How to Get an Affordable Divorce

Divorce can be expensive. In my experience, divorce is also one of the many causes of insolvency. The reason for this is when you are living together, you only have one bill for rent, cable, and utilities, but two incomes. You are in a better position to save money. When you separate, suddenly all these expenses become yours. What’s more, if it’s not an easy separation and lawyers are involved, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars. It’s no small expense and it’s often funded through debt.

But, is it possible to have an affordable divorce? Are lawyers really needed to get a separation? What if you’re on amicable terms with your spouse? My guest today suggests there is an alternative to costly divorce: mediation.

Colette Fortin is a mediator with Fairway Divorce Solutions in Kitchener. She helps people who are facing a separation develop a plan for their finances and children, with a focus on reducing cost and saving time. According to Colette, the reason why a traditional divorce can be so expensive is because of how much longer it takes to reach an agreement:

I think one of the things that has really broken down with the traditional system is the fact that you have two lawyers negotiating the terms of the separation. And so you’ve got this duplication of financial disclosure. The numbers are never the same.

With mediation, however, Colette is able to learn her clients’ situation with an initial meeting, where both spouses are present:

You’re disclosing once and we’re bringing consensus on the numbers, valuation of assets right from the beginning so that we’re not doing that position bargaining that happens. And so you’re eliminating that duplication.

The process also allows for creativity in problem-solving and immediately addressing the areas in which other experts need to be involved, so an agreement can be reached sooner.

How Long Does Divorce Mediation Take?

The average mediation session takes about 3 to 4 months to complete:

Most of the time I would say within the first three months we’re getting that call; because people have heard and people are becoming much more aware that they have choice.

Mediation allows couples to be strategic and make informed decisions as they move through their separation. The goal is to work out all the details and create a resolution plan, capturing all the decisions that have been made, in an efficient manner. Colette states that her clients do obtain legal advice at the end of the process because a mediator does not draft separation agreements:

Always prudent to have a lawyer draft the agreement and review by separate counsel so that you’ve had that opportunity to look at the big picture. But working out the details about who’s going to drive to hockey on Friday, you don’t need to pay $700 an hour to do that.

Is Divorce Mediation for Everyone?

Divorce mediation works best if you are willing to work with your spouse to come to an agreement:

The concept of divorce mediation is both parties need to feel they have voice, they can articulate their thoughts and their ideas and there can’t be any pressure. Like, if you touch my pension I’m going after custody. Those are not the kinds of things that can happen in the context of mediation.

However, there are certain instances, like domestic and financial abuse, in which it’s better to have a lawyer involved right away. Colette elaborates:

If you’re not on the same page and there’s conflict in the relationship and you’re seeing that line of credit moving and you’re not able to talk about it, then getting counsel to help you sort of navigate those early days is definitely a situation where it’s appropriate. There are also issues where there is addiction or mental health issues and, again, lawyers but also other professionals to assist you with those difficult situations is very, very important.

For a more detailed understanding of how divorce mediation works, tune in to our podcast or read the complete transcription below.

Resources Mentioned in the Show

Fairway Divorce Solutions Website
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FULL TRANSCRIPT – SHOW 193 How to Get an Affordable Divorce

how to get an affordable divorce

Doug Hoyes:    27% of people who file a bankruptcy or a consumer proposal with Hoyes Michalos are separated or divorced at the time they file with us. Of those people, 40% say that the breakdown of their relationship was a significant cause of their financial problems and it’s easy to see why. When you’re living together you often have two incomes but only one set of expenses. It’s the old saying two can live as cheaply as one. That’s not exactly true but it is true that if you are living together you only have one bill each month for rent and home phone and cable and utilities. When you get separated, you’re down to one income but you have to pay all of the expenses yourself. There is no one to share them with.

That’s a problem but it’s even worse when the separation is contentious and involves lawyers. I’ve met with hundreds of people over the years who’ve told me that they spend tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers, on property and custody issues and to finalise the arrangements for a separation or divorce. Of course, my clients don’t have tens of thousands of dollars sitting in the bank so they end up borrowing the money to pay their legal bills and then they end up in my office. So, what’s the solution? If you’re on decent terms with your ex you could just work out a deal yourself. You take the TV, I’ll take the couch and we go our separate ways.

That’s great. But what if there are assets involved or children or support issues? Don’t you need a lawyer? And if you do need a lawyer is there a way to minimise the cost while still protecting yourself? That’s the discussion today on Debt Free in 30. So let’s meet my guest. Who are you and what do you do?

Colette Fortin:  I’m Colette Fortin. I’m the Owner of Fairway Divorce Solutions here in Waterloo region.

Doug Hoyes:    Great, thanks Colette. And we are here in your office in Waterloo today and before I get you to explain in more detail what you do let me read my standard disclaimer. You know, this show is not an advertisement for my guests. They don’t pay me to be on this show and I don’t pay them to be on this show. So I contacted Colette and asked her to be on the show because I know this is an important issue for my clients and I know everyone listening will learn something today. And I also want to make the point that this is not legal advice. We’re not giving legal advice here. If you want legal advice go talk to a lawyer. We’re going to talk in some big picture concepts here. So with that background, okay, explain to me exactly is it you do. What is Fairway Divorce Solutions? What do you guys do?

Colette Fortin:  So Fairway provides an alternative for people who are facing separation, to help them and guide them through the discussions that need to happen so that they can sort out their financial issues and develop a plan for their children. And I say it’s an alternative because it’s no secret that the traditional system that we knew to be Mrs. Client immediately retains a lawyer. Mr. Client retains a lawyer and then the two lawyers negotiate the terms of the separation. That system has broken down. It’s expensive and has a lot of duplication of communication and such and divorce mediation really is about guiding people through the process so that they can make informed decisions and be much more strategic as they move through the separation.

Doug Hoyes:    Okay. So let’s take a scenario then, where two people are, you know, contemplating a separation or divorce. So they phone you up and then what happens? Are you meeting with both of them or just one of them?

Colette Fortin:  Always, always we meet with both parties the first time.

Doug Hoyes:    Okay and probably in this very room we’re sitting in here today. So they both come in and what happens? You know, what is divorce mediation? How does it work?

Colette Fortin:  So, the first thing that I do is, when I meet people is I get a sense of their situation. Every family is different, in terms of are they living together? Are they living apart? What is the financial picture? Do they have children? Are they on the same page about the kids? So kind of getting the lay of the land, and the concept or the process that we guide our clients through, we call it independent negotiation. And what that means is we’re meeting thereafter individually with each person, guiding them through our step by step process, so that they can make the financial decisions that need to be made, i.e. who is going to keep the house? Will the house be sold? What about the RSPs and the pension?

So, really, basing the financial component of a separation and guiding them through those discussions and helping them develop a plan. When it comes to the children there’s a lot of coaching that goes on in this office. Because, let’s face it, separation is emotional. It’s raw. There’s a lot of hurt feelings. There’s a lot of fear about the future. So how do we … we guide them through the discussions they need to have to help them develop a future plan for their kids and our focus is to reduce the cost, to save time and to protect their relationship.

Doug Hoyes:    And I want to talk about the cost in a minute, but … so I come in here for the first meeting. Like, how many meetings would we have, where the two of us are together? How many follow-up meetings? Obviously, every case is different but –

Colette Fortin:  So generally the first meeting is always together so that I … because we do consider ourselves neutral third party, so it’s important that that first point of contact be made together, and I always start by, you know, letting our listeners know that, and we’re going to talk about this in a moment, when is it appropriate to be in mediation and when it’s not. Because certainly cases where there’s violence in the home it’s not appropriate to be in mediation. So we’ll talk about that in a little bit; so they come through, I get the sense of their situation and then we have our individual meeting. They provide financial disclosure on all their financial information. That’s mandatory. All statements and assets be valued and agreed upon and then from there we meet individually to go through what we call scenarios.

Doug Hoyes:    So you might have one or two meetings together, upfront?

Colette Fortin:  One or two together and then all financial discussions are separate. And that’s one of the cornerstones of Fairway’s Model, and I think it’s particularly important because generally one of the two spouses handled the finances in the marriage.

Doug Hoyes:    Right.

Colette Fortin:  And so you’ve got a very different knowledge base as you’re working through those numbers, and being able to explain the terms and the concepts, one-on-one, allows each person to really gain a deep understanding of what does an RSP mean and how does that RSP transfer work and really customise those discussions.

Doug Hoyes:    So you called it independent negotiation. How does that differ, then, from the traditional process? I mean, obviously the traditional process … you already said it. I get a lawyer, my spouse gets a lawyer and we fight it out. Is that the big difference then?

Colette Fortin:  Well, I think one of the things that has really broken down with the traditional system is the fact that you have two lawyers negotiating the terms of the separation. And so you’ve got this duplication of financial disclosure. The numbers are never the same. With Fairway’s model you’re disclosing once and we’re bringing consensus on the numbers, valuation of assets right from the beginning so that we’re not doing that position bargaining that happens. And so you’re eliminating that duplication. I don’t have to write a letter to myself when I meet with a client to say if a client says, you know, this is really important to me and when you have the next discussion with my spouse I really want that to be a part of that conversation.

I have the information. So right away you’re eliminating the duplication. And I always say it’s not lawyers, per se, that are the issue. It’s the structure of Family Law for the majority of the population, as you talked about. If you’re on relatively good terms it doesn’t mean you necessarily agree on everything, but you’re in a place where you can have those discussions. It’s the structure of it. You can’t have one lawyer help you through your separation. So immediately you’re setting up two sides, for lack of a better word.

Doug Hoyes:    Well, and we can debate whether lawyers are the problem or not but we’ll have that discussion another day. I mean, obviously the other problem with the structure is a lawyer gets paid by the hour, so why do in 10 hours what you can do in 20, right? So there’s –

Colette Fortin:  Well, and I think the duplication, then, creates this onerous process and the lack of structure and I –

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah.

Colette Fortin:  – think –

Doug Hoyes:    So what you’re saying, in the traditional process, both lawyers are gathering all of the information. What are all the debts? What are all the assets? What’s all this? What’s all that? And then, kind of, combining and going okay, wait a minute, your number’s different than mine and back and forth, back and forth, whereas in your process, well let’s sit down and put it all on a piece of paper –

Colette Fortin:  And you’re going to give me the statements and I will consolidate the financials so that I know the numbers. I have actually physically seen and I have a hard copy of your RSPs and your credit card bills. Not your sort of you fil out the form and give it to me. I create it so that we’re sure it’s accurate.

Doug Hoyes:    You’ve got the actual source documents, yeah. And that’s exactly the way we do a bankruptcy or consumer proposal. Bring me your statements.

Colette Fortin:  Exactly.

Doug Hoyes:    That way we’ve got them in front of us.

Colette Fortin:  And our clients do obtain independent legal advice at the end of the process, because a mediator doesn’t draft the legal agreement, because a separation agreement is sort of that final document. But the idea is they’re being very strategic as to how much and when they retain counsel to assist with their separation.

Doug Hoyes:    Wow. So let’s talk about lawyers then. So you said at the end of the process lawyers will get involved. When would it be … when do I need a lawyer and when do I not need a lawyer; so even at the beginning of the process. So you already gave one example where there was a case of, you know, domestic violence or domestic abuse. Then in that case okay, well we’re not going to be mediating this. This is –

Colette Fortin:  That’s right. That’s right.

Doug Hoyes:    That’s not going to be appropriate. Under what circumstances should I be talking to a lawyer right away, other than that?

Colette Fortin:  Well, if you have concerns that there is an amount of spending on a line of credit, so if you … a lot of people have a home equity line of credit. And if you’re not on the same page and there’s conflict in the relationship and you’re seeing that line of credit moving and you’re not able to talk about it then getting counsel to help you sort of navigate those early days is definitely a situation where it’s appropriate. There are also issues where there is addiction or mental health issues and, again, lawyers but also other professionals to assist you with those difficult situations is very, very important. And as I said before, in the concept of divorce mediation both parties need to feel they have voice, they can articulate their thoughts and their ideas and there can’t be any pressure. Like, if you touch my pension I’m going after custody. Those are not the kinds of things that can happen in the context of mediation.

Doug Hoyes:    So would you say that mediation is most appropriate when it is … I don’t want to call it a friendly divorce or a friendly separation but, you know, you’re kind of on the same page with it. Yeah, okay we both realise we’re getting separated. Let’s make this as easy as possible.

Colette Fortin:  Correct. And we don’t necessarily come to this process agreeing on everything. I mean, certainly if everybody agreed to everything before they came to see us I think I’d have –

Doug Hoyes:    Five minute meeting.

Colette Fortin:  Yeah. I’d only have half the cases that I have. So we deal with situations where they’re in a dispute about the children and parenting time or, you know, I don’t think I should have to pay for that credit card because I didn’t know or I didn’t spend that money and … so not everyone is what I would call amicable, but at the same time, because the meetings are individual, they’re not sitting in the same room for very many sessions. Very few times they’re in the same room is usually if we’re talking about the children and the cornerstone for us is let’s deal with the money first and then we’ll work on the kids and the plan for the kids so that we’re not using the children as a bargaining chip.

Doug Hoyes:    Got you. And then would you have contact with these other professionals then, lawyers, you know, marriage counsellors, addiction people, that sort of thing, that you would then refer people to?

Colette Fortin:  Absolutely. And certainly when people have businesses as well or if there’s a need for an actuary or … basically guiding people through whatever situation they need. And sometimes we’re coaches and sometimes we’re facilitators and sometimes we’re negotiating.

Doug Hoyes:    Got you.

Colette Fortin:  Depending on the situation.

Doug Hoyes:    And so … okay, I can see two big advantages to this. One would be, you know, we’re keeping the lawyers out of it, so it becomes less confrontational if we’re both sitting in the same room and trying to push it forward. I would assume, then, the other big advantage would be it’s cheaper. Is that true? Is the case the cost cheaper than going the traditional route?

Colette Fortin:  Well certainly, because emotions, when you’re in that traditional, you’re hurt, you’re raw. The, who did what to whom? A big part of our work is certainly the numbers and working through the settlement. But it’s also helping people manage … although we’re not counsellors the reality is it is emotional. Helping people manage through that. So we’re being very effective as we’re guiding people through and, again, our clients do obtain legal advice and do retain lawyers to draft the agreement but the idea is you’re going to work out all your details here and the plan that we … the report that we write, we call it a resolution plan, is very comprehensive so that it captures all the decisions that they’ve made.

Doug Hoyes:    So the lawyer just puts it into legal words and –

Colette Fortin:  And they obtain independent legal advice and signing and such.

Doug Hoyes:    So your cost, then, is based on the number of hours you put into it? So a more complicated case is going to cost more? Is that roughly how it works?

Colette Fortin:  Essentially at the consultation that’s where I’m sort of doing the assessment and one of the things we identified about the traditional system that was broken down is the hourly model. Because when you ask a family lawyer how much will my separation cost? How long will it take and what will my outcome be, they have no –

Doug Hoyes:    They don’t know.

Colette Fortin:  They don’t know. It’s not their fault. It’s that I don’t know who’s on the other side. I’ve never met your spouse. I don’t know what level of conflict the two of you have. And so we’ve developed a flat fee model, and flat fee is different for every family because it does depend on conflict and complexity of the financial picture, to sort of help people through. But they know, at the outset, what the cost will be.

Doug Hoyes:    So … and, again, every situation is different, but kind of your average type of situation that you deal with, so not the simplest one, not the most complicated one, what kind of dollars are we talking, a few thousand bucks kind of a thing? Is that –

Colette Fortin:  So if the parties generally agree on the children, and that’s a big one for us. If there’s a dispute about custody of the children that’s a much more complex situation, but generally for most people they’re looking in the 5 to $7,000 range.

Doug Hoyes:    Is what they’re going to be paying to you guys?

Colette Fortin:  Yeah.

Doug Hoyes:    So on your website, which is fairwaydivorce.com, and I’ll put links in the show notes to that so people can see, you’ve got a bunch of stats and one of them is that you are more likely to get divorced if you have financial problems, and that makes perfect sense to me, and since this is a podcast about debt I’d like you to explain to us what types of financial problems you see, and I guess kind of my part two to that question is, is this a chicken and an egg thing, where financial problems lead to marriage problems or is it more marriage problems leading to financial problems? What kind of financial problems do you see?

Colette Fortin:  Well, certainly at the root of most separations I hear the word communication breakdown. So the fact that we’re unable to communicate about our finances or about parenting values or about, you know, the in-laws meddling, whatever the issue is, that’s sort of at the root of it. But when it comes to financial difficulties I agree, there is bit of a chicken, egg thing that happens. Not knowing about the financial picture is probably one of the most common … I had no idea the line of credit … where did that come … you know, the open revolving line of credit that sort of acts as a bank account/line of credit, that people have no idea. And one spouse generally does the banking and it’s not about that it’s their fault, it’s just the other party is busy doing other things and because we’re not a communicative couple, we don’t talk about it, whether it’s, you know, denial or we don’t … I was never taught how to budget.

I didn’t realise this. I mean, one of the first things I do with people is we draft a budget. Meeting two I want to know, if you’re separating, if you are living together or apart, are your bills getting paid? And for some people … for many people it’s the first time the expenses have been put on a budget sheet. And when they look at the bottom line they say wow, we’re really tight. And so I think it’s the budgeting, the not knowing, the not agreeing on who spent what, the saver and the spender dynamic in the marriage.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah and, I mean, of the 10,000 people I’ve met with, many of whom were couples, they’re always two different people. Like, I don’t remember ever meeting with a couple where they were both, you know, hardcore savers and they’re both hardcore budgeters. It’s just not the way it is. It just isn’t. I mean, I’m married to a Chartered Accountant. I’m a Chartered Accountant myself. But we’re still very traditional, in that well, one of us will handle this piece, one of us will handle that piece.

Colette Fortin:  That’s marriage.

Doug Hoyes:    That’s the way you do it.

Colette Fortin:  I mean, you know, very few people sit down and pay the bills together or plan the budget together, if there is a budget. Somebody’s coaching hockey or driving the kids here or there and the other person’s handling, you know, the yard work and then –

Doug Hoyes:    Well … and it doesn’t really make sense for us to both sit down and go okay, here’s the hydro bill, do you want to go online and push the buttons or do you want me?

Colette Fortin:  Exactly, yeah.

Doug Hoyes:    I’ll do that and you do … I mean, it just kind of makes sense. So back to my chicken and an egg question then, is it more typical, in your view, and I’m asking you a question there’s no answer to, so good luck answering it, but is it more typical that the financial problems cause the marriage problems or is it the marriage problems that cause the financial problems or is there no way to answer that question?

Colette Fortin:  I think it’s a bit of both. I think it’s a bit of both.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah.

Colette Fortin:  I think that if you are on fragile foundation of trust and communication and just … you know, I say this all the time. This happens to good people. People don’t wake up in the morning saying how am I going to sabotage my finances or sabotage my marriage; but job loss, illness, buying the house that ends up costing a lot of money. Johnny’s really good in hockey, we really should, you know, allow him to pursue that and suddenly the cost just, you know, escalates. All of those variables, if you’ve got a solid foundation of communication and trust and open dialogue you probably can get through it, but you start adding some of these life challenges and that’s sort of the beginning of –

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah and I think it’s like a snowball going downhill. It just kind of gets worse and worse. One thing makes the other thing worse, which makes the other thing worse, which makes the other thing worse. So, I mean, I’m guessing, and you can correct me here, but you probably don’t have a whole lot of multibillionaires come in here, who’ve got so much money they don’t know what to do with it or am I wrong? Do you –

Colette Fortin:  Well, we have a bit of both, because I think that people who have significant assets are also being very strategic, in saying we want to preserve our assets, maintain control over our separation so that we don’t end up spending 2, $300,000 working through our separation.

Doug Hoyes:    Got you. So the typical couple that I would deal with, who’ve gone through a separation, they would come in to me and maybe they’d both come in to me together or maybe I see one spouse or the other. It’s probably more typical I see one or the other. And they come in and they say well, you know, we got separated and it turns out I’m co-signed on the line of credit and my spouse is co-signed on this credit card, and so between the two of us we owe, like 60,000 bucks and, you know, my name’s on 40,000 of it, my spouse’s name’s on 40,000 of it, because there’s some crossover, so what do we do? And my answer is well, you know, you can try to pay it off yourself but since you’re here I know you don’t have any assets.

And now that you’re separated you certainly don’t have the cash flow to do it. So your choices are you could both go bankrupt, you could both do a proposal or we could try to do something jointly. And the problem with doing something jointly is well, you’re getting separated. So do you really want –

Colette Fortin:  That’s right, do you want to depend on your former spouse to meet their half of the obligation when you can’t control, you know, how they budget?

Doug Hoyes:    And so the typical scenario would be let’s say one of the spouse makes two thirds of the income, the other spouse makes one third, because perhaps they’re … you know, got a different job or they’re looking after kids or whatever. So, okay, we’re going to do a … you could both do something individually. You could both do a proposal, let’s say, individually and for the higher earning spouse it would cost 500 bucks a month and for the lower earning spouse it would cost 200 bucks a month or 300 bucks a month or whatever, and obviously it depends whether there is support being paid back and forth and all sorts of things. So individually it’s going to cost 800 bucks but if we do a proposal together, well maybe it’s only going to cost 600 bucks, because we’re dealing with the same creditors. We don’t have to explain to them that oh yeah, you’re getting some more money and this other unrelated proposal over there. So there is an advantage to doing it together but if it’s going to be a five year proposal –

Colette Fortin:  That’s a long time to be financially attached.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah.

Colette Fortin:  We see that as well when … now with the new stress test with mortgages. If one spouse doesn’t qualify on their own or they want to defer the sale of the property until the child is done school, because the child’s in Grade 11, the longer you stay connected, we call it clean break, the more at risk you are that things are going to turn … because people change and we may be amicable at the beginning but then, again, it’s that issue of control. We have no control over is the other person going to meet that payment?

Doug Hoyes:    And this is what makes it so difficult. Because, I mean, you give the classic example. The kid’s in Grade 11, so they’ve got another year or two, at which point oh well, they’re off to college, the house is much less of an issue. But if we sell the house now then maybe we’ve got to rent outside the school district. That’s kind of disruptive and whatnot. Whereas if we keep the house for another year or two, well who knows what’s going to happen to the real estate market? We’ve still got the mortgage and the property taxes. And what happens when the roof leaks and the furnace goes and all the rest of it?

Colette Fortin:  Can we afford to defer the sale and can the party who’s not living in the house … you know, is he or she comfortable with waiting for their equity, when there’s equity in the home, and certainly those situations, then … our plans have a very detailed … if the party in the house misses a payment then immediately the house will be sold. So there’s lots of … but it is … there’s always risk.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah.

Colette Fortin:  There’s always risk.

Doug Hoyes:    And there’s math involved, because … so when the furnace breaks, that we didn’t think was going to happen, who’s paying … well, we’re already decided you’re getting the house and I presume that affects support obligations too.

Colette Fortin:  Right.

Doug Hoyes:    So okay, we’re going to keep the house for two years, even though I’m not going to be living there. I’m going to pay a little bit extra in support, on the understanding that I’ll get some of the house when it sells and –

Colette Fortin:  That’s right.

Doug Hoyes:    – it becomes a –

Colette Fortin:  So how do we handle the capital maintenance of the property versus –

Doug Hoyes:    And when you get into a financial situation where we’re going to have to do a proposal or a bankruptcy, okay well now we’ve got an asset, and I understand in Family Law if, you know, it’s the matrimonial home and we get divorced then, you know, one spouse gets half, the other spouse gets half. Well, when the bank comes and forecloses that kind of mucks everything up or if –

Colette Fortin:  That’s right.

Doug Hoyes:    – you know, you didn’t get your taxes paid and Revenue Canada puts a lean on it or somebody else sues you. So there are –

Colette Fortin:  So the financial statement that we create has to capture debt. So the concept of equality is correct but if the spouse keeping the house is also going to absorb the credit card debt as part of a refi, as an example, well the other party isn’t going to get half the equity. That’s the analysis that you’ve got to do.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah and the complicating factor is so okay, you know, spouse number one agrees I’ll take over that line of credit, even though both of our names are on it. So the bank isn’t a party to a divorce. So the bank isn’t going to automatically say okay fine, we’ll take the other spouse’s name off the line of credit now.

Colette Fortin:  You’ve got to pre-qualify. So what we do is sort of look at the scenarios, when someone says I want to keep the house. Okay, so we create the balance sheet and we say here’s the picture if you’re keeping the house. Here’s the equalisation. Here are your liabilities that you’ll be absorbing as part of your refi. Now go to the lender and make sure it’s doable, before we draft the plan.

Doug Hoyes:    Right. And if the lender says well no, it’s not doable. You’ve only got one income now –

Colette Fortin:  Then –

Doug Hoyes:    – then what happens?

Colette Fortin:  – we got to plan B. We say okay, do you have a co-signer? Is there spousal support? If there’s spousal support happening or … then, perhaps, there’s a trade-off of I won’t pay the equalisation payment to you in lieu of monthly spousal. So every situation is a little bit different and the benefit of mediation is you get to be creative about that. But make no mistake, clean break is … you know, needs to be the priority so that you’re not co-mingling, because there’s always risk with that.

Doug Hoyes:    So let’s say we have a case where … you know, again, this example I’ve given, where there’s 60,000 bucks worth of debt and it’s kind of in both of our names or some in my name, some in the other name, whatever, and so we do all the math and it’s, like well okay, there’s no way we can, you know, do everything. We can’t keep Johnny in hockey and we can’t keep the house and we can’t do that. Perhaps the answer is we’re each going to do our own, you know, proposal, bankruptcy, whatever, get rid of the debt. Is that something you would ever … I mean, obviously you wouldn’t recommend it directly, because you’re not –

Colette Fortin:  We would send people to you –

Doug Hoyes:    Right.

Colette Fortin:  – to talk about –

Doug Hoyes:    To talk about that.

Colette Fortin:  – okay, what is possible? And then we would want to capture, sort of, what the outcome would look like and how that would play out in the context of –

Doug Hoyes:    So they would then –

Colette Fortin:  – the equalisation.

Doug Hoyes:    – come back for a follow-up meeting and go well okay, rather than having to use X number of dollars each month … I mean, $60,000 in debt, we’ve got to come up with a couple of grand a month to be servicing the debt. If we can do a proposal and it’s going to cost, between the two of us, you know, half that or a third of that then that impacts what happens with support and everything else, I guess. So –

Colette Fortin:  Exactly.

Doug Hoyes:    – again, that would be something you’d refer them to the experts –

Colette Fortin:  And then we work very closely with whomever is needed so that the plan that they come up with is the right one for them and that creativity is the piece, and really trying to help people. And you probably see this all the time. Trying to separate the emotion from the decision-making that has to happen is probably one of the hardest parts, because generally one of the spouses does not want the separation. Somebody is initiating. So there is a leaver and a leavee and it’s a completely different journey for each person. And so separating the emotions of you hurt me, you owe me, you’re going to pay, kind of thing, is the hardest part in many situations and it doesn’t mean that it’s not real and you’re not going through one … I mean, divorces rank the second most stressful event in a person’s life, but separating the emotions from the decision-making is part of the work and I think that that concept of mediation, because you’re a mediator is as much a coach and a guide and a facilitator and a negotiator as well, allows you to do that and maintain more voice and control in your separation; because you lose control if you go to court.

Doug Hoyes:    How long does it take for the average person to contact you? So from the moment one of the parties decides okay, we’re getting separated, to when they actually decide okay, let’s got the mediation route, I’m assuming it’s not ten minutes. I’m assuming it’s longer than that. Do you have any idea what the gestation period is?

Colette Fortin:  It’s a little bit … it’s all over the map, I would say, but most of the time it’s within one or two months, but sometimes we will see people who separated, still living under the same roof, six months, a year ago. I had a file once, six years in the legal arena.

Doug Hoyes:    Wow.

Colette Fortin:  Couldn’t settle it, came to see me. It took us six months, little bit longer than … for us four months is the average, and they settled. But most of the time I would say within the first three months we’re getting that call; because people have heard and people are becoming much more aware that they have choice. See, it’s not … people say well, do I have to have a lawyer? Well, anybody can draft an agreement. You can draft it on a napkin if you want. You can get a kit. But is it going to be a solid agreement? Is it going to address the future issues? Is it going to stand the test of time? That’s the issue. And so people are becoming much more aware that you have choice in how you move through the decisions that you need to make.

Always prudent to have lawyer draft the agreement and review by separate counsel so that you’ve had that opportunity to look at the big picture. But working out the details about who’s going to drive to hockey on Friday, you don’t need to pay $700 an hour to do that.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah. Yeah and you’re right, people don’t know they have options. It’s exactly the same in my business. Oh, I didn’t realise I could do that too, yeah. And so knowing the options is a good thing. Okay, so final question then. What final words of advice do you have for someone, then, who perhaps is listening to this and is either thinking well, I might be going through a separation, I am going through a separation or I’ve got a friend, a family member who’s going through this, what would the advice be that you would give that person?

Colette Fortin:  Well certainly if there is financial strain in the relationship I think having an honest discussion with your partner and knowing … putting your cards on the table and knowing what your numbers are, this is not the time to be spending. You know, when we see a lot of folks who are at the beginning of a separation January seems to be the busiest time for us, right after the holidays; so if you know, but generally people don’t make the decision on Jan 1. They’ve been thinking about it for a long time. So if you’re thinking about separation this is not the time to bury your head in the sand and avoid the credit cards and start to spend. So really be mindful of that. And just know that you have options. And certainly I encourage people, if they feel … you know, they’ve got an EAP provider at work and they have a half hour consultation with a lawyer, go have that meeting and ask the question, do you think, given my situation, the mediation is a good option for us?

And, you know, a lawyer will recommend yes, I think that this is a better out for you or you could certainly do that. So investigate, know your options. Come and meet with a mediator. We have a free consultation. And I’m not here to encourage people to separate. I’m not here to sell divorce. But I am here to help people. If they’re going through separation, if it has to be happening, you might not have chosen that this is happening to you, but you can certainly choose how you move through it.

Doug Hoyes:    And so how can people find you?

Colette Fortin:  Our website, fairwaydivorce.com. They can click the link for a free consultation and my team will reach out and coordinate that. It’s important that we meet with both spouses so that … something that we have to do the first time or they can call us at the office and we’ll set up a consultation.

Doug Hoyes:    Excellent. Well, I think that’s a great way to end it, thanks very much Colette.

Colette Fortin:  Thank you.

Doug Hoyes:    Thank you very much. That was … my guest was Colette Fortin, Mediator, Negotiator with Fairway Divorce Solutions and we recorded this right here at her office in Waterloo. I’ll put a link to Colette and her company in the show notes over at hoyes.com. That’s h, o, y, e, s dot com and we’ll also have the full transcript of today’s show and links to everything we talked about today. Thanks for listening. Until next week, I’m Doug Hoyes. That was Debt Free in 30.

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