What Will 2016 Bring to Ontario Family Law?
It’s a new year: A time to reflect on the past and learn from it, and then look forward to the future.
Here is my list of the hotter 2015 Ontario family law topics that I think will continue to have resonance in the coming year:
• Self-represented litigants. Family law has seen a sharp increase in the number of self-represented litigants over the past few years. There are many reasons for this, but as I have illustrated in numerous prior blogs, it is not a positive development in my view. These individuals, intent on trying to save legal costs, often “spin their wheels” trying to navigate a complex and procedurally-intricate justice system on their own and without training. Too often, this leads to needless or high costs anyway, and less-than-optimal financial and other results in their litigation matter itself. Nonetheless – and for better or worse – I suspect that people’s urge to self-represent will continue throughout the coming year.
• Unbundling of legal services. The notion of giving clients the cost-effective option to hire family lawyers to essentially do piecemeal or “unbundled” legal work under a limited retainer has gained increasing traction recently. This arrangement allows lawyers to perform pre-agreed, specific and well-defined tasks, rather than take on the client’s entire family litigation file from start to finish. The Law Society of Upper Canada (which is the regulatory body that governs lawyers) has drafted rules to guide lawyers in such situations, and has recently put on a continuing legal education seminar to help those lawyers properly and effectively navigate such unbundling arrangements. Clearly there is more of this to come.
• Mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law. The trend toward increasing use of alternate dispute resolution methods has steadily increased in years past, and the coming year should be no exception. Public awareness and access is helped by various government initiatives, such as the Mandatory Information Programs that are available at family court locations across Ontario, which provide litigants with information about separation and divorce and the related legal processes.
• Streamlining of family proceedings. Hopefully 2016 will add even more efficiency and streamlined procedure to the existing family system. We already see the benefits of the widespread use of the Federal Child Support Guidelines, which dictates child support amounts payable at various income levels and circumstance. The Guidelines have provided a healthy and needed dose of certainty and streamlining to this area of family law at least. Some “softer” gains have been achieved through the use of case conferences, which are optional in some circumstances, but mandatory in others. Presided over by family judges, they are intended to help narrow the issues between the parties, and explore the possibility of settlement. Let’s hope the coming year sees more productive initiatives of this type.
What are your prediction for family law in the year 2016?