A growing number of couples seeking divorce are taking matters into their own hands, according to experts. People are looking for alternative dispute resolutions, exploring self-representation and using apps in their divorce process.
Karen Stewart, founder of Fairway Divorce Solutions, said the first two months of the year are often the most popular time for couples to file for divorce.
“We see applications for divorce and people making decisions to divorce usually after family holidays. So often after the Christmas holidays, spring break and summer,” Stewart said.
“You’ll see an increase in January and February, in the fall, and usually in the spring.”
Six years ago, Jonathan Verk went through what he calls “a horrible litigated divorce.” He said if he could do it over again, he would want to avoid so much time in court.
“As bad as it was for us, it was devastating for our kids who, for four years, watched their parents pitted against each other in a deliberate adversarial system,” Verk said.
Stewart said more couples are looking for alternative dispute resolutions, such as mediators.
“Really you’re saying: ‘We’re not going to go to court, we’re not going to file affidavits, we’re not going to throw statements of claim and use the system. We’re going to use a methodology and use people to help use make decisions,'” Stewart said.
“That’s super great, especially when we’re talking about families and the ability to co-parent.”
For people who do end up in court, there’s a growing trend for people to file their own actions and represent themselves. Stewart said one reason is that people are looking to save money in this economic climate.
“You’d be amazed at the number of people in Canada that are self representing,” Stewart said.
Sherrill Ellsworth, a former American judge with 10 years’ experience presiding over family court, said about 75 per cent of divorce cases in Canada and the United States have at least one litigant who is representing themselves.
“It’s an incredibly complicated area and they’re trying to go through it and navigate it on their own. It’s almost impossible,” Ellsworth said.
In light of their own experiences with the legal system, Verk and Ellsworth created an app called coParenter to help parents manage, organize and document co-parenting decisions around the kids.
The app was officially released in early 2019, aimed at separated, divorced and never-married parents. It also includes access to a live professional who can mediate agreements and resolve disputes.
“In that family law courtroom, I found I had limited tools to help these families dealing with the most difficult time in their lives,” Ellsworth said.
She said one of the problems of divorce court is a majority of issues presented are not legal issues.
“I’ll hear a domestic violence case with all these complicated issues and the very next case might be: ‘I don’t want my child to eat food that isn’t organic.’ How does that belong in a courtroom?” she said.
One of the aims of coParenter is to keep those non-legal issues out of the courtroom.
“The tool would have predicted and helped us prevent some of the low-level simple conflicts that impact so many people,” Verk said.
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