By Jo McFetridge, Family Lawyer in Victoria, B.C.
I consider this a public service announcement.
Please, please don’t use one of those “free”, do-it-yourself separation agreements that you can download on the Internet. Please consult a family lawyer instead.
This is kind of like a Holmes on Homes blog post, because while I’d love to be a TV star, I’m sure the Law Society would frown upon me running a TV show where I swoop in and rescue people from their legal DIY disasters.
These DIY agreements are atrocious. They really will not save you money or trouble. They aren’t acceptable to lenders on a mortgage refinance, either.
I’ve yet to see one in this office that wasn’t a piece of garbage. I can’t tell you how many people per year come in to my office, needing to be rescued from the fallout from these little gems. The most common issues include:
– agreement fails to deal with all issues and claims arising from the relationship;
– agreement fails to deal with one or more significant assets;
– agreement is frankly incomprehensible;
– agreement is ambiguous with respect to significant issue(s); and, my favourite:
– agreement fails to deal with the “what if” when one party isn’t able to follow through with their end of the deal, chiefly around refinancing the family home in that person’s sole name.
A binding, proper separation agreement drafted by a lawyer is a modest cost. On the other hand, litigation over a DIY disaster can cost you triple, five times that.
Perhaps more importantly, the holes these DIYs create by what they miss or treat incompletely open up fertile opportunities to wriggle out of the DIY, or renegotiate key issues around your separation. And preventing that was, of course, the point of getting an agreement in the first place.