Studies show a majority of family-law applications are made without legal representation
With most family-law applications filed by self-represented litigants, a B.C. non-profit has introduced a family-law service to help those in the early stages of a separation or divorce.
The Justice Education Society of B.C. launched LawCoachBC for those who fall into the gap between legal aid and the ability to pay for legal help.
In the last few decades, self-represented litigants have become increasingly prevalent in family law. According to a 2014 survey of Alberta Queen’s Bench judges, the most common reason the courts saw self-reps in family law cases were that the litigants could not afford a lawyer but did not qualify for legal aid. In the Alberta survey, judges reported more than half of family-law cases saw at least one side without a lawyer and around half of the surveyed judges said self-reps achieve worse outcomes for their children than those with a lawyer.
LawCoachBC is a $400 service includes three hours of consultation with a law coach, referral to B.C. family law resources, referral to free mediation services and a six-month subscription to co-parenting app coParenter. LawCoachBC also includes one hour of legal advice from a family-law lawyer working pro bono.
Nora Bergh, a lawyer and law coach for LawCoachBC, says the LawCoach service is meant to fill the information gap, so those who do not have access to a lawyer at least know where to find the assistance that is available to them.
“When you start out and you're left with Google and you do a search, it's overwhelming. There's so much out there and people don't have guidance on what they should do,” says Bergh.
According to a study by the National Self-Represented Litigants Project, which looked at family-law applications in Ontario, found between 64 and 74 per cent of applications made under the Family Law Act, the Childrens Law Reform Act or the Divorce Act, were filed by a person without a lawyer.
Canadian Lawyer’s 2019 Legal Fees survey shows the extent of the bill these self reps are avoiding. An uncontested divorce will cost $600 to $1,000, while a contested divorce will add up to between $7,500 and $12,500. To get a lawyer for a separation agreement or child custody and support agreement will both set a person back between $1,500 and $2,000.
Clients in family law cases tend to waste billable hours on non-legal issues, whether they be conflict resolution, communication between parents or financial budgeting, says Bergh. LawCoachBC helps those in need of family-law services organize their problems so when they use their free hour of pro bono legal advice, they focus on the legal substance of their situation.
“We will help the Client prep and figure out what their legal question is. We communicate directly with the lawyer to give them a summary of all the issues that the client has told us about so that the lawyer is prepared to talk to the client and they can use that time to actually deal with their legal issue and get the right legal advice,” she says.