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Why Family Law?

Kelly Watson explains why she wants to practice family law and shares recent evolutions in this area to show how family law is an evolving and rewarding area of practice

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Whenever I tell people I want to practice family, everyone always asks the same question and usually with a bit of disdain: Why Family Law?

Well, there are many aspects to family law: Children, Property, Contracts, and Financials.

As someone with a business background, my favorite area of family law is the property division aspect. In terms of property, a divorce is the legal equivalent of dividing assets upon the dissolution of a business partnership (like what we learn about in Business Associations). In other words, I like the financial and business aspect of family law.

The legal issues of high-net worth clients, many of whom are business owners, often center around complex financial valuations, tax consequences, assets in other jurisdictions (e.g, a chalet in Quebec and/or a condo in Florida are the most common examples in Ontario case law), which raises conflicts of law issues, and support calculations that diverge from the standard formulas.

In this way, family law is a lot like business law, but unlike business law (where your clients are businesses and may be large corporations), here, your clients are asking for your help in a way that affects them on a personal level. In this way, family law is similar to personal injury law, employment law, and criminal law, where the legal proceedings affect a central aspect of their personal lives. The people aspect of family law is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.

My favourite part of family law is observing mediations (where parties are willing to work together) and/or attending a settlement conference where parties actually reach a settlement! The enormous relief experienced by the parties and their gratitude to you for helping them through this difficult time is incredibly rewarding. The aftermath of a divorce or separation of common law marriage can take years to resolve, often two to three years or longer if individuals are high-conflict.

Another appealing aspect of family law is how relatable it is – many people will likely find themselves in a common law relationship or marriage at some point in their life. Partially because of this, clients from all walks of life, with all types of unique issues and circumstances. This makes the area of family law incredibly diverse.

Some other family law enthusiasts prefer the child custody and access aspects. This area of law sometimes involves allegations of abuse and/or the Children’s Aid Society becomes involved in serious cases where there are children protection issues. While I agree this area of practice can be very rewarding, it can also be very sad and cause compassion fatigue.

Family law also overlaps with a lot of other areas of law: First, when people get divorced, they immediately need a new will, which requires a wills and estate lawyer. Some families have assets in trust which may require a trust lawyer. Secondly, family cases may overlap with criminal law where there was spousal or child abuse. Third, parties often sell their matrimonial home(s) which involves a real estate lawyer. With high-net worth clients, especially where one party is a business owner (e.g., a partner at a law firm who owns a portion of the firm) you often need to hire a professional valuator to accurately assess one party’s assets.

Evolutions in family law

Family law is evolving as societal norms about the family are changing. The TV show Modern Family is a perfect example of this: there are same-sex couples, inter-country adoption, dual-income families, and step-parents as a result of a subsequent marriage(s). The law is evolving, for example: a child can legally have three parents as in AA v BB v CC where BB and CC were the biological parents of the child DD, but AA and BB were a female same-sex couple who were actually raising the child. DD regarded AA and BB as his parents, and the court determined that it was in the best interest of the child that the law recognize AA as the child’s third legal parent. Also, in rare situations, a step-parent can legally adopt a child if the child’s other biological parent either consents, is deceased, or is deemed to have abandoned the child.

Image retrieved from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/modern-family-season-1/id327827178

There are also international aspects to family law. For example: if one parent is unhappy with a court decision regarding custody and decides to abduct the child to another country, the United Nations Hague Convention on International Child Abduction is a reciprocal relationship between countries who have signed onto the Convention saying that if a child is abducted to the United States or Mexico, for example, that country agrees to help facilitate the safe return of the child to Canada. The biggest concern in this area is the countries who are not signed onto this Convention, such as: Russia, and African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. If you are a family lawyer for an immigrant family from either of those countries and your client tells you their ex-spouse has threatened to leave the country or “return home” to any of these unsigned countries with your client’s children, red flags should be going off in your head because if this happened, you would have no legal recourse.

Map of countries signed onto the Hague Convention

Image retrieved from: http://kssattorney.com/hague-convention-rules-help-bring-kids-home/

Personally, I am very interested to see how the law continues to develop in this rewarding and stimulating area of practice.

Kelly Watson (3L) is Managing Editor of Juris Diction

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