E79 Leena Yousefi on Physician Divorce

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Leena Yousefi  00:00

The general word that everybody use is “nasty.” You know, I’m in a nasty divorce peril, or I watched a brutal divorce. But nobody tries to change those words like those those outcomes and those outlooks.

Chad Ball  00:25

Welcome to the Cold Steel surgical podcast with your hosts Ameer Farooq and Chad Ball. We’ve had the absolute privilege of chatting with some amazing Canadian as well as international guests over the past year. While the topics have been broad in range, whether clinical, social or political, our aims for the podcast continue to remain the same. We hope to inspire discussion, creativity, scholarly research and career development in all Canadian surgeons. We hope you enjoy our second season as we continue to highlight some incredible guests, deliver detailed masterclass sessions on a myriad of clinical topics and introduce some fresh new features such as debate and companion formats. We hope you relish the podcast as much as we do. We’re thrilled to bring you a very special episode of Cold Steel. We had the pleasure of interviewing Leena Yousefi. Leena has won more awards than we have time to list but most impressively has been listed as one of Canada’s top 25 most influential lawyers, is a Vancouver top 40 under 40 alumni, is currently the top-rated divorce lawyer in the city of Vancouver by a number of different rating agencies. We have a wide-ranging conversation with Leena about the stresses of divorce, the special issues surrounding separations within the medical and surgical field, and the mechanics of how to get through it on an attacked manner with some level of grace and integrity. We hope you learned as much as we did.

Ameer Farooq  02:06

Leena, thank you very much for joining us today on Cold Steel, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the podcast. Could you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and what your training pathway was?

Leena Yousefi  02:17

I was born in Iran. And we, you know, I was a child of war. And my father who at that at that time when I was around 12 years old was actually reaching the height of his career. But in order to give me on my sister a better life, he applied as an immigrant to come to Canada. And that’s where our journey started. I I was the rebel and the black sheep in the family. So I didn’t follow a very straight path. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with life. And I always compared myself to my sister who’s a year older than me, who was always an honors student and you know, she always did really while at school, and later became a doctor. I was always comparing myself to her and I just wasn’t getting what she was getting. So I kind of went sideways. And at some point I was even expelled from university due to various issues, which I’m not going to bore you with. But one of them was related to depression arising from our immigration to Canada because of the cultural shock and losing the friends and relatives that you know we had. But surprisingly, when I finally woke up, and I realized No, you know, I’m going to do something good with my life and decided to become a lawyer. My sister was just, she’s a year, she’s a year older than me. So she was always a year ahead of me at school. She was surprisingly, after getting all the marks and all the honor rolls, she surprisingly, was not accepted to medical school. And when they when she asked why they told her, she didn’t have enough life experience. So she had to take a year off to do her Doctors Without Borders volunteer work. And during that year, I graduated from university. So in the next year, we both at the same time got into medical school and law school, respectively. So despite taking different paths, we ended up starting our professional schools at the same time, which I thought was really meaningful when you look at when you look at our lives and how different we were. And yeah, after law school and you know, getting a job as a family lawyer, I just realized that the family law business and the way that a lot of Family Lawyers are conducting family law cases, just in my mind just goes against our nature, as as human beings, that family law and separations are highly emotional and you know they they’re extremely intricate and sensitive and to guide people to court and you know, have them face one another against each other, and sometimes have their children be the referee in the fight is just so so counterproductive to our growth as a society. So I decided to start my own law firm. And you know, the treated as though you know, when somebody walks through our doors, they’re going to the spa, they need to be taken care of and assured and we need to find the resolution instead of motivating them to engage in a battle or a fight, or or me versus you because to me, Family Law, even after separation is really about the best interests of the family as a unit. And that takes compromise on behalf of everybody to to make sure that we have the best interests of the family, not just individual people who have now separated. So that’s how YLaw started. And I’m really pleased to advise that it’s been such a successful project. And it’s been positive. And we’re just very, very thrilled that it became successful because I had a very drastic view of how it should be done. And it wasn’t the I haven’t noticed what I’ve done to be to have been done in the past. So it was very new. And it was a big risk. But thankfully, it created just positivity and growth.

Chad Ball  06:22

That’s an amazing story. And it’s incredible story. And you know, we can’t think of probably any more life experience that you and your sister had. So that that point in particular is is kind of unreal, isn’t it? It’s it’s amazing what the selection committees what they seem to pick out and pick up sometimes, you know, it personally, although certainly we wouldn’t have had nearly the life experience that you guys had. It’s interesting. Your your story takes me back my my brother is also a lawyer in Toronto, and he and I lived together while I was in medicine, and he was in law school in Toronto, and it was it was a special and it was a very neat time. You’ve mentioned so many other things done pack there. Tell us more about your your philosophy and how your particular practice in business is set up. Because to be honest, Ameer is married and has a fantastic family. I’m divorced, and I think I also have a fantastic family. But in my personal voyage, I never heard at any point anyone talk remotely like you just did. So I’m curious what, how you manifest that, how that’s practical, and what your practice does look like?

Leena Yousefi  07:32

I, you know, I it took me a decade to basically get to where I am, because you know, there’s this, as long as us as family lawyers look at this as a job and separate ourselves from our clients and think that the resolution to family law is by advocating the rights of an individual and if those rights are not completely met, we’re just going to go and fight it out. As long as we have that attitude, all we’re gonna do is destroying families. And I mean that even in the cases where we’re as successful as it gets, because I’ve won over 90% of my cases, since I started becoming a lawyer. And four, I can say, for all those 90% of the cases, no matter how extreme the win was, such as you know, cases, for example, for child abduction, where you reuniting a child with the father, still, everybody lost. Because even in that case, when you know, when I’m reuniting a child with the father, she’s going to be separated from her abducting mother. And regardless of what the mother did, that child deserves both parents. So what really pains me is that family law has become a business where maximizing interests and profits has taken over, the reason why we’re doing it in the first place. And we’ve almost become blinded to that aspect of our lives. And, you know, I watched families that I helped and you know, I was successful in fall apart because of the countless number of days and hours and weeks you know, having somebody come to my office and write an affidavit against somebody who at one point they loved and you know, they joined their beautiful masculine energy forces, masculine energies to create a child. And now you know, you’re taking that person and saying, you know, I could get you this and it could get you that and all it takes is, you know, it’s some sort of a battle where we just have to strategize and we’re gonna win, like, you know, it’s that that concept has become so foreign to me. And my place is to just do my part in showing that we’ve just gone so off so wrong by separating ourselves as lawyers from our clients, you know, any that you just said, you know, you’ve gone through you mayperhaps you have gone through a divorce, I think everybody in our society has either gone through something like that, or heard of something like that. And it’s always you know that the general word that everybody use is “nasty”, you know, I’m in a nasty divorce battle, or I watched a brutal divorce. But nobody tries to change those words like those those outcomes and those outlooks. And I blame that on, you know, and this is gonna be a bold statement, but I blame that on our on our lawyers, and our legal system for for, you know, kind of like advocating for that approach. So, it all it takes is just being empathetic, and, you know, putting yourself in that spot. And, you know, asking, would I like to be where my client is? If I was my client, is this what something I would have done knowing that I’ve seen the ending of a lot of family law cases myself, and I’ve seen what happens when you engage in a battle. And if the answer is no, then why are you doing it to your own clients? That’s my philosophy. And, and I think, you know, there’s a lot of compromise in my practice, but at the end of the day, there’s long-term benefits and, you know, amicableness and agreements and working with each other. Because, you know, we all came together as, as a community in the best interest of the family, regardless of how much we compromise, and I and I really hope that the future of family law moves that way. That’s definitely something that our justice system, our government, and some lawyers, such as myself are trying to advocate towards.

Ameer Farooq  11:31

So interesting to hear you talk about empathizing with your, with your client, which, on the face of it seems like a pretty common sense, or pretty straightforward kind of assumption. But it’s, it’s interesting, like, even in medicine, there’s a certain sense of like, you know, having to have a bit of a professional relationship with your your patients, like, you know, there’s a sense that you can’t get so involved with the patients that you lose your objectivity, or you lose your ability to actually try to like, objectively, whatever that means, objectively see the facts. And a lot of people have written kind of against that way of thinking, you know, the book that comes to my mind is In Shock by Rana Awdish where she talks about her own experiences becoming an ICU patient. But but if anything, like I feel like in law, that would be an even harder position to take or, or more radical view to take. You know, just like Dr. Ball, my younger brother’s is a lawyer too. And, and I’ve learned a lot about the sort of law from his eyes. What do you think about that idea of maintaining objectivity or not getting drawn into to your clients’ sort of battles or their their personal struggles?

Leena Yousefi  12:43

You know, I think there’s a difference between getting involved in somebody’s life and getting too close, and you know, too emotional. There’s a difference between that, and putting yourself in your client’s place. By putting yourself in your client’s place, you become objective, because when, when so, for example, I’ll give you an example. Previously, when clients would come to me and they’re like, hey, like, I can’t get, I can’t agree with this person. And you know, I’m wasting time, what do I need to do? And I would just say, well, you know, just start a notice of family claim, it just gets the process started, you know, notice of family claim is a document you file in court, and you serve the spouse, and they have, it forces them to respond within 30 days. So my intentions as a lawyer is just to say, hey, you want her to respond, we just need to file this claim and serve. But when I put myself in the place of that spouse, and imagine the night when I’m having dinner, and somebody knocks on my door, and serves me with divorce papers, you know, from somebody who I loved, and you know, perhaps I have a, I have a kid with, and I just see it on paper. What I think he’s not oh, he’s just trying to get me to respond. What I think is the love of my life is actually suing me and he, he or she is taking me to court and there’s gonna be like a custody war, you know, like, that’s the difference. The mind of a lawyer is, you know, how can I do to move this matter forward, but the mind of the client and the spouse is I’ve just been violated and betrayed and you know, what I’m gonna do, I’m going to get the best lawyer and I’m going to respond and I, I would have compromised, but I’m not going to compromise anymore if this is the way you’re going to do it. So you know that that’s, that’s what I’m talking about. When I when I say when you separate yourself from emotions and people and the interests of the family as a unit, you are going to cause destruction. And I totally get your point, you know, like 150 years ago, you know, the biggest principle of the oath that we take as lawyers is that we’re only going to act in the best interest of our clients and we’re only going to and we’re going to be overzealous, and we’re gonna be fighting tooth and nail to get them the rights that they need. What I’m saying is that that concept applies to every type of law out there, except for family law. Because for family law, if you do that, your family is coming apart, and you’re pulling it even more and more apart. And you’re putting two people you know, in a fighting ring, and you go round and round and round and round. And sometimes you put their children in there as the referee to pick a side. Because you’re a lawyer, and you need to protect their interests. But you know, when you when you look at the basic element of human beings and how societies work, doing that, is not going to go anywhere positive. So, you know, my I, I maintain my professionalism, you know, sometimes I’m, you know, guilty as charged, sometimes I do, you know, relate to their pain, because it’s hard to hear people in pain all day and not care about it. But what I try to do to stay objective is just to put myself in their place and ask myself having seen what happens if there is a fight? What would I do in this situation? And that’s the advice I give to my clients.

Ameer Farooq  16:04

That’s incredibly refreshing. And, you know, I agree with everything that you said, whether that’s, that’s in law, or, or as positioned. If you ever want to change career someday, I think you fit right in with medicine, after all. So there you go.

Leena Yousefi  16:20

Thank you.

Ameer Farooq  16:22

I wanted to ask you a little bit about divorce specifically in physicians. And you know, in sort of doing some background reading around this, I came across a study, which actually showed that contrary to maybe popular opinion, or popular kind of social media type stuff, physicians apparently actually have lower rates of divorce than maybe the general population, or I think, at least among other health care workers. What’s been your experience, obviously, you know, the people coming to you are coming, because they’re in trouble. But sort of, you know, in your practice, do physicians tend to be a big part of it? And where did we sort of rank in terms of other professions in terms of experiencing divorce?

Leena Yousefi  17:05

I find that, I do agree with that with that study. I think there’s two reasons why we see physicians less and less, at least in the litigation room. And that there’s two reasons one is that they’re very smart. So like, if you tell them, you know, like they they do a cost benefit analysis of fighting versus settling, and because they’re very smart, and they tend to let their rational minds guide guide them, instead of like, the emotional side of it, they tend to settle a lot quicker. The other thing is that they’re very busy. Family law litigation, or, you know, like the negotiations, and the document disclosure is a very, very time consuming, all encompassing task. And I find that a lot of physicians that I that I hope simply don’t have the time to, to, to invest in family law, you know, litigation or, or conflict, so, they tend to want to settle and resolve more than fight. When it comes to finances, you know, that they do tend to be you know, they, they earn quite a good sum, and it’s not like they’re not going to, they don’t tend to penny pinch, they don’t tend to want to, you know, maximize the financial gain. They would much rather move on because they have a lot of other very, very important things in their hands, such as, you know, saving lives literally. You know, if you if you if your job is to save lives, and, you know, you’re caught up, you know, fighting over money, a lot of them, you know, because they like to save lives, they try to focus on saving lives. And when it comes to children, that’s, that’s the interesting part, I find, you know, to two different types of physicians. The ones that tend to be from a bit of an older generation, where you know, one person is a physician and you know, the other person is a homemaker or you know, has has a job, which is not as demanding. So, they tend to settle on costs on parenting time by allowing the, the, the other parent who perhaps has stayed at home or has a less demanding job to be the primary caregiver of the child, and they work with that spouse to kind of maximize their time when they’re not so busy. There’s the other type, which is happening more and more nowadays, where you get two physicians who, you know, married each other, or you know, or even in the middle of middle school, sorry, medical school, and separating. Those are more interesting to me because it, they’re both of, you know, equal education, equal careers, and when they have a child, they kind of like, figuring out what to do in those situation can actually be a little bit more challenging. Because you get two very strong-minded people who have just just just about the same amount to kind of offer to the child or you know, come from a very like equal financial background backgrounds. Those people I find easier to deal with, I find that because there are more on equal level playing playing fields, everything is just basically 50-50. And if they need help, you know, they go to a third person, you know, to help with the child, or, or so forth. So, you know, in the grand scheme of things, when I look at all the professions that I help, physicians actually are the easiest to deal with. To be honest, they are actually pleasure to deal with. I just think that they have their priorities straight and they’re very intelligent, and they just look at the reality of their situation. And they try to work towards that. The main problem arises when there is an inequality in power and balance. And, you know, one person demands more than they showed, such as, you know, too much custody or parenting time and wanting to disallow usually the physician from even like seeing the child even, you know, on a part-time basis, because they say, I’m a better parent, you never had time, you were never a good father, therefore, you know, you’re not deserving of spending enough time with the child. Those situations are quite heart-wrenching, because I, I, they’re more difficult to resolve because there’s, you know, the, it’s the interest of the one parent versus the interest of the child. And it’s a it’s a bit more difficult to align them together.

Ameer Farooq  21:18

This is a very niche question sort of to ask but do you see differences in terms of both the numbers of of positions, like, let’s say surgeons versus medicine, physicians who are in medicine, do you see number both in terms of numbers of people coming forward, who are seeking a divorce and, and the way that it plays out?

Leena Yousefi  21:38

I mean, this with all due respect, but I think the surgeons or their cases are a lot more problematic than, you know, like, general like MDS. And there’s various reasons for that. What, like, I would say, the top two, one is because of what I would see as really inhuman hours of work, you know, shifts where they have to, like stay up, you know, sometimes for like, 36 hours in a row. They really can’t give more than more than more than what they give to their job. So you know, even when it comes to dating, when it comes to relationship when it comes to children. So they give so much of themselves to to their career, that when it comes to their family, it’s not that they don’t want to give more, there’s just nothing left. So there’s a lot of breakdown of relationships, because of that, which I think you know, is quite familiar, might be a familiar subject to, to you guys, you know, having done it yourselves. And it’s, it’s kind of heartbreaking, because I don’t blame them for wanting to have families and children, but they have this job, which is competing with, you know, them being able to give to their family and children. So I see more surgeons, divorcing than, you know, general practitioners who can, you know, manage their hours and their time and you know, can kind of like work together to take care of the family. And the second thing is I surgeons tend to be a lot more set on their ways. You know, they tend to be a bit more opinionated on on how, what needs to happen, and you know, what results need to be achieved, which creates a bit of inflexibility when it comes to negotiations and settlements. There, you know, there’s a very famous case, it’s all over the media, Dr. Devathasan, he, he’s in Singapore, but his wife was here. And, you know, it’s like the case is basically like a big story, which is all over the news media and you can kind of like, if you read the judgment, you will see that I mean, he’s a very extreme example. But he had this mindset of how things should be, and he did not stop fighting anybody until, you know, he would have reached, you know, what he wanted to reach. And during that process, you know, he just created so much destruction. So I, I think, you know, he’s definitely an anomaly. You know, he’s a very extreme case, I’m, you know, in my experience, at least in my cases, I’ve never met a surgeon like him. But I have, I have had cases with surgeons where the conflict is higher, just one because they don’t, they can’t just like they couldn’t give that much time to their family, they can’t give that much time to their case. And that creates a lot of problems because there is no communication or you know, cooperation. And even when we do obtain the information, they they sometimes they tend to be more set in their ways and and think that you know, the law should be this way when the law is different, is saying differently. So that that’s the that’s the difference I’ve noticed personally with surgeons.

Chad Ball  24:46

I think that’s so well said and your your insight into the surgical brain is is remarkable. There’s, there’s, there’s no doubt you just hit a lot of nails on the head so to speak with that. You know, you know, your comments bring up an interesting point and again we don’t know this intuitively, but it seems like the framework or the rules of the divorce or separation process vary a fair bit, obviously from person to person, but from province to province. And I was curious why that is and and what the mechanics of that become for a lot of our listeners who, as you know, we’re across the whole country.

Leena Yousefi  25:23

It depends on you mean, the Canadian provinces?

Chad Ball  25:29

Yeah, that’s a great example. Yeah. Yeah. Like, does it does it differ if you’re in Alberta versus British Columbia, for example?

Leena Yousefi  25:35

You know, they were different, but they’ve become a bit more uniform lately. You know, for example, in BC until 2013, like, which, you know, there was this, like law, which I didn’t agree with that said, you know, if you, if you come to the marriage with, let’s say, a million dollars, and you separate, you know, five years later, that million dollars that you came into the marriage with gets divided half and half, which made no sense to me. You know, like, it’s okay if you divide what you accumulate during your relationship, but whatever you accumulated prior should not be divisible. So there was a difference in laws across the country. But you know, the lately I think all those laws have become uniformalized, to say that what you bring in is yours. And what you accumulate during the relationship gets split half and half. As far as child custody goes, again, that was something that was a bit different all over the country, because some, I mean, this is pretty technical, but some provinces would say that the best interests of the child is the only thing that you should consider in parenting time decisions. And some provinces, were saying the business of the child is paramount. So those words carry different meanings, and now it’s become best interest of the child is the only thing that the court should consider. So that’s another uniformity. The main difference right now nowadays between provinces is really between Quebec and the rest of the country. And that’s that Quebec doesn’t acknowledge common-law relationship, which relationships, which seems quite strange to me. So, you know, in BC, or Alberta, or Toronto, if you’ve been living with somebody for, you know, depends on like, the length of time is different from province to province, but we’re talking average two to three years, if you’ve ever lived with them, you become common law. And and once your common law, your rights are pretty much the same as a married couple. So aside from the actual divorce papers, spousal support, child support, and and property divisions are all the same, regardless of whether you’re married or common law. But Quebec doesn’t acknowledge that. So if you’ve been common law, even for 20 years, you may walk out of that relationship with no rights to spousal support, and potentially property. So that’s, that’s the main difference between you know, Quebec and the rest of the country. But the, all the other provinces, as of today tend to be quite uniformalized, I don’t see too many differences in their law in their family laws.

Chad Ball  28:06

Oh, that’s fascinating. And it’s very helpful to know there’s not no question, as I mentioned, for for all of our listeners. I’m curious just to go back to one element, you said, in particular about the the rights or the or the the focus on on the children. So so what does that mean, say in a in a hypothetical context where one parent does most of the caregiving, most of the income generation, and the other parent is really not engaged, not interested in maybe the child say, I realize its pretty nuanced, nuanced example, but maybe they can tell even has a disability, for example, or is autistic. And really, all of the the time the social, the education, the financial comes from one person, and now all of a sudden, you know, the other parent in this divorce is trying to achieve 50-50 or, or really move move into a space that they haven’t traditionally been. I realized that probably differs from case to case substantially, but but how does that concept sort of meet with the the standards across the country?

Leena Yousefi  29:13

Great question. And, you know, that’s the center of, I would say, 90% of family law disputes. You know, so what happens is, when you’re a family unit, you know, you usually like delegate tasks, you know, like, I’m going to cook or I’m going to take care of the baby most of the time and you go out and you work and you earn money. There are situations where one person earns the money and takes care of the child, or vice versa. Again, like what it goes all back to is what is in the best interest of the child. Right? So the argument has been made that hey, I was the primary caregiver during our marriage and now this person now that we’ve separated he or she’s coming saying, I want 50-50. But what you need to look at is forget about who took who was a primary parent and who’s who wasn’t and you what they’re fighting, you know, what they’re fighting against each other for. It’s not about them, it’s what’s in the best interest of the child. So if after the relationship, one parent who was kind of absent from the child’s relationship, wants to be present, wants to be a good parent, wants to contribute, and if that benefits the child, then whatever happened in the past, essentially doesn’t matter. The judge or you know, decision maker or mediator, whoever they look at, is this parent actually putting a good effort into making this child’s life better by being a part of that child’s life? So to make sure that the child is damaged as little as possible because of separation? And if, and yeah, and if the answer is yes, both parents should be involved, as long as they’re putting that effort, then what the history just simply doesn’t matter. It will be considered in the grand scheme of things to see, you know, like the ability of each parent. But the the test for parenting time is not who’s a better parent, it’s whether you have two decent parents who are good in, you know, in different ways. So that’s yeah, that has to be the assumption that, you know, if historically, somebody has been the primary parent, they should continue to do so. But, you know, as you can appreciate, when you live with somebody under the same roof, even if you’re not seeing your child, maybe you come home in the evening, before your child goes to bed, and you see the child, you know, like, even for a couple hours, and that’s that, that does good things to the child. But when you separate it, and you know, somebody says, I’ve been the primary parent, and you only get to see the child, you know, two hours a week, what does that what does that do to the child, you know, as far as the bonding experience, and and, and the love that needs to be transferred back and forth between you know, these three people.

Chad Ball  31:54

So, so interesting. Yeah. I appreciate you and that, that, that’s really helpful. You know, you’ve you’ve touched on it a couple of times, I just thought, again, maybe for some of our listeners who, who aren’t just the CEO of course, as you are, in general, the mechanics of divorce, least to my understanding, are the separation of property, spousal support going forward and child support going forward. And, you know, I would think that the the separation of property in general is pretty straightforward. But I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how child support is, is constructed? And then more importantly, I think the the biggest area of gray, would it be would it be spousal support.

Leena Yousefi  32:40

Okay, so it’s in, in some cases that have, you know, helped surgeons or doctors, the separation of property and spousal support, tend to be quite complicated, because it depends. So I know a lot of doctors or surgeons who function like they cannot provide services under a corporate entity. So because of that, like, at least when it comes to spousal support, it’s not the income that they’re claiming on their personal you know, T1 general tax returns, the income under their corporate name, can become fully available for the purposes of spousal and child support. So if you made hypothetically, you made a million dollars a year and you only took out $100,000, for your own personal income, when it comes to your support payments, it’s not the $100,000, that’s going to be considered, it’s going to be potentially the million dollars, that’s has to be considered. So and if you don’t want a million dollars a year to be considered, you need to come up with an argument why some or you know, like, the majority of that money is needed to stay in the corporation. And some of the reasons is, you know, I’m, you know, I want to start a clinic, I need the money to, you know, invest in purchasing a clinic or hiring doctors, or I need some money to stay there in case I get sued in the future. And that’s why, you know, my income shouldn’t be a million, it should be 100, or 200, or $300,000. So it does become complicated when it comes to spousal support, because spousal and child support are purely based on incomes. And the question is, what is your income? Is it your full corporate income? Or is it you know, is it something other than that? spousal support also is a is a big problem for a lot of doctors and surgeons who marry, you know, like, I’ve had cases where, you know, two people were like high school sweethearts, and one of them became a nurse and the other one became a doctor, right, or a surgeon, and by the time they separate, one person makes $50,000 a year, the other one can make, you know, $600,000 a year. What that means is that the higher earner is going to have to pay sometimes 10s of 1000s of dollars just in spousal support per year to the lower earner. And that’s seems very unfair because, you know, they would say my ex-spouse doesn’t need 30 grand a month to live on, you know, yes, I did make a lot of money, but we saved a lot of it, you know, we bought properties, or I kept the money in my company. And now, I have to treat this as if every time I get you know, $50,000 a month 25,000 of that has to just go go, go to my ex, which you know, what, what, what does she want to do with $25,000, that’s been a big, contentious thing, like a lot of cases have tried to cap incomes or reduce them or whatnot. But it’s just a very complicated area of law, which can be quite contentious. And for that reason, I think the best thing anybody can do with their lives, if they want to get married is to have a pre-nuptial agreement, which, hopefully we’ll get to in a second. As far as properties goes property goes, that’s also quite complicated. Because a lot of surgeons or doctors, like I said, they have companies and corporations that can hold real estate properties or businesses. And at the time of divorce, you have to value those, you have to determine you know, how much of that value was brought into the marriage, and how much was accumulated, you need chartered accountants and appraisers. It makes me tired of talking about it, which again, I tell you, it’s just best to address those two pre-nuptial agreements so you never have to go there.

Chad Ball  36:22

That’s That’s such a wise advice. And you know, of course, it’s, it’s like a patient for us, right? You might have the same diagnosis. But every scenario and every situation can be so different. It’s, it’s remarkable. I, I’m curious if you could describe to us the the child, the children support, in particular, and how that works, you know, based on the grade, and then maybe even more importantly, the extrapolation beyond that for your examples of someone’s making, you know, 50, and then 600, or, or, or 100, and a million or however, that works.

Leena Yousefi  36:54

Yeah, so child support is a bit more uniform. So you know, sometime, you know, if 10, I don’t know, a long, long time ago, I think it was 1976. No, maybe are more recent. But in any event, the government came up with something called the child support guidelines, which are federal, so you know, they’re set by the federal government. And and it’s very, that it’s very straightforward. You plug in incomes and a number generates. In a situation where I’m going to say, you know, my, let’s say, my client is a surgeon or a doctor, and his or her spouse has the children in his or her care, more than 60% of the time. If that person has children, more than 60% of the time, that person’s income doesn’t matter, they could be making 2 million or zero doesn’t matter. The only income that is considered is the income of the person who has the children less than 40% of the time. So what happens is, the guidelines say up to $150,000, you use this formula, you literally you know, put putting the income up to 100 $150,000. You decide how many children you click how many children and the province, and you can just go online, it generates a number, which is the child support, you need to pay. For incomes more than $150,000, the amount of child support becomes the discretion of the judge or the decision maker or by agreement. What that means is that the decision maker is going to have some liberty to decide what that amount should be. But the scary part of this in a sense is that more and more recently, judges don’t apply the discretion, they just take the entire amount of income, they plug it into the same federal child support guidelines, and it basically generates a number generally suggest a generic number, you know, given the amount of income, and that becomes the number that you have to pay. So judges don’t like don’t reduce that number, which I think in some situations, they should do more often. Because sometimes, for example, if you’re making a million dollars, and you have two children, and you have to work and you can’t have the children more than 40% of the time you find yourself in a situation where you’re paying 15-20 grand tax free per month, for the support of children who may have very minimal expenses, you know, like an 8-year-old or a 10-year-old, you know, you can take them to all the horseback riding lessons you want but to to for those children to have $20,000 per month in expenses, seems quite high. So there’s been a lot of litigation over this, you know, sometimes some judges apply what’s called the cap to income. So they capped income at 150 or sometimes a million or sometimes not at all to determine child support. And yeah, it’s the general principle behind it is that the parent who is a higher earner can provide a very high standard of living to the children, when the children are in his or her care. And those children deserve to have the same standard at the other parents’ is home. Therefore, you know, that’s, you know, they’re gonna have to pay a high amount of child support.

Chad Ball  40:16

Yeah, that’s, that’s very, very interesting. And, you know, we certainly see those those exact examples are around us. Unfortunately, all all the time, it seems like it’s really hard to make a million dollars, not hard, let me rephrase that it’s, it can be quite damaging to make a million dollars compared to 150 as you point out, if you’re on that same extrapolated matrix. It’s it’s an interesting philosophical discussion for sure. I’m curious if we could move on to maybe something else, maybe equally, equally interesting and soft. And really, you know, you touched on it a little bit. One of the things you hear physicians say, right or wrongly is, you know, I studied my, my whole life, my training pathway was, say, 18 years, if you’ve done a couple of surgical fellowships. The other person was maybe working, maybe not, and doing other stuff with or without children. Why should it be philosophically that essentially that other person is able to reap half of the financial benefits from from that relationship? And I think in particular, you know, it highlights a number of potential areas, but, you know, it reemphasizes how important obviously, this is true, but how important, you know, picking or merging with the right spouse is and the decision to have children that these are two, you know, really, really, really life critical decisions up front, that I think a lot of us tend to be romantic about, and maybe not put the thought into it that we should.

Leena Yousefi  41:58

Yes, you know, the bit of a good news. I know, I’ve talked about a lot of bad news for you guys, potentially. But you know, the law is not that stringent, like, it’s not a one size fit all. So let’s say, you know, again, I’m using the example of, you know, we were high school sweethearts, we got together and you know, one person stayed at home to take care of the children, while I was able to use that time to go to, you know, university and do my residency and fellowships and whatnot, like this person allowed me to get to where I am today. And now 20 years later, this person doesn’t have the education that she or he could have gotten if she didn’t have to care for the children, and doesn’t have the career prospects or advances that I was able to have. So in a, in a very traditional situation like that, when there’s children involved, and one person was clearly educationally and career-wise disadvantaged, because of marriage and having to raise children, then it seems more fair for for, you know, for the income to, you know, be potentially split. You know, because, as you may appreciate, you know, like raising children is a very difficult, difficult, difficult job. It’s definitely the most difficult job, I’ve had to do even harder than being a lawyer, you get no breaks whatsoever. But, you know, in a situation, like, we have situations where, you know, two physicians, for example, met each other at, you know, after med school, you know, or even at med school, and, you know, they studied together and they didn’t have kids, and seven years later, you know, like one of them, they separated, and one of them doesn’t work right now, and the other one makes a lot of money. In that situation, like, no judge is gonna come and like split the income of the higher earner in half. You know, like, in other words, the first question is, was there a disadvantage arising from the marriage itself? So if neither party experienced the disadvantage, they could do their education, they could work and and they both have the kind of like more, more or less the same ability to earn an income, then no spousal support is payable. That’s like, the first question is, was there a disadvantage? If the answer is yes, then you go to determine how much spousal support is going to be and there’s like different ranges of spousal support. There’s different timeframes depending on you know, the length of the marriage, you know, in a marriage where it was only five years and there were no kids. Even if there is a big income disparity spousal support may only be ordered for one or two years you know. But in a situation when it’s a 25 year marriage during their 60s and and they’ve had kids and one person just doesn’t is not going to be able to go out there and become you know, very, you know, financially secure then spousal support is definitely going to be longer and you know, higher. Yeah.

Chad Ball  44:50

Makes sense. I guess the next thing to talk about you know, as we move towards the end here and is the idea to go back to the pre-nup. Give us a sense, because I think we all carry completely erroneous views of that concept. And you’ll hear people say, well, they mean nothing, other people say, well, they mean everything. I think as physicians, we really have zero sense. You know, in terms of the reality of that.

Leena Yousefi  45:15

Yeah. So pre-nups are extremely awkward. They’re very uncomfortable. They go against like love in a sense, because here you are, like planning the rest of your life with somebody and then you’re forced to, you know, imagine a situation when it’s not working out and and you know, how much money is somebody’s gonna get, if things don’t work out, right. So like, I get that it’s awkward, and it’s uncomfortable, and a lot of people simply avoid it. But if there’s one thing I want to say is this, that in the decade that I’ve been practicing family law, possibly the biggest reason for people breaking up is purely financial reasons. And that’s that can take the form of I wanted to buy a house but he wanted to have a business or she spends too much money. She’s spends too much money on her purses, you know, or she takes too many trips or, you know, he drinks too much, he gambles too much. Financial issues during a relationship cause breakups to me more than affairs do or betrayals do. So the one thing that they that people don’t talk about that a pre-nup does, is it forces you to agree on on finances, at separation. So it kind of you know, when when people say, you know, like, you know, if relationships gonna work, if you go traveling together, or if you live together, I would add that you will know if a relationship is gonna work if you agree on finances, how to divide them and how to spend money. And a good exercise of that is to get into a pre-nup, or discuss a pre-nup, because even that discussion will tell you if this is the right person to marry. You know, because a lot of times when you’re engaged, or you’re dating or something like this financial things, such as buying a house or spending money on children don’t even come about until later during the marriage when when they come and they can become quite problematic. So it’s an exercise of testing the strength of your relationship. And the second thing is, that I want to say is when people separate, it’s so devastating. It’s so emotional, it’s so mind-numbing, that the last thing you want to do is to find yourself in the lawyers office, or try to figure out finances if you don’t have to. When you separate, the only thing you want to focus on is to mend your broken heart and what to do with respect to your children. So in order to reduce your own stress, in order to create clarity for, you know, if something like that happens, it’s to the interest of both people to discuss things when when things are calm and loving, and to come to some sort of conclusion so that you can put that aspect of things to rest and not think about them ever, hopefully. But and when you separate you at least have this peace of mind that you know what I can deal with my pain and my children, but I don’t have to deal with the finances. If you frame this issue that way, with your spouse, it they will see where you’re coming from, you know that the problem the mistake is when somebody goes and says, well, I made all this money, I want to protect my money, I want to make sure that you’re not after my money. And you know, we’re marrying for the right reasons. And I’m going to get a pre-nup to make sure you don’t get a penny out of everything with divorce. Obviously, their response to that is going to be very negative, with one person saying, you know, why do you think I want you for money? And, you know, why do you think I’m not worth anything, you know, it just creates problems. So, the discussion of a pre-nup needs to be based on what’s in our both best interest and why this pre-nup is going to help both of us. And you know, one of the biggest misconceptions is that pre-nups are made in such way that one person that makes all the money keeps everything at the end and the other person walks out walks out with nothing. That’s in 99% of the cases, like just simply not the case. People can say you know what, like when we separate we’ll split 50-50 you know, all these assets, and we’ll keep all these other assets separate. And, you know, all agree to let’s say, like five years of spousal support, or you know, based on a cap of X amount, right. So, you just come to your own agreements because and you know, you you figure out what’s fair if you separate and you put that on paper and then you put that to the side and go on, you know, to the sunset, you know, with your love with your love life. The biggest problem with not having pre-nups is when people separate they each go to their own lawyers and because the law is just there’s like you said there’s so many different situations where, you know, a judge has so much discretion to do 50-50 60-40 you know, include these assets include this income and that income. So each lawyer tells the person, this is what I could get you. And now there’s a distancing of positions. And then, you know, litigation and conflict can arise. If you can just agree on on how to separate assets, and you know what you’re going to get, even if it’s a 50-50, you’re reducing your conflict conflict by over 99%. And in that process, you don’t have to spend your life savings on lawyers fighting over disagreements. So and, you know, this is another very important thing that I’m going to finish with. Please don’t think of getting into a pre-nup to basically save 100% of everything. Because pre-nups can be invalidated or cancelled later if they if they if it turns out that they’re significantly unfair, aka, you know, at the time of separation, the pre-nup says the surgeon is going to walk away with 10 million and, and the other the partner who raised the children is going to walk away with zero. You know, when you want to get into a pre-nup, which is which has some aspect of fairness to it, maybe not 50-50, or even 40-60. But but you know, leave something to the other person so that it’s immune from being challenged in the future.

Chad Ball  51:13

I wanted to finish with with two questions, maybe the first a little bit negative and the other, hopefully very positive. The more negative side of things is, you know, in an era where we’re trying to deal with intimidation and bullying and that whole sort of negative side of things, what what are the rights of an individual? And let’s just create a scenario, a female physician who’s, you know, in the midst of divorce, and the male is bullying her or flip it around, the female divorcee is, quote unquote “harassing”. I know that word has this very special legal and political definition but harassing the other spouse that at their place of work like in the hospital. What are their rights? And how would you recommend that those those types of scenarios move forward or be improved?

Leena Yousefi  52:12

That’s a that’s an excellent question. And a few years ago, we actually as a province changed our legislation to recognize a concept which we call family violence, and family violence can it has been interpreted as not just like physical violence as psychological abuse or mistreatment as financial abuse or mistreatment, aka somebody makes making a lot of money and not paying, you know, like, support for their children has been defined as family violence. It’s really what it is, is somebody taking advantage of their position of power to bully or, or put somebody else under duress. And if family violence is found, in a case, people can lose custody of their children, they may have to pay a lot of money, and they may be subject to various orders, which would have almost a not almost actually a criminal aspect to them. So unfortunately, you know, given COVID, you know, this prime example when you know, somebody who’s abused at home is now stuck at home, because what are you gonna do go to like shelters that are closed or, you know, when when you have no power and no money, you stay at home and you get abused more and more. So in those situations, the law has allowed us as family lawyers to use numerous measures to make sure family violence doesn’t happen. The most extreme of it is being allowed to go to court without the knowledge of the you know, quote unquote, “abuser”, and get a court order in their absence, forcing them to, to stay away, at least, you know, like, you can even say 30 kilometers from the person who’s abused or the children. And, and if they come close, they can be arrested by the police. So that’s, that’s like the most extreme. Most cases don’t fall in that extreme case where, you know, there’s so much abuse that you have to get restraining orders. But there are there are other mechanisms such as conduct orders, which are, which would relate to situations that you’ve explained where a judge in your absence or presence would make a ruling that you’re not allowed to go to the person’s you know, place of employment. You can’t disparage the person, you can talk negatively about the person with your children or anybody else for that matter. And if you do, you’re going to be in contempt of a court order which can carry very, very extreme consequences such as, you know, the least of which would be fines and and the most extreme of which would be putting being put in prison. So you know, I’m so grateful that we live in a country that more and more everyday is acknowledging family violence, which is absolutely rampant in, in, in families more than anywhere else. And, and it’s even being defined by, you know, like I just had a case lately that was actually brought to a doctor. And actually two doctors, this is really interesting. So one of them, that was this was from a South Asian community where the woman became a doctor. And she was very ambitious. And she just wanted to go out and work and her husband was actually a dentist. And he wrote her a letter at the time that they were separating. And he basically said, You know, I can’t take this anymore, your role is to stay at home, make my dinner, because you know, I work so much and take care of our child. And if you can’t agree with that, then I have to separate. Obviously, they separated. But the the judge found that family violence in that by saying that, you know, you are basically like taking a woman who’s trying to just, you know, have a job, which would be at your level, and you’re basically, you know, forcing her putting her under duress, that if you, if you don’t do X, Y, and Zed, I’m going to leave you and I’m you know, I’m basically going to fight you over everything. So, again, we have multiple, numerous mechanisms to address family violence, through courts, through lawyers, and through mediators, which would definitely protect those who are vulnerable.

Chad Ball  56:28

Wow, that’s, that’s a scary and disappointing case vignette, there’s, there’s no doubt. The last thing which you know, again, hopefully, we end on a positive note, here today and again, appreciate your time so so very much, is really a very simple question. How do you pick a good family lawyer that that works well, for you and with you? And I, you know, the caveat to that, or the comment to that would be, as you pointed out, when when the divorce process happens, it’s almost surreal. It’s almost like you’re, you’re dreaming. And it’s very hard, I think, for a lot of us to mechanize finding a lawyer. You know, you start to ask your friends that have been divorced, who your colleagues, who did you have? And that’s usually the way it goes. But what are some of the things that should be red flags maybe for for that selection? Or how do we find folks and of course, in Vancouver, it’s you that this is very clear. But but but what about just you know, in general, as a as a principle or philosophy for for all of our listeners?

Leena Yousefi  57:31

I’ll give you a short answer and a tip, which I actually thought about this morning in the car, how do you find the best family lawyer because you Google, you know, Google will only tell you so much. And when when you’ve never been inside a courtroom or haven’t gone through a divorce, how do you do it? And a really good idea came to my mind, which I’m very excited to share. What I would say is in the short format, find the best mediator, family law mediator in town, which is very easy to find. You can you can go online to look at, you know, the best mediator or you can go and like mediate BC roster, and it shows all the like the prominent mediator. Go to that mediator, and ask them if they would, give him a synopsis of your file and ask them to refer you to a good family lawyer. What does that this is what it does. A prominent family law mediator has been a senior family lawyer, number one. Number two, they’ve dealt with hundreds of family lawyers who come before them to mediate a case. So they get to know family lawyers, they know the approach and they know the quality of the lawyers work. Take that referral, and like ask for maybe two or three names. And then because you know, at least with with physicians and surgeons, you know, they they do enjoy a bit of a financial liberty to be able to test the waters. Take you know, ask for two or three referrals and then go and meet with those lawyers and interview them and see beyond anything else, who you connect with better. Don’t pay attention to what you know, when they say these are the results I’m going to get get you because no lawyer can get you results. You know, the judge gets you results or you get your results when you agree with something. So don’t worry about what they say they can get you only focus on on am I connecting with this lawyer? Are they understanding who I am? Are they empathizing with my situation? And most importantly, are they giving me constructive suggestions instead of destructive suggestions? Constructive suggestions would include you know what, like, let’s have a four way meeting. Let’s do some mediation. Let me call the other lawyer and just have a chitchat with them. You know, here’s a like a path or like a like a way to resolve your case. You know, these are the steps involved like that lawyer will kind of put some peace of mind. You know, definitely ask for their fees as well so you’re not, you know, shocked when the first bill comes arrives. What you need to avoid is, I hate to say it because we have really good Google ratings ourselves. But don’t go based on Google ratings. Don’t think that whatever firm gets the best Google ratings is, you know, gonna be the best lawyer for you. Don’t look for an aggressive lawyer, don’t go on Google and put aggressive lawyer because as much as I understand, when you’re in a conflict, you want the best protection. And aggressive lawyer is only going to destroy things. You want an assertive lawyer, and I have a blog on that. And don’t ask your family and friends, for the best lawyer, just please don’t do that. It’s almost like going to an architect and asking, who’s the best surgeon in town? Like, I wouldn’t do that personally, you know, I would go to a surgeon to ask, you know, I would meet maybe I go to a heart surgeon to ask for, you know, who’s the who the best brain brain surgeon is, which is, you know, my, my, you know, that that even is not totally accurate. But it’s, it’s at least better than going to a family friend who has no idea anything, you know anything about medicine. That’s kind of like the similarity, I said, you know, go to a family law mediator instead of going, you know, going to your family and friends because that mediator has been a lawyer knows lawyers, it’s the same as you know, the heart surgeon at least has worked, hopefully, in the hospital where the brain surgeon has worked and has witnessed their, you know, quality of work. So, don’t ask for legal advice from family and friends don’t think that your case is going to be similar to your family and friends who went through a divorce, and kind of only focus on you your connection with your lawyer and the questions you have for your lawyer. And at any time during the process, you know, between you and your lawyer, if you are unsure about something, if you have questions, if you feel like you know, things are getting shaky, or you know, what the lawyer is doing may not be what you want to do, always go and just set up an hour consultation with another lawyer and ask for a second opinion. That tends to provide a lot of assurance and you know, a bit of a critique of your lawyers work and either you know, the second lawyer is going to tell you they’re doing the right job, or they’re gonna say this, these are the things we would do differently. And whatever kind of like sounds better for you is that is the path that you need to follow.

Ameer Farooq  1:02:30

You’ve been listening to Cold steel, the official podcast of the Canadian Journal of Surgery. If you’ve liked what you’ve been listening to, please leave us a review on iTunes. We’d love to hear your comments and feedback. So feel free to email us at podcast.cjs@gmail.com or connect with us on Twitter @CanJSurg. Thanks again.