I read a great article in the Financial Post and wanted to share the most interesting parts. I considered writing my own article for the media but decided to expand on the article instead.
Everything in brackets in this post is from the Financial Post article.
“A wife’s decision to represent herself caused the husband to incur huge legal fees over 17 years.”
A lot of people see hiring lawyers as an expense and nuisance. This has led to 70% of people in some courts self-representing (they don’t have lawyers.) If you have $250,000+ in assets, you need to be willing to spend $10,000–30,000 on a family lawyer to represent you. If you have children, you need to have a family lawyer.
Why would someone risk their assets, time and children to make an attempt to save $10,000–30,000?
Further, a judge can award child or spousal support payments. These payments can go on for many years. Judges can also award court costs.
If you have enough money to hire a lawyer, hire a lawyer. Self-representing is similar to doing surgery on yourself because you don’t want to deal with the doctors or hospital. Would you do that?
I also want to point out that spending 17 years in litigation is a similar time period as serving a life sentence in Canada for murder. They will never get those years back.
There is also opportunity cost. In those 17 years, if she had taken all the time she spent on the court case, and worked those hours in employment, she would be far better off financially.
“While self-representation is the only option for many people due to their financial resources (a broader discussion of access to justice is beyond the scope of this article), for those with resources, the decision to self-represent may be quite costly in the end.”
I completely agree. If you only have a few thousand in the bank account, legal aid or self-representation might be your only hope. But if you can afford it, get a family lawyer to help you. It’s worth considering a self-representation ban for people over a certain income.
Sometimes it might be possible to pay your lawyer out of the proceeds of your divided assets. It may also be possible to have a delayed payment plan put in place. Reach out to some law firms and ask.
“The wife, according to the judge, did not express her position with any sort of clarity, leaving the judge without an appreciation of how she wanted costs to be resolved.”
This is why lawyers are important. They make your argument clear so a judge can understand it.
“…(let us not be so naive to ignore) the choice by some to act for themselves because they think the judge will be forced into being their advocate.” Justice Conlan, Ontario Superior Court
More likely than the judge being their advocate, the judge might become angry with the self represented individual. This could actually turn the judge against them. Courts are not friendly places and there is limited information about how the courts run. Legal jargon can also be very confusing.
“The wife’s decision to represent herself caused the husband to unnecessarily incur substantial legal fees. The wife was ordered to immediately pay the husband costs of $150,000.”
This is a powerful statement about wasting the courts time and the opposing parties money. Had she hired a lawyer, it is likely that the issues would have been settled in a few years (or sooner in settlement) instead of 17 years.
What a waste of time and money.
*Comments in this article are my own and do not reflect ClearWay Law.
CEO at ClearWay Law. Investor in Hart Legal. Author for Canadian Lawyer,
BC Business and the Vancouver Sun.