The Meter is Ticking: The Everyday Real Costs of Family LitigationNSRLP
Pulling up curbside outside the courthouse, Jeanne is looking at a FULL sign outside the adjacent parking lot. Darn.
She leans down to rummage through the glove compartment for change – the parking meters are only for one hour here, but at least that should give her time to run in and file her documents at the registry this morning – that is, if there isn’t a long line up and hopefully that guy who always wants to talk endlessly to the counter staff isn’t hanging out today.
She will have to find more change and feed the meter before her 10:15 am appointment at the Legal Information Centre, and cross her fingers they aren’t running late…”Can I help you miss?” Jeanne sits up quickly at the sound of the voice and almost head-butts a young OPP officer leaning in through her driver’s window.
“Just looking for change officer!” Jeanne trills, more upbeat than she feels. “You can’t stop here madam” the officer responds, pulling himself up to his full height and looking stern. “OK, OK, I am just fishing for change…” “As I said madam, you need to move your car now please…”
Finally parked on a meter with 45 minutes to run, Jeanne reaches into the back seat of her car to grab her bag and notices her son’s lunchbox. In the melee this morning she forgot to remind Sam to take it when she dropped him at school. Lunch is at noon, maybe she can get back there in time to drop it off or perhaps….
But now Jeanne is half running, half walking into the courthouse, trying not to drop the papers spilling from her bag. She begins a calculation in her head of how much money she has spent on parking around the courthouse these last 6 months but gives up. She makes a mental note to go to the ATM to get cash to pay the babysitter for her youngest child – the babysitter only takes cash – and wonders if she needs to call and ask her to sit an extra hour so that she can get everything finished and take Sam his lunch too?
OK the line at the registry doesn’t look too bad today. But wait – there are no lines. There are signs at all but one wicket saying “Staff training 10-11:00 a.m.). Jeanne glances around the registry. A few familiar faces and a lot of new ones. A lot of newbies – that means that when the rest of the wickets reopen at 11:00 a.m. they have numbers in front of her and they will be…well, ages. She is sympathetic of course – that was her 6 months ago, but not this morning, please….
Jeanne grabs a number and continues on down the hall to the Legal Information Centre. Maybe they can see her a bit earlier. She’s in luck – the appointment before her was a no-show and within minutes she is sitting, opposite Paul, one of the Information Co-ordinators who has helped her in the past.
While Jeanne catches her breath, some background…Jeanne filed for divorce ($157) three months ago. She tried to work out some interim support with her husband (Jeanne works part-time and makes about a quarter of what her husband does) but he just says his lawyer has told him not to negotiate with her. Last week Jeanne was in Superior Court at a settlement conference at her request (another $127, but it seemed worth a try), trying to work out some interim support for herself and her kids. She had expected her husband to come with a proposal, but his lawyer just went on about having “insufficient financial information from the applicant” to agree an amount. Apparently she had not “updated” her financial statement for more than 30 days…(not that anything has changed since she first filed it).
Jeanne had tried to switch her work shift to go the settlement conference as it was her full 8 hour shift that day – she couldn’t find a switch so she had to call in sick and lost pay for those hours. What makes is worse is that she feels like she got nowhere with the conference. She thought that she could get a transcript of the settlement conference so she could follow what happened – she was so nervous she cannot remember a lot of what was said – but the cost is prohibitive – $4.30 per page and the clerk said it would be at least 35 pages, that’s more than $150… (Jeanne makes just under $25,000 a year, which means that even with two kids living with her she does not qualify for a legal aid certificate).
Now Jeanne is filing a motion asking for interim support. Last week she spent an hour with Paul going over the notice of motion, and what she needed to do to complete and serve the papers on her husband’s lawyer. It will cost her another $127 to file the forms with the court. Although this is yet more out-of-pocket expense, it pales in comparison with what it has “cost” her to prepare the motion – writing the notice of motion and making the case that temporary support payments are a matter of “hardship” (so humiliating and surely obvious?); having to ask friends and family for supporting affidavits ($13 to “swear” each); and that dang financial statement all over again, including 40 minutes on hold to Revenue Canada trying to get a notice of assessment for 2012. (Paul told her last week that she was “lucky” that the financial statement in her original divorce application was accepted without this – but Jeanne is wondering, what is “lucky” about this nightmare?).
Jeanne did not want to pay for a process server ($65 plus mileage) so when everything was as ready as she could make it, she took her lunch hour to race over to the lawyer’s offices and serve the documents personally.
Today she was hoping to file the forms with the registry (closed for training) and talk to Paul about making her case in the hearing.
Of course it would be a lot better with someone who really knew what they were doing taking this on for her, but the only lawyer she could find to just come to court with her and speak would be $300 an hour. He’s a recently qualified lawyer who seems to be willing to take on anything, and Jeanne is not sure if he has even done a family case. . She’s not confident this young pup would do any better than she did (although perhaps the judge would pay more attention to him?)
With a jolt, Jeanne realizes that she is not concentrating on what Paul is saying and is not sure how long she has been in this reverie…noticing that her meter will be up in 4 minutes, she quickly asks him to recap (arrive early, get a good night’s sleep the night before, try to distill your argument down to a concise statement of what you need, try not to get emotional….review the NSRLP’s Coping with the Courtroom (https://representingyourselfcanada.com/coping-with-the-courtroom/) the evening before the hearing…).
As Jeanne races out to feed her meter, she is trying to calculate whether she can stay until 11:00 a.m. for the registry to reopen and file her papers today. Just as she is about to insert what is left of her change (nothing left for the vending machine for a coffee), she notices Sam’s lunchbox on the back seat of the car. Filing the papers is not going to happen today. Maybe she can switch up her shift tomorrow morning and come back first thing….