Reading the Globe and Mail recently, I came across an interesting article that combined the financial and legal worlds. The writer, Helen Burnett-Nichols, spoke to several financial advisors across the country. They noted that their clients were feeling significant stress resulting from the uncertainty that COVID-19 has thrust into their lives. Further, this stress has been exacerbated for those who need to address financial concerns while contemplating or proceeding with a divorce.

These are justifiable concerns. Many people have had their incomes impacted (both short- and long-term) and have seen their investments bounce up and down in severe fashion. With a lack of control comes apprehension. Add the prospect of supporting two households on two incomes, rather than one household with two incomes that married couples are accustomed to, and things can feel overwhelming.

Never mind the prospect of a third party (judge or arbitrator) making a decision that may materially alter your life.

These stressors, along with the courts being closed for a period of the pandemic, seem to have motivated separating couples to explore alternative dispute resolution options they may not have considered before. As Burnett-Nicols’ article outlines:

Indeed, with court processes interrupted by the pandemic, clients have been inquiring about alternative processes, including the collaborative model in which neutral advisors work alongside lawyers and mental health professionals, says Kim MacDonald, advisor and CDFA at Raymond James Ltd. in Edmonton.

“With collaborative divorce and any kind of hybrid like mediation-arbitration or just mediation, these are ways that people can continue to move through their divorce without being stopped by that date in court,” says Ms. MacDonald, who expects this trend to continue after the pandemic.

“We think the backlog of cases will start to really flow over to the collaborative divorce process,” she says. “Understanding the multiple routes through a divorce is very valuable for any advisor to be able to pass on to their clients.”

For some time now, our firm has shifted its focus to alternative dispute resolutions or, more specifically, out-of-court solutions like collaborative law, which you can learn more about on our podcasts. We will also be adding mediation services shortly.

These alternatives come in different shapes and sizes but often include the aid of financial advisors for the rejigging of the household budget and social workers to help with issues surrounding children, communication, and everyone’s emotional wellbeing.  The lawyers involved work together to present a variety of options (whether concerning financial matters or otherwise) for the family to consider.  Ultimately it is up to the separating couple to choose what works best–more specifically, they make the decision that impacts their family life, not a third party.

Whether this trend is merely situational or actually results in lasting change will be interesting to monitor. Regardless, the more the public learns about alternative options to the often more difficult process of litigation the better.


Richard Pollock

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