The first questions should focus on how you want to proceed. Here’s an example:

Do you want to be heard about what matters to you? If this is an important issue for you, then consider staying away from choosing an approach like court where your ‘hired gun’ does all the talking.

What does being heard look like for you? Does it mean explaining face to face with your spouse or partner your list of needs and ‘should haves’? You do want your lawyer to be present to assist you  You may not be sure exactly how to say what you want or you want to make sure that your emotion stays out and the needs stay clear. You’ll need a family law lawyer who can provide solid, experienced legal advice for you and provide accurate speaking points you can deliver.

Other types of process questions to ask revolve around privacy, confidentiality, financial security, scheduling, developing mutual understanding, keeping the children out of the process, emotional difficulties, fairness, reasonableness, a level of certainty?

Next, look at the substantive areas. These are topics which cluster around a single issue. The most common clusters relate to the children, dividing property, the family residence, and support issues. Each of the clusters may intersect with another such as children and support and matrimonial home or spousal support and property division. Some matters may also fall into two clusters of issues such as business interests may be considered both property and as a source of support.

For example what is important to you regarding the children? Children’s issues may include a developing a parenting plan, healthcare, educational matters such as gifted or remedial programs, travel, religious practices, introducing new partners and post secondary program savings plans. All of these questions have in common the financial component of child support.

Another substantive area is property. How will you share the investments and debts? What will happen to the family residence? How will the lines of credit and credit cards be paid off? How will the family business be kept profitable? Who gets to use the time share?

The matrimonial home or family residence is another substantive area. If the family home is also the location of a small business, can the business be moved? If the residence is the secure home base for the children rooted in the neighborhood, how will a potential move impact the children at this stage of their lives? Does the home have sufficient equity to make selling the property a good idea? Can adding a rental space tip the decision in favour of keeping the house?

The issue of support leads to many questions about the lifestyle you lived during your cohabitation, your financial needs to set up a second household, your future economic security and your current financial status.  Gathering the factual information will help you ask questions about what level of financial security meets your needs, the amount and duration of what you are entitled to receive, and if you are paying support, how much are you able to provide and still have a secure future for yourself.  Would a neutral financial specialist be useful to help you understand the financial health of the family business, plan your retirement portfolio, or calculated the necessary funds to shore up the RESP sufficient for all the children?

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