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January popular for divorce applications, lawyer consultations

January is typically one of the busiest times of the year for divorce enquiries, and Toronto family lawyer Erin Chaiton-Murray recommends those seriously considering a split should get more information to fully understand the implications.

Chaiton-Murray, partner with Fogelman Law, says she sees a surge in calls from clients every January and attributes it to a few reasons.

“I think part of it is a ‘new year, new you’ attitude,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “Some people want to start the year fresh by making changes or resolutions in their lives, whether it’s health, fitness, work or relationships.

“The beginning of the year is also a period of self-reflection so if there are issues in the relationship, it’s often the time where people take action,” Chaiton-Murray says.

She says, for some clients, a separation may have been contemplated prior to January, but they just wanted to get through the holidays first.  

“There's also the stress and intensity of family time that often comes with the holiday season, which can sometimes be the breaking point for couples,” Chaiton-Murray says.

She says those who are enquiring about divorce proceedings can expect a few things out of an initial consultation with a family lawyer.

“First, it’s about both lawyer and client determining if the pairing is a good fit. If we are going to proceed, it's important the client is satisfied that I'm someone who is going to help them be able to achieve their goals and work in a manner that's consistent with how they see things going,” Chaiton-Murray says.

The first meeting is always information-heavy, she adds.  

“The purpose is to get the background story and understand the facts of the client’s situation. I also tell them, in great detail, about what can be expected,” Chaiton-Murray says. “If you're contemplating divorce, here are all the things you need to know — the relevant laws and other issues to consider.”

The first meeting is also a time to go over a plan, she says.

“If you are going to move ahead with separation and haven't already begun the process, we discuss what that will look like and next steps. If you have already separated, we review the plan now that the decision has been made,” Chaiton-Murray says.

The initial consultation is also a time to explore options. In a high-conflict situation, parties may be looking at litigation earlier than a couple wanting to try and remain amicable and co-operative throughout the process.

“In those cases, we talk about how much involvement is actually needed from a lawyer versus what the parties might be able to achieve on their own,” she says.

One often-overlooked topic that is explored during the first meeting with a family lawyer is the possibility of staying together, Chaiton-Murray says.

“We have a duty as lawyers to discuss whether there is any possibility of reconciliation prior to commencing court proceedings or taking further steps,” she says. “I think sometimes we forget about that, but it’s something that I usually raise during that first meeting.”

Chaiton-Murray says she will ask prospective clients if they are certain the relationship is over and that divorce is the path they want to take. If the person isn’t already seeing a marriage or individual counsellor, she can provide referrals or connections to the right resources.

“I try to see if there is a possibility to work on the relationship before taking those steps towards a final separation,” she says. “If someone is seeking out legal advice in January with a ‘new year, new me’ attitude, once they understand some of the implications — particularly the financial ones — of what separation might look like, it may give them pause.”

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