You might be able to get help from a family duty counsel (FDC) lawyer (sometimes called family duty counsellors) if:
- you have a family law issue, and
- you can't afford to pay for a lawyer.
Family duty counsel lawyers can give you advice about things like:
- parenting time
- child or spousal support
- protection orders, if you're facing violence
- any other urgent orders you need to keep you or children safe
But they can only spend a limited amount of time with you, so it's worth taking the time to think about a few things and get organized before you meet with them.
Here are some things you can do to help you make the most of your time with your family duty counsel lawyer:
- Write out a short version of your issue for them. If possible, type it so it's easy to read. Include all the important facts, such as:
- why you're separating
- important dates (for example, when you started living together or got married, and when you separated)
- details about any physical or mental abuse in your relationship (if you want a protection order)
- how many children you have and their ages
- if you're working and how much you earn
- if the other person's working and how much they earn
- where you're living and if you can keep living there without support
- your current arrangements for the children and money
- Think about any questions you want to ask. Write them down and take them to the meeting.
- Think about what you want for yourself, your children, and your finances. For example, are you willing to have your children split their time between your home and your spouse's? Write these things down and take them to your meeting as well. The more you've thought about these things the more the family duty counsel lawyer will be able to advise you. They might:
- say that a court's unlikely to award what you want, but
- suggest what's possible.
- Take lots of paper and a pen so you can write down the answers to your questions. You might get a form called Advice Given that lists the advice family duty counsel lawyer gives you but it's still a good idea to make your own notes.
Your family duty counsel lawyer will also need certain information about you, your spouse, and your situation so they can give you legal advice and talk about different options with you.
Here's a list of the information they'll need:
- your phone number (or all your phone numbers if you have more than one) and any other contact information
- photo identification that shows your full name and address, such as your driver's licence or BCID (tell them if you don't want anyone else to see this information)
- the full names and birth dates of all your children
- information about any serious medical problems you or your children have and any medication you or your children need
- the full name and address, if you know it, of the other person (family duty counsel might use the word party instead of person)
- information about where you and the other person work
- all the documents you have that relate to your case, including:
- any agreements you made with your spouse before or after you separated
- any court orders
- any new applications
If you want to talk about property or support, you'll need:
- information about your income and everything you know about the other person's income
- your tax returns or summaries for the past three years
- copies of the other person's tax returns for the past three years
- a list of everything that you and the other person own together or separately, including property, pension plans, RRSPs, TFSAs, or bank accounts (even if they have only the other person's name on them)
- your most recent property tax assessments
- your three most recent pay stubs
- copies of the other person's pay stubs, if possible
- a list of debts that either or both of you have
Lots of people don't have all this paperwork ready for their first meeting with the FDC. If you don't have everything on this list, that's okay. Just think about whether you know some of the information contained in these records like wages and yearly income.
If the police have been involved with your family, bring the business cards of the police officers you dealt with.
Lots of people feel very stressed about meeting with a family duty counsel lawyer. If you can, bring someone to help you take notes or just give you a bit of support.