Preparing for a meeting with a family duty counsel lawyer

You might be able to get help from a family duty counsel (FDC) lawyer if:

  • you have a family law issue, and
  • you can't afford to pay for a lawyer.
If you want help from an FDC lawyer, it's a good idea to connect with them as early as possible. Be sure to tell them immediately if there's family violence in your case. 

An FDC lawyer can give you information and legal advice about things like:

  • parenting time
  • guardianship
  • child or spousal support
  • protection orders, if you're facing violence
  • any other urgent orders you need to keep you or children safe

They can also give you tasks to do between meetings with them that will help you prepare your case.  

The FDC lawyer can spend only a limited amount of time with you. It's worth taking the time to think about your legal issues and organize your information before you meet with them.

Think about your legal issues

The more you've thought about your legal issues and possible solutions, the more the FDC lawyer will be able to advise you.

  • Write down what you want for yourself, your children, and your finances. For example, do you need to stay in the family home after separation? Will your children split their time between your home and the other person's? Do you need financial support?
  • Write down the questions you want to ask.
  • Take your written notes to the meeting.
Take lots of paper and a pen with you to the meeting so you can write down the answers to your questions. You might get a form that lists the advice the FDC lawyer gave you, but it's still a good idea to make your own notes.

Gather your information

Your FDC lawyer will need certain information about you, the other person, and your situation so they can give you legal advice and talk about different options with you. Take as much of the information listed below as you can with you to your meeting with the FDC lawyer. (You can also download and print this list, if you'd rather work from a paper copy.)

It’s okay if you don’t have everything on this list ready for your first meeting with the FDC lawyer. You might know the information from another source. For example, you might have bank statements or pay stubs if you don’t have tax returns.

Information about you, the other person, and any children

  • A piece of government-issued photo ID, like a driver's licence (Tell your lawyer if you don't want this information given to anyone else.)
  • Your phone numbers and other contact information
  • The other person’s full name and their address, if you know it
  • Your citizenship or immigration documents, if you weren't born in Canada
  • Full names and birth dates of all your children
  • A list of any health conditions you or your children have and medication any of you need
  • Details about where you and the other person work
Family duty counsel might use the word party instead of person.

Information about your case

  • A short summary of your issue. If possible, type it so it's easy to read. Include all the important facts, such as:
    • why you're separating
    • important dates (for example, when you started living together or got married, and when you separated)
    • how many children you have and their ages
    • if you're working and how much you earn
    • if the other person is working and how much they earn
    • where you're living and if you can keep living there without financial support
    • your current arrangements for the children and money
  • All the documents you have that relate to your case, including:
    • any agreements you made with the other person before or after you separated
    • any court orders
    • any new court applications you’ve made or are preparing

Information about your and the other person’s finances

  • Your tax returns or summaries for the past three years, if you're going to talk about support or property
  • Copies of the other person's tax returns for the past three years, if you have them
  • Your three most recent pay stubs (or proof of EI or disability payments)
  • Copies of the other person's pay stubs (or proof of EI or disability payments), if possible
  • A list of everything that you and the other person own together or separately, including pension plans, RRSPs, TFSAs, or bank accounts (even if they have only the other person's name on them), and property (such as the family home, investment property, and personal property)
  • The most recent property tax assessments for your home and any other property either of you own
  • A list of debts that either or both of you have

Information about any family violence

  • Details about any physical or psychological abuse in your relationship (if you want a protection order)
  • The business cards of the police officers you've dealt with (if the police have been involved with your family)
  • A list that explains why you need, or have needed, an order for protection or for custody, guardianship, or parenting arrangements, for example
Bring support if you need it

Lots of people feel very stressed about meeting with a lawyer. If you can, bring someone to help you take notes or be there for support.