Ontario expands mediation services to 49 courts

TheStar,com – news/Canada
Published On Sun Dec 12 2010.    By Tanya Talaga, Queen’s Park Bureau

Easing the emotional burdens of divorce while unclogging the court system is behind the expansion of mediation services across Ontario, says Attorney General Chris Bentley.

The province is expanding a successful mediation pilot project, first started in Milton and Brampton, to all 49 court locations that hear family cases by summer 2011.

For years, Ontario’s top lawyers and judges have urged that there be better ways to handle family break-ups and child custody agreements other than in a confrontational way decided in a courtroom by a judge.

“This is about the people and not just the process,” Bentley told the Star. He made the announcement at the Ontario Bar Association in downtown Toronto late last week.

By April 2011, 17 additional courts will have the family law services and the remainder 32 should be in place by the summer, he said.

The improvements include family mediation services to help couples solve disputes outside the courtroom — a move that saves both money and stress, Bentley said.

A mandatory information program will help educate couples on the costs of divorce and how to go about it by avoiding the courtroom.

And, information coordinators will also be on hand to refer couples to community agencies that may help them resolve their differences.

The change is part of a series of family law reforms begun by Bentley in 2008.

Those reforms include toughened up rules for those seeking custody of a child and protections for women fleeing abusive relationships, such as making it easier to obtain restraining orders.

This will have a “tremendous impact” in terms of trying to unlock the delays and deadlocks going on in the family court system, said Lee Akazaki, OBA president.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction to reduce the amount of confrontation, to reduce the amount of litigation proceeding through the courts right now,” he said.

“This does a number of things, but it will never ease the pain of the actual family break-up,” Akazaki said. “What it is intended to do is remove the delay, the legal cost and frustration of having to go through a judicial system.”

Some have no idea how the legal process works in divorce, he added.

If child custody, access and support obligation can be figured out outside of the court system, it will be less harmful to all involved, Akazaki said.

“The court process involves lots of confrontation,” he said. “This way, they can proceed to get on with their lives, although separate lives.”

Progressive Conservative MPP Ted Chudleigh (Halton) said generally the party is supportive of it. “This is not appropriate in all cases though,” he said. “In cases of abuse, it may not be appropriate.”

The pilot project appears to be working, unlike some of the Liberals’ other initiatives that just seem to “plea bargain cases away,” Chudleigh said.

“This one, though, has merit,” he said.

But mediators have to be properly trained, he said. “There are good mediators and bad ones,” he said. “Divorce doesn’t really belong in the courts, in all cases anyways.”

< http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/905909–ontario-expands-mediation-services-to-49-courts >

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