What’s Happening With Family Law Reform?
In my last Blog post New Family / Criminal Court in Ontario — Still in Its Early Days, http://bit.ly/pEwKxf I mentioned the implementation of a new pilot project involving the implementation of a hybrid form of family / criminal court in Toronto, called the Integrated Domestic Violence Court. Although it is still in its early stages, the theory is that this new court may be a more efficient means for hearing certain domestic violence cases in Ontario.
But not all such law reform measures – no matter how worthwhile – actually see the light of day as quickly as they might. Exactly a year ago, the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) released a Report on the Family Law Justice System, titled “Voices from a Broken Family Justice System: Sharing Consultations Results.”
This 83-page report, which was based on in-depth interviews with social workers, lawyers, judges, counsellors and individuals involved with the family law system, focused on the “entry points” in to the family law justice system in the province. In particular, it aimed to examine the early stages of problem-solving in a family problem or conflict, focusing on where people go when faced with such challenges. These include schools, workplaces community-based organizations, mental health services, and legal and police services. The LCO conducted 49 individual or group consultations meetings, in person or by telephone, and also received written submissions by e-mail, mail and on-line survey.
Those who provided input recommend the reform in connection with the delivery of family services, including:
• the level of confidentiality and type of expertise necessary to solve family challenges and problems;
• whether services should be voluntary or mandatory;
• how legal culture influences the relationship between lawyers and users, between lawyers and other professionals, and between judges, users and other professionals;
• the need for assistance in navigating the family justice system; and
• a better response to children and youth in the family justice system.
The consultations revealed that both service users and workers had differing experiences at various family justice entry points, especially in various provincial regions. These involved linguistic, cultural, gender and economic components, and demonstrated that there was a lack of services and a lack of awareness of available services beyond entry point level.
To quote from the LCO Report:
“In short, the LCO public consultations indicate that prevention and early intervention, through the development and better management of entry point services, can help resolve family challenges and problems in a more effective way and prevent solvable problems from becoming unsolvable. Consultation participants repeatedly said that “they wished they had known this and that earlier” and “they wished they had been directed to the right service earlier”.
Even though the Consultation Paper is now a year old, the unfortunately reality is that the Ontario family law system as a whole has not improved very much in the time since. Certainly, there have been some improvements: some regions in Ontario have implemented sliding-scale family services, or have employed technology to reduce the cost of such services. These measures have incrementally increased the accessibility of the services to users.
Also, as I mentioned in another prior post New Process Mandatory for Divorcing Spouses in Ontario, http://bit.ly/q7VuCt Ontario has introduced a pilot project in some municipalities that requires parties in contested family matters to attend a Family Information Session, to obtain information about the effects of separation and divorce, options relating to dispute resolution, legal issues, court process and the various avenues for support that are available in the community. Whether or not this will benefit the parties to a family dispute still remains to be seen.
However, for the most part, change to the system has come slowly: family-related government services are still not as widely promoted as they could be. More importantly, the basic perception amongst the parties to even the most routine family dispute is that courts are backlogged, procedure is labyrinthine, and that the litigation process is prohibitively costly.
Hopefully this will change sooner than later.
For a copy of the Law Reform Commission of Ontario Consultation Paper, reference: http://bit.ly/pdedDv
For more information on the Ontario Mandatory Information Program (Family Information Sessions), reference: http://bit.ly/omyz4l