Katz v. McNevin – Non-Lawyer Representation in Family Matters

This case canvasses the issue of non-lawyer representation for litigants in family law matters.

Background

The parties were divorced in 2011, via a comprehensive court Order that also addressed custody and access, child support, spousal support and property division.

In 2012, the Applicant Mother brought an application to change the support obligations under the said Order. In particular, the Applicant Mother alleged non-disclosure by the Respondent Father of his income information prior to and after the making of the Order, as well as alleged failure by the Respondent Father to contribute to the children’s special or extraordinary expenses.

Since making her Application, the Applicant Mother has brought other motions for documentary disclosure, wherein she repeatedly asked the court for permission for her boyfriend, Mr. Taylor, to represent her in relation to her family law dispute pursuant to Rule 4(1)(c) of the Family Law Rules.

Among several objections to the representation request made by the Applicant Mother, the Respondent Father cited the following:

  • The Applicant Mother had previously been represented by lawyers in her legal disputes with the Respondent Father;
  • The Applicant Mother had ample financial means to retain counsel;
  • The Applicant Mother was well educated and able to represent herself if necessary;
  • Mr. Taylor was the Applicant Mother’s live-in boyfriend;
  • Mr. Taylor’s relationship with the Applicant Mother dated back to the time of the parties’ divorce proceedings, making him a potential witness with evidence relating to the matter;
  • Mr. Taylor had no experience or training to conduct a case in court;
  • Mr. Taylor had a history of open hostility toward the Respondent.

Analysis

At the outset of its analysis, the court examined Rule 4(1)(c) of the Family Law Rules, which states:

A party may be represented by a person who is not a lawyer, but only if the court gives permission in advance.

In canvassing the relevant case law on the issue of non-lawyer representation the court articulated a number of general principles that should be considered by courts in decided whether to grant permission to a litigant in this regard.

Specifically, the court underscored that its discretion to permit non-lawyers to represent parties is very limited, and would constitute an exemption to s. 50(1) of the Law Society Act, which prohibits non-lawyers from appearing in court to represent parties.

Moreover, the court explained that the Rule must be interpreted narrowly, such that it should only be implemented in limited circumstances.

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