Going through a separation or a divorceis often an emotional experience. It can be an overwhelming and stressful time that sometimes requires the assistance and guidance of a professional to ensure the process goes smoothly, in a cordial, timely and cost-effective manner.
Gary Stern has been dedicated to practising family law since he graduated from law school more than 20 years ago. Throughout the years, the dynamics of the modern family have evolved, and Stern’s long-standing focus on family law has allowed him to provide clients with guidance based on his consistent knowledge of the law as it relates to their specific situation.
“From my experience, people fail to realize that things change over time and not every eventuality can be dealt with at the time you settle matters, whether through a separation agreement or from going to court. Things change, society changes and people change,” says Stern.
His Toronto practice is focused on all aspects of family law including separation agreements, divorces, annulments, custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, cohabitation agreements, marriage contracts, step-parent adoptions, variation proceedings, mediations, four-way meetings, arbitrations and court, if necessary. Clients will take solace in knowing that they will have confidential, daily and direct contact with Stern and his legal assistant throughout the separation or divorce process. Stern has another office located in Whitby, Ont., for client convenience.
Stern has committed himself to the practice of alternative dispute resolution methods including mediation, arbitration and collaborative law. Stern says he thinks parties should consider mediation if they are intending to separate and want to resolve matters as quickly and amicably as possible.
“I am a firm believer in mediation and mediation/arbitration as an alternative to court. I am quite confident that with the right mediator at the head of the table, each and every file will settle, even the ugly ones”.
Alternative Resolution Methods
Stern explains the differences between mediation, arbitration and collaborative law. He notes both parties must mutually agree on which process they would like to proceed with.
“Mediation is where either the parties themselves, or with lawyers, hire a third-party professional depending on the issues, to meet with them and try to resolve matters amicably. In some cases, people hire mediators like family law lawyers to deal with the financial issues and a separate mediator like a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist to deal with the parenting issues.
“With mediation, there is open mediation and closed mediation and the parties have to
agree to which type of mediation they want. Closed mediation means that whatever is said during the mediation
process is an off-the-record discussion, which cannot be used in any court proceeding or
“Arbitration is simply a private court hearing. Most parties in family law cases usually do what is called mediation/arbitration. That means they hire one person to first try and settle matters and if that does not work, the same person switches hats and becomes the person who decides the case. It is the exact same process as court with the same rules, except you are picking the person who will make the decision.”
“The collaborative practice is an out-of-court settlement process that strives to preserve the emotional and financial resource of the family. This non-adversarial approach is mutually respectful and solutions-oriented. Spouses work together on the issues with their lawyers present for guidance and advice. In addition, the couple can draw upon neutral experts to help them. The process minimizes the pain of separation and divorce and enhances the prospects for healthy outcomes for all family members. This comes from the collaborative website.
“It is not the traditional type of meeting where the lawyers do all the talking; it’s meant for the clients to do most of the talking. At the end of every meeting, one of the parties of the meeting — not necessarily one of the lawyers — prepares the minutes of the meeting and circulates it to all the parties for them to review and make changes if necessary. Generally, I find in the collaborative process that it takes two or three meetings to settle matters.”
Children and Divorce
Stern discusses how to handle the “d” word when children are involved.
“From my experience practising family law and from seeing almost all my friends now go through their first if not second divorce, I can tell you with certainty that if the parties fight in any way, it affects the children,” Stern says.
He adds children know what is going on whether you tell them directly or not.
“They sense things, they feel things, and they always overhear things. The minute you start fighting and the children are aware of this, it definitely has a detrimental effect on them in some way. How can it not?” he says.
Stern suggests parents who are separating try to do it amicably and leave the children out. He also recommends that separating parents speak to a third-party professional, like a social worker, to teach them what to say to the children about the separation.
He strongly recommends the parties retain the same third-party professional (social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist) who has experience in family law matters, to assist them in coming up with a parenting arrangement.
“This is the fastest and cleanest way of resolving these issues. If the children are old enough, they can also meet with this third-party professional so that they can have a say in the process, where they want to live, and how often they wish to see their parents,” Stern says.
The same third-party professional can stay involved with the family and make changes in the parenting plan from time to time. Stern said parties that execute a separation agreement settling their matrimonial affairs can also sign a parenting co-ordination agreement with a third party to stay involved with the family and deal with issues that come up from time to time.
» Gary A. Stern is a Barrister and Solicitor specializing in Family Law. To learn more about Gary A. Stern, please contact him at email@example.com. •