Divorce is emotional. Here’s why having a good lawyer is vital

You’ve invested years of your life in a relationship. You’ve planned a future together, perhaps had children.

And now, that relationship is over.

Everything you once held to be true is in turmoil and you have to find a new way to move forward.

Finding a divorce lawyer who will serve your best interests is not the same as finding a friend who will take your side on everything. The best family law practitioner is someone who will be a fierce advocate for your rights but who also acts as a knowledgeable and objective guide through a complicated legal system.

“The process can be so overwhelming,” says Janneke Lewis, a family lawyer, mediator and parenting co-ordinator with Pettit and Company Trial Lawyers. “It takes knowing the legal system to be able to function effectively within it.”

Lewis has been a family lawyer in British Columbia since 2001, when she first worked with the firm’s founder, Tim Pettit. “He is incredibly hard working, ethical and knowledgeable—all characteristics that are important to me,” she says about her recent decision to join the firm.“Pettit and Co. are strong litigators which is essential, especially when it comes to family law. If one party is reluctant to disclose all their assets or income, it’s important to go to a lawyer who knows how to obtain the relevant information. Once you have full disclosure, it’s easier to come to a settlement.”

Divorce transforms a relationship that was based on love into something that becomes, in essence, a business transaction. Assets get appraised and divided; monetary value is given to things that are freighted with emotional meaning.

When there are children involved, it becomes even more complex. “Adults make their own decisions but children are tied to their parents’ decisions,” Lewis says. Her advice to parents is that “divorce will disrupt your child’s life but it doesn’t have to destroy it as long as you both can be respectful towards them. Don’t pull them into this. This is their mom. This is their dad. This is half of them. You might have every right to be angry with your spouse but that’s different from how your children feel.

“My experience,” Lewis adds, “is that if we get caught up in angst and anger it will protract the litigation, perhaps when there doesn’t even need to be litigation in the first place. I am very direct right from the beginning. I say, ‘I hear you, I get it, but this is what we need to do.’”

“For me it’s about empathy and fairness,” agrees Caitlin MacDonnell, who has also recently joined Pettit and Company’s expanding family law practice on the North Shore and Squamish. “Someone in a divorce is going through one of the worst times in their lives so they’ll be emotional; then there are all these legal issues that they have to deal with. A lot of our work is about supporting them through that process.”

Divorce law assigns rights and responsibilities, which can have serious and long-term consequences.

“The court system is extremely complex, whether it’s always right or the best way to do things,” says MacDonnell, who notes that, in B.C., a couple is a legal entity if they’ve been together for two or more years, whether they’re married or not. “When I’m meeting with a client, I’m listening to everything that’s going on and pulling out the legal issues that we can speak to a judge or opposing counsel about.

“Without a lawyer, people can feel it didn’t end up fairly for them. My job is to have already seen all of these things and how a judge will view them. I protect the interests of my client. For them, divorce is often quite lonely and it’s nice to have someone on their side.”

Founded in 2011, Pettit and Company has built its reputation on an innovative handling of legal strategies. The firm is also pleased that Alexandra (Allie) Booth is bringing her 20 years of experience to the practice, and to be working again with Amanda Groves, who worked closely with Pettit when they were first at North Shore Law.

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