Questions to ask lawyers when you need legal help

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Original image  by wavebreakmedia.  © Used by permission

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Family conflicts are never easy. But sometimes, the safest and best way to resolve them is to resort to legal means. However, when you are a newcomer, difficulty in communicating in English, as well as lack of knowledge about appropriate laws, can be additional burdens.

To help you out when you need to consult a lawyer, here is a list of questions covering various aspects of child custody and access disputes. This was prepared as a guide for you (as well as your lawyer), to help ease your concerns and assist you in threshing out all the possible issues involved. These questions were prepared by Kim Storeshaw, Director of Family Violence of NorWest Co-op Community Health Centre.


  1. What is your hourly rate?
  2. Do you have any fees in addition to your hourly rate?
  3. How much do you require for a retainer?
  4. I am cash poor at the moment, but my ex and I own a home/property.
    • Would you work on contingency? Or for a lien on the property? (Can I pay you with part of the money from when we sell the home?)
    • Exactly how much do you want for this contingency?


  1. What will happen if I leave province without my child’s father’s permission?
  2. I do not want to go to First Choice? Do I have to?
  3. Do I have a strong case to obtain sole custody?
  4. My ex has demanded to see the children. Should I let him see them?
    • Under what conditions?
  5. Are there any actions that I can avoid that might be held against me should this matter proceed to a custody battle?
  6. Are there any actions I can take that will be seen as positive should this matter proceed to a custody battle? (e.g. treatment, counselling)
  7. What is “primary care and control”?
  8. What is “shared custody”?
  9. If I have shared custody, do I have decision-making authority?
  10. Is shared custody recommended in an abusive relationship?

Child support

  1. What are my chances of obtaining child support?
  2. I do not feel I can chase him for the payments every month. Is the Maintenance Enforcement Program a good option? Why or why not?
  3. My child is involved in ___ activity (sports, etc.) or needs medical treatment, or costs for daycare. Will my ex have to contribute to this cost?
  4. My ex is broke at the moment and is not working. Is child support worth pursuing? Why or why not?

Negotiating a Separation Agreement:

  1. Should I start by trying to negotiate a separation agreement or by beginning with the Family Court process?
    • Why should we do it that way? Why not the other way?
    • Do I have to negotiate?
  2. Because of the history of abuse, I am uncomfortable with mediation. Are there other options for negotiating an agreement?
  3. What will my involvement be in the negotiating process?
  4. What is a family assessment?
  5. Can I choose the assessor?

Going through Family Court

  1. How do we begin the process? Can you walk me through the steps?
  2. When will you have the first papers drafted by?
    • When is the date I will return to the office to sign them?
    • Can we make that appointment now?
  3. When is the exact date you will file and serve these papers?
    • I am concerned about my ex’s reaction, and that he may come to the house the night he is served. Can you call me on the day he is served so I can make safety arrangements?
  4. What will we do if we are unable to find my ex to serve him?
    • Will we attempt to serve him at his (ex: mom’s) house?

Timelines and contact

  1. How long do you expect this process to take?
  2. How will we keep in contact with each other? By phone. Email?
    • How often will I hear from you?
    • How will you provide me with updates on the matter?


  1. What is a Prevention Order and am I eligible for one?
  2. What is an Interim Order and am I eligible for one?
  3. How do I go about getting my possessions from the home?

Re-printed with permission from Kim Storeshaw.

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Community Resources

NorWest Co-op Community Health Centre offers a wide range of support services for the community. Among their programs are services for newcomer families for settlement aspects like child care, health, language, employment services, and others. They also have counselling services for immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence. Check out their site for more information.

Download the pamphlet “Dealing with domestic violence or family violence” from the site to get a complete list of more than 50 agencies offering aid and support from all over Manitoba.

For more information on legal aid, read Do you need legal help?

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Questions to ask lawyers when you need legal help

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