This post was originally published on The National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP) website.
This week’s blog is written by Tania Perlin B.A., L.L.B. from the law firm of Tania Perlin, Barrister & Solicitor. Ms. Perlin is also a certified Mediator with the Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program, a public speaker, and a litigation wellness coach.
(Please be advised that the following does not qualify as legal or medical advice, and does not replace the counsel of a qualified therapist. Please seek help if you feel you may be suffering from depression or anxiety.) Click here for an audio version of this blog post.
In the eye of the storm
Two weeks ago, I listened with disbelief to the news that schools will remain closed after March Break, and then with further shock that many courts would be closed until further notice. The continuous news feed, telling us to stay home, social distance from others, and close businesses is creating palpable fear.
The knee jerk reaction for most of us is to panic. Our clients are scrambling to get their mediation dates pushed up, asking if we can do remote mediations. Parties are calling lawyers and paralegals asking for advice regarding emergency matters and court hearings. Those involved in family litigation are very concerned that their motions for custody, spousal support, and other pressing issues will not be heard for an indefinite period of time.
The stress of these uncertain times is greatly multiplied for those going through the litigation process. Litigation itself encompasses and swallows one’s life in a cloud of uncertainty and darkness. It causes parties to literally put their lives on hold, sometimes for years. It depletes mental and physical energy, finances, and at times, hope. Each litigant knows that feeling of hopefulness when heading to court for a motion or hearing, the hope that maybe today will be the end of this hell and life can return to normal, only to exit the courthouse feeling dejected and hopeless, as the wheels of the process turn at a very slow pace.
On top of this daily reality faced by litigants, current court closures and restrictions have added a whole new dimension to the seemingly endless litigation journey.
Reframing and taking control
I would like to take this moment, however, to tell you a story.
My parents came to Canada as Jewish refugees who were permitted to leave in a mass exodus from the former USSR in the 1970s. In order to get here, my parents and hundreds of others had to stay in Italy while Canada cleared them to enter.
It was a very difficult time. My parents, along with two young children and my uncle, who was part of our household, did not know what awaited them. Their fate rested with unseen authorities, and they didn’t know whether Canada was going to allow them entry. For 11 months, they lived in complete uncertainty, not knowing where they would live and how they would support their young family.
The lesson that they imparted to me was to stay in the moment. No matter how uncertain life seems, focus on what’s in front of you. For them, despite the stress of the unknown, they were in a free country for the first time. They travelled to see beautiful areas of Italy, which they could never previously have dreamt of seeing. They planned what they would do when they arrived in Canada. They chose to control what they could, and let go of things they could not. It was not easy, but it helped them survive.
The present situation may seem very dark, especially for litigants who are waiting to resolve family law cases where children are involved. However, I would suggest reframing current events, and finding purpose within the havoc.
For once, everyone is in the same boat. For the first time, all litigants are facing the same closures and delays, which are unaffected by one’s ability to hire a lawyer.
We cannot control the 24/7 newsfeed, other people’s behavior, government directives, court and other closures, or COVID-19 itself. What we can control is ourselves. We can be accommodating to other litigants, and help find alternative ways to resolve cases. If courts are closed, private mediations are still available through video conferencing. Talking to the other side about settlement, and perhaps at least coming to an interim agreement while the courts are closed (which could turn into a longer-term understanding), can be a better (and less expensive) way to resolve some cases.
Recognizing that in one moment everything can change gives us a different perspective on what is really important in our lives, and what we want to accomplish through the litigation process. Fostering kindness and compassion will serve all of us well, even after the current crisis is over.
If your dispute is not one that lends itself to mediation or out of court settlement, I would encourage you to deal with fear and uncertainty in other pragmatic ways.
Court closures and getting cases heard is something that you can’t control. We know that our minds tend to create doomsday scenarios which add to the stress of litigation and other fearful thoughts we have at this very difficult time. Here are some practical ways to help deal with fearful thoughts. (These techniques may also help manage stress during litigation.)
Patience is hard to cultivate when all you want to do is get this ordeal over with. In time, life will get back to normal, but meanwhile we can all do our part by fostering kindness, compassion, accommodation, and love toward our fellow human beings.
Remember: this too shall pass. We have the potential to come out of this storm a better, stronger, kinder, and healthier society. It’s all up to us.