By Leah Klassen
“The Only Constant in Life is Change”
We often hear from clients dealing with family law matters that the process is far too time consuming and costly, and we certainly can’t argue with this. Time and time again, we’ve seen how significant time and expense could have been avoided simply by the court system and lawyers alike handling the matter more effectively.
In February of 2019, a new model for the family law system was implemented in Manitoba. The intention behind this new model was to address these issues by placing significant emphasis on the proper steps being taken at the beginning of the process, encouraging timely disclosure of relevant information and, most importantly, encouraging settlement outside of court.
The majority of people seeking our assistance want their matter to be dealt with amicably, efficiently, and nowhere near a courtroom. The new model encourages this by requiring certain prerequisites to be completed before an initial court date can be scheduled. One of these prerequisites is confirmation that the parties have attempted to resolve the matter prior to going to court. These attempts can include mediation, four-way meetings between the parties and their lawyers, or even meetings between the parties themselves, (where parties don’t have lawyers themselves).
Additionally, separating parties will now have to prepare a new court-required prerequisite of a written parenting plan. This is not an official document, but rather a document that should set out, in detail, a plan for the children’s residence, schooling, contact with the both parents and family members, and any other concerns or special needs of the children. Both parents are also required to attend the “For the Sake of the Children” program, and although this is not a new requirement, it continues to be a valuable one. We find that almost every one of our clients who has attended the program has advised us how useful it has been. The combination of the new prerequisites with the former ones is meant to lead to the increase of early, out of court settlements.
Financial disclosure is often the cause of delays in the court process. Financial information provided is often late, incomplete or simply not provided at all. Income taxes, T4s and calculating your monthly expenses are all types of information that the Court requires. Anyone who has been through a family legal case, would probably agree that giving and receiving financial disclosure often poses a significant challenge. The new model has addressed the delays that often occur by requiring full financial disclosure as a prerequisite prior to an initial court date being scheduled for any matters involving support or property division. In most, if not all cases, you will be required to fill out a Form 70D Financial Statement, with income tax returns and proof of year-to-date income. Before going to see a lawyer or beginning your family legal process, it is useful to gather your last three years of income tax returns, or if that is not available, at least the last years’, as your lawyer is sure to ask for this and will be incredibly pleased if you have it ready to go!
The change to the family model applies to variations of Final Orders, Petitions and Petitions for Divorce that are contested, and property division issues. If you are interested in seeing if and how these changes apply to your circumstances, be sure to contact your lawyer to discuss. Should you be a self-represented individual, ensure that you are familiar with the new model and take note of changes to court forms, so as not to delay the resolution of your matter.
Leah Klassen is an associate at Wolseley Law LLP. The information presented in this article is not to be considered legal advice nor fit for any particular purpose. You should consult a lawyer with any questions specific to your situation.