There is no doubt the costs of family law litigation are simultaneously emotional and financial.
One of those financial costs, the need to engage a lawyer, may cause parties to be inclined to represent themselves.
While self-representation is the only option for many people due to their financial resources (a broader discussion of access to justice is beyond the scope of this article), for those with resources, the decision to self-represent may be quite costly in the end.
That is precisely what happened in a recent Ontario case, in which the issues arising from the separation of a couple were resolved after 17 years of litigation. In that case, the wife represented herself.
The resolution was reached after a 10-day trial in which Justice Conlan of Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice made a final order in respect of spousal and child support, sharing of property and the distribution of the proceeds from the sale of the parties’ home.
According to Justice Conlan, the trial was “more like a sentence than a sojourn.” The trial’s unnecessary length and complications were, according to Conlan, attributable to the wife’s conduct and her decision to represent herself.
With the issues of property and support behind them, the couple still had one more fight to fight: who would pay the legal costs? Justice Conlan directed the parties to file written submissions on the issue of costs. The determination of the issue was, unfortunately, consistent with the wife’s uncooperative behaviour, which Conlan described as trying “the patience of the Judge to a degree that is beyond description.” The wife disregarded Justice Conlan’s direction regarding costs, filing submissions that were both too long and late (the judge nevertheless considered them).
Through their written submissions, both parties pointed fingers at each other. The husband took the position that the wife ought to pay costs to him in excess of $216,000.
The wife, according to the judge, did not express her position with any sort of clarity, leaving the judge without an appreciation of how she wanted costs to be resolved. Justice Conlan noted that “some of the relief (the wife) claimed has nothing to do with costs and attempts to alter parts of the Judgment itself, such as the request for lump-sum spousal support in the amount of $50,000 to be paid by (the husband to the wife) forthwith.” The judge ultimately concluded that the wife was likely trying to advance an argument that the husband should pay all or most of his own legal costs.