In an initial interview, the prospective client should first ask the lawyer if they want to hear the essential facts of the case, says Mark Perry, founder and partner at Westside Family Law, in Vancouver.

“Virtually everything in family law is contextual,” he says. “It’s all dependent on the circumstances.” If a lawyer were to respond in the negative, it is “not a good sign that that lawyer appreciates the essential point, which is that everything should be subjectively assessed.”

Once they delineate the essential facts, the client should ask about the state of the law in respect of those facts, and how the law would treat custody, child support, spousal support, and division of family property in these specific circumstances, says Perry.

The third question should be what the lawyer proposes as a process toward resolution. “There are, effectively, two ways for a dispute to be resolved. One is an agreement, or in this context, a separation agreement. The other is a decision by the court.”

If the parties are willing to pursue an agreement without a judge, there are several available alternatives. They include mediation, collaborative family law, med-arbitration, arbitration and a straightforward negotiation.