Friday, 8 August 2014

Family Court 101 - For Novices

 Family Court - 311 Jarvis St - "The House of Broken Loves"

Having survived (more or less) my first experience with Family Court I thought I'd pass on to you in the Blogsphere some of the things I have learned in the past six months.

  •  Research at your local law library. According to the Ontario Court of Justice website,  Pro Se's (what the legal profession calls us 'unrepresented folks') are supposed to know as much as lawyers about the law and legal procedure, but of course that's ridiculous. Nevertheless, as a Pro Se you need to do your research into:
    • Family Law
    • Court procedures
    • Any papers or articles written by the opposing lawyer or your case judge
    • Any legal precedents that might help or hurt your case
  • In Toronto, the place to visit is University of Toronto's, Bora Laskin Law Library at 95 Charles St. West. The folks there are very helpful and patient. And it's free. Check their website for hours as they change throughout the school year. 
  • I left sharp implements such as my trusty and constant companion Swiss Army Knife at home. The Security Guards at the door would not only confiscate it but likely think less of me for setting off their metal detector. Why do I go everywhere with my SAK? Well you never can tell when may need a Robertson head screwdriver, fish de-scaling knife, or small saw for cutting down trees.
  • You can find all the forms you need on this website . Download the forms as Word documents and fill them in on your computer, or download them as PDF's then fill them out by hand.
  • No one is obligated to help you fill out the forms (some of which are bewildering) but you may find a Advice Lawyer willing to give you a tip or two.
  • And speaking of Advice Lawyers. The courthouse has one Advice Lawyer who does just that - give advice. Unfortunately, of the perhaps 15 to 20 Advice Lawyers I have spoken to (I needed a lot of advice) only a handful were helpful and quite a few were condescending, vague, impatient or all three. Just one, the only Black lawyer in the lot, was amazingly helpful and, as it turned out, correct.  Nevertheless, never act on the advice of a single Advice Lawyer. Come back the next day (they change every day) and ask another Advice Lawyer.
  • The Court Clerks (windows 1-6) are your only friends in the House of Broken Loves. They are patient, and understanding and often give better advice than the Advice Lawyer.
  • A motion (to do something - Form 14) always requires a affidavit (Form 14A), which is a document that lays out the reasons why you want to do it.
  • Form 14A must be signed and stamped by the Court Clerk before you fax it to the opposing lawyer. Then bring the 14 and 14A back to the Court Clerk - along with a Form 6A - and the fax verification sheet - and the Clerk will enter it into your file. The 6A is just a form in which you indicate how you served the opposing lawyer with your Form 14 (mail, courier, fax). You must swear before the Clerk that you did in fact do what you said you did. 
  • Also, when  faxing documents, check the confirmation sheet to ensure that it went to the correct phone number... Just in case you or the store clerk mis-dialed.
  • Oh, and on the subject of 'transmission'... never email an important communication or document because you have no evidence that the other side received it. Emails get lost or deleted or fail to send. Instead, always fax documents and keep the confirmation sheet that verifies successful transmission or use Registered Mail and pay for 'signature required'
  • Never sign anything the opposing lawyer sends you without checking first with two different Advice Lawyers.
  • Expect the opposing lawyer to pull every dirty trick in the book and then some.
  • Don't be intimidated by the reams of documents that the opposing lawyer creates - they are just trying to justify their over-billing.
  • Guys beware, her lawyer will try to portray you to the judge, as they do every other male, as a violent, angry abuser - and it will work. Sitting in the spectator section during other people's cases I have seen this time and time again. 
  • Having said that guys, never show your anger in court - even as you are getting screwed - it just reinforces a male stereotype.
  • Women and men alike - Never let the opposition or the judge see you bleed or even get a whiff of your blood.
  • Women and men alike - keep your answers short and always address the judge as 'Your Honour'
  • If the judge is seated as you enter the courtroom - bow to the judge after you step through the door and bow when you exit the courtroom.
  • The opposition lawyer will print out and submit to the court every one of your emails so be careful what you say.
  • Write down anything mildly or wildly objectionable that the lawyer or judge says or does... You may want to made that incident or words part of a motion later.
  • I recommend sitting in on other people's case conferences and trials so that you become more acquainted with the process and language. All case conferences and trials are open to the public unless there is a "Closed" sign on the door (because they involve child custody or sensitive material). 
Oh... and one more thing... No one will tells you this because you have to find out for yourself...

"In the House of Broken Loves, only the lawyers win."

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