Family law can be very complicated, especially in matters of support, custody and property. Legal advice is always recommended. The information and forms on this site do not take the place of having legal advice from a lawyer. A lawyer can help individuals to better understand their rights and the legal options that are available.
An individual searching for a lawyer will often ask friends to recommend one. You can also search for lawyers in your city by using the “find a lawyer” feature of the Law Society of Saskatchewan website. Many lawyers offer free or low-cost initial consultations.
Finding a lawyer knowledgeable in a particular area of law may require some research. Lawyers are not allowed to advertise that they are a “specialist” without a recognized certification but may indicate that they have a preferred area of practice or restrict their area of practice. They can also indicate their related experience. Advertising a preferred or designated area of practice alone, however, does not ensure that a lawyer has extensive experience in that particular area.
Separating and divorcing couples may choose to take a collaborative approach to reach a solution to all issues arising out of the breakdown of their relationship. Each party works with their own collaborative lawyer that has been trained to negotiate fair and reasonable settlements. The process is client‑controlled, with lawyers representing each party while guiding them towards reaching a settlement. The parties must commit to reaching a settlement through a collaborative process outside of the courts and agree that the lawyers will not represent the clients in court if no agreement is reached. If, however, the parties reach an agreement, the lawyers will work with the clients to obtain any required court orders.
The collaborative law process allows separating and divorcing couples to reach a settlement in a non‑adversarial fashion. The parties are able to cooperate with one another while receiving legal advice and advocacy throughout the process. Because the parties are working together to reach a settlement that addresses their unique situation, the process can be less time‑consuming and less costly. For more information visit Collaborative Family Law.
Legal Aid lawyers are available to act for eligible people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer and who need assistance in the areas of criminal law and family law, except the division of family property. Legal Aid can assist people dealing with custody, access, child support and spousal support issues, as well as divorce applications. Individuals will generally be eligible if…
- they are receiving Social Assistance
- they are earning incomes at or below the amount set out in the Financial Income Grid
To contact Legal Aid, look under the Government of Saskatchewan blue pages in your telephone directory or in the yellow pages under “Lawyers” or go to www.legalaid.sk.ca.
Legal Aid does not deal with the division of family property. Individuals that cannot afford a lawyer at the beginning of a court application, but expect to see proceeds from the division of family property, may be able to arrange to pay a lawyer once their family property claim is dealt with. To learn more about fee arrangements see How Legal Fees Are Determined.
If you cannot afford a lawyer and you do not qualify for Legal Aid you may be able to get legal help through Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan. Visit their website at www.pblsask.ca or call 1 (855) 833-7257 (Toll Free). On this website you can find their Legal Services Information Sheet, which explains the options and services available in different communities throughout Saskatchewan for people who need a lawyer but cannot afford to hire one.
What to Expect from a Lawyer
The Law Society of Saskatchewan regulates the conduct of Saskatchewan lawyers. It sets standards lawyers must meet in order to practice law. Lawyers must be competent in the law and have the necessary skills to practice law. In the course of providing this service, a lawyer should…
- keep you reasonably informed
- respond to your telephone calls
- respond within a reasonable time to communications that require a reply
- inform you of proposals of settlement and explain them properly
- not withhold information from you or mislead you in order to cover up negligence or mistakes
- make a prompt report when the work is finished
In addition, a lawyer has a duty to hold in strict confidence all information acquired about you in the course of the professional relationship. As well, a lawyer owes a duty to you not to withdraw services except for good cause and upon notice appropriate in the circumstances.
How Legal Fees Are Determined
Lawyers may charge an hourly rate, they may charge a fee for a particular service, or they may work on a contingency basis. Which route they take will depend, to a large extent, on the circumstances and the type of service involved.
The Law Society has developed a schedule of fees, called a tariff of costs, which serves as a guideline for lawyers and the public. This schedule is not binding in any manner; rather it is intended to suggest charges thought to be appropriate for a particular service. It is subject to adjustment depending on the experience of the lawyer, the time the job takes and the professional skill required.
In addition, there will be many services that a lawyer is called upon to perform which are not specified in the tariff. A lawyer will, for example, be frequently asked to advise, negotiate, settle, compromise or in other ways adjust and give opinions on important matters. In such cases, charges are usually made on an hourly rate. Hourly rates will vary depending on the individual lawyer and their expertise.
For some transactions, lawyers may choose to charge on a fee-for-service basis rather than an hourly rate. This is sometimes called a flat fee. Matters such as land transactions, work related to estates and debt collections are frequently billed in this fashion. When computing their fee for legal work in these areas, many lawyers charge a percentage of the value of the property, estate or debt. The tariff might suggest what percentage would be appropriate to charge.
There are times when a lawyer may agree to work on a contingency basis, however, contingency agreements are prohibited for services that relate to child custody or access matters and require court approval in other family law areas. Contingency agreements involve a lawyer taking a percentage of a settlement or award instead of charging on an hourly basis. This type of agreement is sometimes made when a client could not otherwise afford to pay a lawyer. Under this arrangement, lawyers generally agree to take 20–50% of any money that is awarded to their client, provided that in the end such a sum is reasonable. If the client isn’t awarded anything, the lawyer will not receive any legal fees, but the client will usually be responsible for payment of any disbursements.
Disbursements are expenses that must be paid in the course of dealing with the matter at hand. For example, clients must generally pay for any long distance phone calls that must be made, as well as the cost of filing or registering documents regardless of their fee arrangement.
It is possible that a lawyer will ask for a retainer before doing any legal work. This is common practice in the legal profession. Under some circumstances, money that a lawyer is given in advance may also be put into a trust account and used toward payment of fees or disbursements owing.
If you have received legal services, you may feel you have been overcharged or you may not understand an item on your legal bill. In this case, you should go back to the lawyer and ask for an explanation. Lawyers keep close track of the time spent on each matter and should be able to tell you the precise reason for the cost. If you are still not satisfied, you may want to contact the Law Society. Another option is to have your bill “assessed”. This means asking a court official to go over the bill to see if the charges are appropriate. An application to have the bill assessed must be made to the court within 30 days after delivery of the bill. Under special circumstances the court may waive this limitation. A general information package on assessment is available from the Law Society of Saskatchewan.
Firing a Lawyer
If you are not happy with the service you are receiving, you can certainly fire your lawyer. However, you must pay what is owed for work already done. Once an account is paid, you are entitled to receive documents and materials on your file so that you may pass them on to the lawyer who takes over your case. If you prefer, your new lawyer may ask to have the file transferred directly to them. Anyone who has a serious complaint about a lawyer can report the matter to the Law Society. The complaint will be investigated and possibly sent to the Society’s Discipline Committee for further action. A discussion of common concerns as well as information about the complaint process is also available from the Law Society of Saskatchewan.
Starting over with a new lawyer can be costly and time consuming. Before changing lawyers, you may want to try to resolve your concerns with your lawyer. It is very important that you and your lawyer understand one another. Tell your lawyer if you don’t understand something and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Discuss your concerns with your lawyer and be sure you understand what is going on with your file and the reasons behind it. Once you understand the situation clearly, as well as the limitations of the legal system, you may be satisfied. If you are still dissatisfied or feel that the lawyer-client relationship is simply not working, move on. If you feel that your lawyer has not met the required legal standards for the profession, contact the Law Society.
Alternatives to Hiring a Lawyer
Not every legal problem requires a lawyer. Sometimes people can deal with the situation if they have the right information. Others times, legal representation may be advisable, but not everyone can afford to hire a lawyer.
Researching the Law
Legal research can be very complex and will often require the expertise of a trained professional but there are some ways that individuals can research the law themselves. Finding answers to legal questions can involve doing research in a number of places: a public library, a law library or government department.
There are several sources of law, including written laws, called statutes, and court decisions, called case law. Often to have a full picture of what a law is, we need to know both what statute law there is, as well as what case law exists in the area. Statutes help us to know what a particular law says, while case law can help us to understand how a particular law applies to a particular situation. Again, this may require advice from a lawyer.
Our statute laws can be passed by Parliament or the provincial Legislative Assembly, depending on whether the federal government or the provinces have the constitutional responsibility for that area of the law. Municipal governments fall under provincial responsibility and also pass laws called bylaws. Judges interpret statutes when they decide cases in court. They often look to related case law to see what other judges have said. These judicial decisions form part of the law, just as statutes do.
Saskatchewan legislation, such as The Family Maintenance Act, The Children’s Law Act and The Family Property Act, is available for free download online at the Queen’s Printer. Federal legislation, such as the Divorce Act, is available online at the Department of Justice Canada.
When a judge gives written reasons for a decision in a court case, those reasons are recorded and are available to the public. Legal publishers select cases of significance to be reported and printed in law reports. Law reports are available to the public at law libraries, some public libraries and online.
There are many law reports available. Some provinces have a provincial report, such as the Saskatchewan Reports. There are also collections of cases that deal with a particular subject area, such as the Canada Family Law Digest. Law libraries also have digests or reference works to help in researching the law.
Public libraries and regional libraries often have general legal information and copies of important legislation. They can be a good beginning point for some understanding of a problem or question.
Many government departments and agencies have publications and fact sheets on a wide range of topics that outline rules and regulations, appeal processes and other resources. Most departments are listed in the blue pages of your telephone directory. Several resources are available online, including government departments and educational sites. Many federal departments can be reached through the Government of Canada’s website at www.canada.ca. Many provincial departments can be reached through the provincial government’s website at www.saskatchewan.ca. Both websites provide access to actual legislation, as well as general legal information, answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) and links to other government departments and related organizations.
Books, booklets and pamphlets about the law may be the easiest place to turn when you are looking for general legal information. In addition to government agencies and community organizations, special interest groups can often provide publications that may provide answers to your general questions about particular laws. The Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan (PLEA) provides legal information and education on a variety of topics, including family law. PLEA does not give legal advice for specific problems. However, PLEA can help with general legal information, including suggestions on where to turn with a problem. PLEA is a province-wide service.