Divorce lawyer, Paul Riley is telling the stories that matter.
Paul Riley is a storyteller. Not the traditional storyteller who sits by the campfire to tell ghost tales, but a storyteller whose words affect the outcomes of the families who walk into his office and exit the courtroom.
Riley has been a lawyer for eighteen years. His firm, The Riley Divorce & Family Law Firm, serves clients throughout Ontario who are dealing with family legal issues. Riley is known for helping people settle their divorces.
His story began in Trench Town, Jamaica, where he was born and spent his formative years. At eight, he and his mother moved to Toronto. He completed an undergraduate degree at Dalhousie University and then returned to Toronto to study journalism at Humber college.
After graduating, he began working for the CBC. “I never saw it as work because I loved it so much, but people think you have all this authority as a television reporter, but you don’t really have any. There are layers of management, and if someone doesn’t like you or how you look, you may not get promoted. I felt like that was a precarious position for a black man in this country,” said Riley.
Riley told over 1000 stories at the broadcasting company over the course of seven years. He believes his experiences at the CBC have made him a better lawyer.
“Everyone comes to divorce with a story, and quite often, it’s the person with the most reasonable and compelling story who ends up winning the case and being the most believable. I think that’s one of the ways I help my clients. I am a good storyteller,” said Riley.
Although Riley liked telling stories, he did not want his future to be at the mercy of others, so he decided to make a career change-one that would empower him and others to stand up for what they believe in. It was always clear to Riley that if he wasn't a journalist, he would be a lawyer. He started with media cases but decided to change course once again after he went through his own divorce.
“My experience with my own divorce led me to believe that there is a better way of settling divorce cases. My divorce was more contentious than it needed to be. After going through that, I began to dedicate my time mostly to family law, which is what I exclusively focus on now. I want to make the divorce process as efficient as possible,” said Riley.
Riley’s career began in a place that was rooted uncertainty. Like many of his clients, he felt as though he had a lack of control. The work he does as a lawyer helps give people their agency back as they are going through a stress-inducing and emotionally debilitating experience.
“No one gets into a relationship thinking they are going to be sitting across the table from a person who told them they love them, and now they are trying to destroy them and leave them with nothing. That’s how relationships quite often end though, and it is usually a drawn-out battle, and because of this, we know we need to have our clients’ backs. While our client may be acting on their emotions, we help them choose decisions made with reason. They need someone to tell their story when they are being attacked and disparaged, and that’s what my firm does,” said Riley.
Riley and his firm offer an approach to divorce that is unlike others. They seek to understand the client’s perspective and simplify the divorce process. The firm offers complimentary educational coaching sessions to clients. One of the firm’s clerks is an experienced divorce coach. On the first Monday of every month, the firm offers a session for clients and the public to attend. Riley and his team also offer one-on-one sessions for new clients and clients who need extra support.
These resources can be helpful for those exiting a tumultuous period with their partner. It can also help them build a solid foundation for future relationships. Riley believes that those who participate in coaching sessions become better clients because when the emotional portion of divorce is validated, their expectations are rationalized.
“This is about the relationship you thought was going to last a lifetime. People need more than help just navigating the Divorce Act or family law and statutes. They also need to know that they are going to be okay. We take care of the legal aspect while our coaches provide emotional support,” said Riley.
For those whose relationships fizzled during the pandemic, this help may be needed. Since the start of the pandemic, 4,673,565 Canadians (15 percent) have experienced a relationship break-up of some kind, according to market research firm, Finder Canada. This uptick has kept divorce lawyers busy, said Riley, who believes the disruption of routine made people rethink their relationships.
“COVID was a tremendous test on the rhythm of relationships. Our relationships run on a rhythm. She wakes up. He wakes up. They see each other for thirty minutes, and then they are out the door. After dealing with the kids in the evening, you maybe see each other. With the advent of the pandemic, that all stopped. It was like the scratching on an old vinyl. The pandemic allowed people to get to know the person they were with, and many people found that they didn’t like that person,” said Riley.
The divorce rate could remain elevated for a few years because most Canadian’s are not granted a divorce until they have been separated from their spouse for a year. Riley, however, has hope for those whose relationships did withstand the pandemic, deeming these relationships solid.
If divorce is inevitable a lawyer will almost always be required, according to Riley. When the arrangement of assets becomes complex, it becomes contentious, especially when one of the partners has narcissistic traits. When dealing with true narcissists, cases can become drawn-out and emotionally exhausting. Riley’s firm prides itself on preparing clients for tough situations like this. The firm has handled complex cases surrounding child abduction and narcissism. Riley and his team advise each client on what to expect when going into battle because it is not for the faint of heart.
“Divorce transcends across all professions, classes, and races. It’s just human behaviour,” said Riley.
The fairy-tale relationship that many grow up dreaming about may not be the one they end up receiving. Riley has dedicated his career to mending the lives of the broken hearted. He has witnessed relationships crumble over and over again, even his own. It would not be unreasonable to assume that his outlook on love has soured, but it is the contrary.
Riley is refuting the stigma surrounding divorce and shedding light on what a healthy relationship looks like, which can sometimes involve letting go of a partnership that is no longer serving you. This stigma has been long withstanding but is unravelling as divorce is becoming more prevalent in our social fabric.
“I think overwhelmingly, most people choose someone who doesn’t really fit them. You will eventually need to dissolve that relationship, and that is not a bad thing. It is worse to stay in a bad situation. I think it is a referendum on love or love that is not there. Even though I am a divorce lawyer, I still believe that love is beautiful. People need love,” said Riley.
When Riley worked for the CBC, he used to jump out of bed because he was excited to get to work. The stories he told were important, but he wasn’t the only one telling him. This was something that never sat right with him.
“If a parking garage crashes in Mississauga and two people are stuck, that’s an important story, but there are also 5678 other people telling the same story. If you didn’t see my story, you didn’t miss anything. Today, I am the only one in court who is telling my client’s story,” said Riley.
Now Riley can be the sole storyteller for the clients he represents in the courtroom, and subsequently, the sole storyteller of his own life as he continues to choose a path that he loves and honours his ambitions.
“I am telling the most intimate stories of people who trust me with their lives. I talk about what happens in their homes, kitchens and even in their bedrooms. I need to make sure my team articulates what happened correctly. My clients are counting on me to look out for them and their children. It’s a more important and vital story that is critical to the lives of those asking me for help,” said Riley.
Perhaps Riley is a ghost storyteller after all, reminding us of the ghosts of relationships past and those who quite literally ghosted us, failing to return our calls. Sometimes spooky stories are best kept for the campfire, or in this case, the courtroom.