legal systems in the world. But, without money to fund it, it will crumble.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Originally posted on on October 1, 2013: Legal aid horrendously underfunded.

Complaining about (family) lawyers!

I haven’t written a column about family law before. I’m going to break that trend this week… And, I’m going to start from scratch, from the basics.

In case you didn’t know, family law is an incredibly emotional area of law.

Here’s a fact for you: family law lawyers generally receive more complaints about their work than any other type of lawyer.

In fact, of all the complaints made against lawyers to the Law Society, family lawyers have accounted for more than 25% of all those complaints!

Now, let’s back up a bit…

I had a few different jobs when I was a student and before I was a lawyer. And, like a lot of college students, I worked in both the construction industry and the service industry.

I had great jobs, and, I had great co-workers.

Some of my co-workers, though, were going through or had gone through a divorce. I still remember the comments that some of my co-workers made about family lawyers. You can probably guess the nature of those comments… Let’s just say that they weren’t complimentary.

And, that has stuck with me.

From that, I work hard to keep my clients happy and I do my best to ensure that my clients know and understand everything that is happening in the process. It’s because that’s where some lawyers fail…and that’s where a lot of complaints come from.

So, with that, what’s some of the advice that I give to my family law clients?

Well, here’s one of my best tips: when resolving your marriage breakup, don’t do it in a courtroom; do it outside the courtroom.

What do I mean by that?

Well, a lot of people who get served with court documents from their ex asking for a divorce go into ‘full-on attack mode’. They hire a lawyer and give instructions to that lawyer to be a “pit-bull”. It’s as if they want to punish their ex.

If you’re doing that, then STOP…and take a breath.

Your pain is completely understandable. But, if you can resolve your breakup with your ex in an objective and amicable way, such as talking and settling your legal issues CHEAPLY, then do that.

Granted, you can’t always do that. Sometimes, going to court IS necessary. But, if it’s not and you can resolve your issues with your ex outside the courtroom (which typically involves a lawyer, too), then absolutely do that.

There’s no sense in having an expensive legal matter with your ex if you don’t have to.

Remember: don’t spend thousands of dollars to keep dollar store vases.

And now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Originally posted on on September 17, 2013: Complaining about family lawyers.