Family Justice Services Western
Final Evaluation

2004-FCY-8E

2.0 PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

2.1 Vision, Mission, Beliefs, Goals and Objectives

This section is drawn almost in its entirety from FJSW program literature.

FJSW has as its vision, "To address family law issues within an efficient and effective dispute resolution model, outside the traditional court setting."

Its mission is described as follows: "Family Justice Services Western is a dedicated multi-disciplinary team committed to using a child-centered approach to support children and families where custody, access, child and / or spousal support, are issues by providing education, mediation, and counseling services."

There are a number of belief statements associated with FJSW, namely:

  • Family law issues can be resolved outside the traditional court system within a supportive environment.
  • The needs and well-being of children come first.
  • People have the innate ability to solve their own problems.
  • Parenting is forever.

There are six explicit goals for the service, namely:

  • Efficiency—to ensure a timely, just and inexpensive resolution of family law issues.
  • Mediation and education—to reduce conflict and tensions amongst family members during the process of dispute resolution.
  • Addressing family conflicts more humanely—to make separation and divorce less painful.
  • Sustaining the agreement—to reduce ongoing conflicts for families involved in the legal system.
  • Promoting alternative dispute resolution (ADR)—to increase awareness of Family Justice Services Western among families involved in the legal system.
  • Evaluation—to demonstrate the effectiveness of the pilot project, Family Justice Services Western.

2.2 Rationale / Design

Until the introduction of FJSW, the only provincial publicly funded family justice service containing alternative approaches to dispute resolution was located at the Unified Family Court in St. John's, which had been providing such services since 1978. The lack of availability of alternate means of dispute resolution and education / counselling services resulted in a formal legal system which attempted to address the complex issues associated with separation and divorce. According to interviews with judges and other key informants, as well as prior provincial consultations (Provincial Consultation on Custody and Access, 2001), this approach was often expensive, non-responsive and not child-friendly. Processes and outcomes often did not best meet the needs of users. For clients who could not afford to pay a private lawyer and needed to rely upon Legal Aid, resources were limited and services restricted (e.g. no services for those seeking / paying support where the other party is unrepresented by legal counsel).

The Community Mental Health Initiative (CMHI), a non-profit community organization formed initially to address a lack of mental health services for children in the Western Region, identified a need for alternative family law services in the late 1990s. A sub-committee of CMHI had been working for approximately two years towards the establishment of a Unified Family Court in the region. This committee, the precursor to the FJSW Steering Committee, was comprised of judges, lawyers and representatives of community groups in the Corner Brook area. Based on the collective experiences of its members, the committee recognized the need for alternative justice services. Key issues identified included the lack of alternatives for resolving family law matters, the backlogs in court proceedings and the lack of preparedness of those appearing in court.

When the opportunity for funds to pilot innovative family law approaches became available, CMHI agreed to participate. While the original vision had been of a service built upon the Unified Family Court model, the organization embraced a community-based, multi-disciplinary, child-focused approach in keeping with the other services of CMHI. Looking back, members of the steering committee believe this model has proven superior in some respects to the UFC concept (e.g. the existence of in-house counselling, separate from court) and they are pleased they have had the opportunity to test this variation.

Many observers saw the administrative placing of a service such as FJSW within a community-based organization such as CMHI as a departure from the norm. However, the proponents had had the experience of developing other alternative services, particularly in mental health, within the community framework, and felt these services would be a comfortable fit. Provincial officials have supported this approach, though this does not necessarily suggest there is a clear determination that community-centered delivery will be a feature of any future model for the province as a whole.

FJSW is operated in an environment distinct from government or court. The service is provided in a building known as Blomidon Place on a quiet street adjacent to a main road. There is a warm and inviting atmosphere, which may reflect the nature of the other services located there (e.g. children's mental health, school guidance, youth corrections). A number of key informants made this observation, as did several clients of the service.

2.3 Administration / Governance

FJSW is governed by a steering committee, formally a sub-committee of CMHI. The FJSW Steering Committee is an active group, with knowledgeable persons in family law taking leadership in identifying alternative approaches. They formally meet quarterly, though informally are in contact on a regular, as needed basis. A key conduit from CMHI to the program is the administrative coordinator. This paid position provides an administrative link between FJSW and the broader CMHI program, and administers the budget for the program. Prior to this position being funded, the financial / administrative oversight fell to the steering committee.

The FJSW Steering Committee is chaired by a Supreme Court justice. All those interviewed observed that this person had championed the program's development, having noted the gaps in the court system at both the Provincial and Supreme Court level. A knowledgeable committee, including another judge and a provincial justice official (administrator of Unified Family Court), has set a clear vision and direction for the program's development. The composition of the committee is reasonably representative of the key stakeholder groups, but some informants suggested that court administrators, consumers and women's groups should be included as well. This committee has kept strong links to the region's Bar / Bench committee, which meets three times per year, and has positive communications and links with the staff at the courts.

2.4  Service Access: Nature and Rationale

Family Justice Services Western provides a range of services to assist families experiencing separation and divorce in the Western Region of the province. The general service delivery area within the region includes Bay of Islands, Corner Brook, Humber Valley and Port aux Basques. In terms of recalculation, this service area covers from St. Anthony on the Northern Peninsula to Port aux Basques in the west and White Bay in the east.

Access to services of FJSW is restricted to direct referral from the Provincial and Supreme Courts in the service delivery areas. All cases have to file a court application related to child / spousal support and / or custody and access before being referred to FJSW. Cases are generally referred by the courts prior to a court date being set for the matter in question.

The rationale provided by Steering Committee members for exclusive court referral to the program is in part related to controlling the extent and nature of workload, especially while the program is in a pilot phase. In addition they were concerned that if referrals were accepted from the broader community, then this might affect the ability to assess impacts on court-related indicators (e.g. preparedness of FJSW clients in court, savings in time, outcomes).

Some of those interviewed, including some of the program staff, questioned the access limitations, especially given the community-based philosophy of FJSW. This is particularly the case with the counselling services, where current limits preclude preventative approaches or early intervention with parents who may be contemplating separation.

2.5 Staffing Structure: Rationale and Description of Incumbents

The staffing structure of FJSW includes: one full-time lawyer / mediator, one counsellor, one Support Application Social Worker, and one recalculation clerk. In addition to mediation, the Steering Committee believed in the need to integrate education and counselling services from the outset. There was a vision to closely involve the Support Application Social Worker program as well. The model essentially called for an accessible service providing information, support, guidance and possible resolution of issues arising from separation and divorce, through use of an integrated array of supportive services provided by a multi-disciplinary team of qualified professionals.

The steering committee defined a role for a lawyer / mediator to act as a key dispute resolution person for the program. The rationale for the position being a lawyer appears to have been guided by an interest in multi-disciplinary approaches, as well as to allow for easier acceptance of the approach by the local bar and judiciary.

The incumbent was selected outside of a public competition for the position, owing to her considerable experience in family law and the need to move forward with hiring in the pilot phase. She had been in a private practice in the region, in which about half of her work had been in family law, and she was well regarded as a practitioner. Since coming into the position, she has completed advanced levels of mediation training.

In the case of counselling services, key supporters indicate that because CMHI / Blomidon Place has a supportive and positive focus on the well-being of children, as well as the experiences / beliefs of committee persons, this led to a commitment that counseling be a core part of FJSW.

The person in the counsellor position at present is a highly regarded professional in the community. A certified counsellor, who recently retired from the school system, she is seen as knowledgeable, dedicated and committed to children's interests.

The Support Application Social Worker (SASW) program had been originated through and operated in close collaboration with the Provincial Court in Corner Brook. The Steering Committee envisioned a distinct role for SASWs within FJSW, addressing support issues in non-HRE originating referrals, Supreme Court referrals and variations.

To accommodate the interests of FJSW, a Support Application Social Worker (SASW) role was designed and an experienced SASW seconded to the program. This individual is a registered social worker and has completed advanced levels of mediation since coming into FJSW. This individual is seen to be an experienced and competent staff member. There was some question as to whether his skills have been under-utilized in terms of mediation, but as noted previously, there are plans to expand his role in this regard.

Recalculation arose primarily as a means to address ongoing issues relating to child support, based on the changing circumstances of payors. Current approaches to addressing this issue (e.g. variation orders through court) were seen to be unresponsive and likely to increase the acrimony between separated parties. Considerable court time was spent assessing changes in circumstances, most of which could be resolved through administrative means, using the existing Child Support Guidelines (see Appendix 1A for a more thorough discussion). Given its close links to court activity, recalculation may not seem at first to be a natural fit in a community-based service. However, proponents argue that it is a child-focused initiative that is intended to simplify support issues and is in keeping with the aims of FJSW.

Recalculation is performed by a clerk, the current incumbent being a person with extensive administrative experience. This person works closely with the lawyer / mediator on staff at FJSW who is available for consultation. The two judges who have assisted in the development of the process also provide advice and guidance, and the four share comments via e-mail as issues arise.

2.6 Service Description

This section is based significantly on FJSW internal program documents.[7] FJSW staff have developed and documented processes for their various activities, which will facilitate ongoing evaluation and research / development. These include:

  • Detailed client flow charts / descriptions for the service as a whole, mediation services and recalculation.
  • Materials and a presentation for information sessions.
  • Detailed descriptions for clients on mediation services.
  • Keeping relevant statistics from the outset in a comprehensible manner.
  • Tracking of developmental progress.
  • Articulation of a clear vision, mission, beliefs, goals and objectives for FJSW.
  • Formulation of policy and procedures.

Services include:

  • Intake—referrals are sent from the Provincial and Supreme Courts to FJSW. Intake interviews are held with staff via phone or in person, usually within two weeks.
  • Information sessions—a three-hour session is held with each party to an application. These provide a range of legal, personal (e.g. child development, impact of separation and divorce) and service information.
  • Mediation—a range of dispute resolution options are provided to parties to an application, ranging from joint mediation to shuttle mediation. These are also available for custody and access issues.
  • Services on support issues only—a Support Application Social Worker assists parties in reaching agreement on support issues.
  • Counselling—services are provided by a counsellor to parents and / or children in situations where court applications have been made. These services may be offered alone or in tandem with other interventions.
  • Recalculation of support—court orders for support are periodically recalculated by the clerk, using updated financial information from the payors of support.

Figure 1 demonstrates the flow of clients through the FJSW service delivery system. Each service is described in detail below.

Figure 1 Family Justice Services Western

2.6.1 Information Session

When clients are contacted by FJSW, in response to an application being filed, they are called and given a time to attend an information session. They are told that they are expected to attend (some exemptions are granted). This session, usually three hours in length, addresses issues of legal process, services provided by FJSW and key personal, communications, parenting (including step-parenting) and child development concerns associated with separation and divorce. Clients of the SASW program are also invited to these information sessions. Usually 10 to 15 persons attend these sessions (former partners do not attend together). The session was designed and is delivered by the counsellor, mediator / lawyer and SASW. The rationale for the information session is to provide relevant information to participants so they can separate the legal and non-legal issues associated with their situation and make more effective use of legal and court services.

2.6.2 Intake

In terms of intake process, all new referrals are received from the court. Applicants are contacted by FJSW. This was initially done by the lawyer / mediator or SASW until the administrative clerk was hired. While a beneficial opportunity to make initial contact with clients, this approach resulted in inordinate time being spent in trying to connect with potential participants. Under the current approach, appointment times with the lawyer / mediator are negotiated with the client, with an effort to be accommodating of client needs in terms of timing. Respondents are then contacted, after being served notice of an application by the court. Initial mediation interviews may take place in person or over the phone, and are usually conducted within two weeks of the referral being sent to FJSW.

2.6.3 Mediation

The program provides for what it describes as different types of mediation, namely:

  • Joint session mediation—both people meeting in the same room with the mediator.
  • Shuttle mediation—both people attend the offices of FJSW but are seen separately.
  • Phone mediation—where one party is physically present and the other is on the phone.
  • Phone mediation—where both people are contacted by phone but not simultaneously.

The term "mediation" to describe the services noted above is seen by program staff themselves to be inaccurate and perhaps misleading. There appears to be a mix of formal mediation processes with less formal approaches, which might more accurately be termed "conciliation" or "negotiation." From an evaluative and program design perspective, the terminology is problematic in that it implies a particular form of dispute resolution, when clearly a broader range of alternatives is being employed. The importance of this distinction can be seen when one compares the broad alternative dispute resolution (ADR) approach of FJSW to the more traditional and narrower approach seen at UFC. Both approaches are referred to as mediation, but they encompass a different range of activities and philosophical perspectives.

The staff and the steering committee envisioned a service characterized by a broad ADR approach, rather than a more pure mediation model (e.g. joint, in-person sessions). There was an interest in using an approach that would be flexible, inclusive and responsive to geographical and personal considerations. There also a belief that use of formal processes would exclude more people than they would include. Thus, rather than insist on joint mediation, which was seen to be unworkable in some situations and not required in others, the program incorporated elements of what is described in Nova Scotia's model as "conciliation." This is a less formal approach where joint processes are not necessarily employed. In the view of the lawyer / mediator, the key to this approach is that all options are presented to clients and that decisions about processes are made by clients themselves.

Initially, the offering of choices resulted in more separate sessions rather than joint mediation. Over time, there has been a substantial increase in joint mediation, which is attributed to increased knowledge about the process in the community, and increased experience in providing the service. There is an intuition on the part of the staff person that those who meet jointly will do better in reaching and maintaining agreements.

Of those cases that proceed to mediation, it appears that about 10 % follow a formal joint mediation approach, another 10 % encompass joint and individual approaches and the remaining 80 % involve various forms of individual mediation. These are estimates only, as the program does not capture these statistics.

At the outset of the process, the parties sign an acknowledgment of mediation role form. This includes statements about the process, appropriateness of mediation, role of the mediator and the parties, authority to settle, disclosure, good faith, legal advice, advocacy / support, confidentiality, without prejudice, the importance of seeking independent legal and tax advice in review of any agreements, resolution, ending the process, research. Once this is completed, mediation of issues proceeds.

As described earlier, the actual process of mediation may take several forms. In joint mediation, the approach might take the form of commonly accepted mediation practice. Key elements would include issues identification, exploration of alternatives and proposed solutions, and negotiation of a formal agreement. This would be accomplished through a series of one to two hour meetings, with usually no more than eight hours in total with the parties (there have not been any cases in FJSW where parties have been seen more than four times to date). In individual mediation, where the parties work one-on-one with the mediator, the process may parallel this formal approach or may be more informal and issues-oriented. Often this requires less actual client time. About 80 % of clients surveyed reported that the mediation was completed in one to three hours of meeting time, while about 20 % said it took longer than three hours.

The start-to-finish time for mediation generally ranges from two weeks to two months. Those who resolve more quickly are described as unrepresented clients who are clear about their interests. The longest time to resolution of a successful mediation was nine months, where there were serious complications. Counselling took place in the middle of the process, and lawyers were used by both parties, including Legal Aid on one side.

The mediator carries approximately 40 to 45 cases at any one time and feels this is the maximum caseload possible in order to provide responsive and quality service. In addition to the direct client workload, this position has also been tasked with much of the development of the recalculation approach and participates in the information sessions and community presentations.

2.6.4 Counselling

Counselling services are an integral component of the FJSW approach. Clients are offered brief intervention (up to about eight sessions over a four month period). From inception, counselling services have been provided to 141 adult clients and 70 children. The counsellor has also been involved with a variety of consulting and assessment activities. She is highly regarded by all associated with the program, including clients.

  • Counselling services can be accessed through a variety of means: Pre-mediation—if there is a request at intake for counselling services, a referral is made at that time, which may or may not delay the onset of mediation or other services, as the situation warrants.
  • During mediation—he parties may seek counselling for themselves and / or their children, or the mediator may refer parties / children. Again this may or may not involve placing the mediation process "on hold."
  • Post-mediation—parties / children may continue or begin counselling after mediation.

Counselling services are provided directly to and for the benefit of families. This can include individuals, couples, families and groups with children. At any one time, the counsellor reports seeing about 40 client families, and indicates this is the maximum she is able to service effectively. Clients are seen on average about eight times over a four-month period, but this can vary significantly. The client survey indicated that most clients (58 %) received two to four hours of counselling. In addition to direct delivery of services to families, the counselling role has entailed:

  • Designing and co-delivering the information sessions.
  • Consulting with the mediator / SASW about child development, psychological issues and concerns in specific situations.
  • Consulting on specific aspects of parenting plans with parents / mediator / SASW.
  • Conducting home assessments (can take up to 40 hours each to complete) and custody reviews (about 10 hours per case) at the request of the court.

Common issues addressed by the counsellor include:

  • Grief and other personal issues being experienced by one or both parties.
  • Post-separation parenting concerns.
  • Child adjustment to separation.
  • Step-parenting issues.
  • Re-unification of parents with children they have not seen for extended periods.
  • Power imbalances / abuse—when flagged in other services, are referred to the counsellor.

The counsellor works in an increasingly collaborative manner with the lawyer /mediator, with an estimated cross-over activity in about 50 % of all cases. This may involve:

  • Consulting directly with the lawyer / mediator.
  • Providing information and feedback to parents in a mediation session about parenting plans.
  • Supporting one of the parties by being present in a mediation session (particularly in situations of perceived power imbalances).
  • Assessing children's perspectives and sharing those with parents and the lawyer / mediator.

Further, the SASW reports referring about 10 % of cases to the counsellor for follow-up. Because the nature of the SASW work is less process-oriented and often conducted by telephone, there is less active collaboration with, or referral to, the counsellor.

Clients of counselling services showed cross involvement with other services as follows:

  • Mediation / SASW—79 %.
  • Intake—62.5 %.

2.6.5 Child Support Services

The Support Application Social Worker (SASW) Program has been in place for several years, providing assistance to separating persons in determining child support amounts. The program is a collaborative effort of the provincial departments of Justice and Human Resources and Employment.

Under the program, Support Application Social Workers help separated couples to resolve issues of child support, using the Child Support Guidelines. An earlier evaluation of the SASW program by the consultants found the program to have positive impacts on the separation process for families and to generate savings to the public purse. The process has often been successful in securing increased payments to custodial parents on social assistance.[8] There are two SASWs associated with the Western Region.

When referrals are made to FJSW in cases where support only is at issue, they are directed to the Support Application Social Worker. Referrals originating from Human Resources and Employment (e.g. the custodial parent on social assistance is compelled to apply for support) are handled by another SASW, who is not part of FJSW. The FJSW Support Application Social Worker is responsible for the following:

  • All non-HRE originating referrals for child support only.
  • All applications for variation of an existing order.
  • All Supreme Court support applications.
  • All spousal support applications.
  • Some mediation when the mediator is in a conflict on a case.
  • Co-facilitation of the information sessions.
  • Participation in community presentations.

The services of the SASW in some ways parallel those commonly referred to as "conciliation." Most of the client contact is by phone and involves applying the Child Support Guidelines to the clients' situation and working with them to achieve resolution. The total involvement is usually no more than three contacts with each party and is generally resolved within one month.

Program statistics indicate that the SASW has worked with about 200 cases to date. The SASW estimates that he has an active caseload of 30 to 35 cases at any one point, which is described as a full workload.

The SASW works closely with other staff in the program and refers about 10% of his clients to the counsellor. He provides mediation services in conflict cases for the mediator and it is anticipated that he will assume an increasing mediation role in custody and access situations as well.

Negotiated agreements through the SASW are said to occur in about half of those cases where clients agree to try to resolve them. This is estimated to have increased from a 30% success rate earlier in the program, and is attributed by the staff person involved to having more cooperative and informed clients. Spousal support situations and situations involving one party out of the province have been less likely to settle successfully.

2.6.6 Administrative Recalculation

Introduction

Family Justice Services Western has introduced, on a pilot basis, a recalculation of support orders made in the Corner Brook area courts, supported by the Western Child Support Service Regulations. The information in this section is taken from interviews with the team that developed and implemented recalculation (two judges, the lawyer / mediator and the recalculation clerk) and a review of administrative information.

Purpose and Objectives

In 1997, the federal government introduced the Child Support Guidelines, which were intended to provide a fair and consistent means of determining support payments. The introduction of the Child Support Guidelines has improved the ability to determine the child support payments required in any given situation. However, there remain challenges in establishing amounts of support in many cases. This is particularly true in Newfoundland, where the nature of employment is often seasonal and where many people are self-employed or leave the province for extended periods to work. This results in wide fluctuations of income for payors. However, support amounts are based upon the financial circumstances of the parties at the time of the order and do not generally attempt to address future changes in the circumstances of the payor.

Prior to the establishment of recalculation services, there was no formal mechanism, short of an application for variation of the order, to take into account a change in the payor's income when calculating the appropriate support amount. The result of this prior situation was seen to include:

  • Increases in income not resulting in increases in support for dependent children.
  • Decreases in income resulting in less payment in support for children, arrears.
  • Use of a formal application for variation process as a resolution, triggering disputes and hostility between parties.
  • Further court time in appearances to resolve the variation.

The purpose of recalculation is to create an alternative administrative process for resolution of child support variations based upon changes in income of the payor, with the court's role being restricted to approving orders or dealing with contentious cases.

The objectives of recalculation are described as including:

  • To provide a responsive approach to the reality that payor incomes vary considerably from the time an original order is made until child support is no longer required.
  • To ensure that children are not unduly denied supports in their interest.
  • To ensure payors with decreasing income do not go in arrears simply because of a change in their incomes.
  • To diminish the need for variation of support applications going to court, using the Child Support Guidelines to ensure an equitable administrative resolution that can then, barring objection, be made into a court order.
  • To reduce court time and to promote the use of the court as being primarily for those situations where there may be complications or special circumstances.
  • To improve compliance rates through a non-adversarial automatic administrative model.
Development

A committee comprised of a Supreme Court Justice, a Provincial Court Judge, the mediator for the project and a recalculation clerk worked together to develop and implement the recalculation process. There was some consultation with the local bar and some select other informants. Funding for a clerk position was secured from the Department of Justice Canada. In early 2002, the Western Child Support Service Regulations, NLR9/02 were put in place and applied to all child support orders containing a recalculation clause made under the Family Law Act whether in the Provincial or Supreme Court.

Supporting Legislation

At the same time as the Federal Child Support Guidelines came into force in 1997, the federal government amended the Divorce Act, to include section 25.1.

Pursuant to section 25.1, the Minister of Justice may, on behalf of Canada, enter into an agreement with a province authorizing a provincial child support service designated in the agreement to:

As noted earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador was the first province to obtain the designation to provide recalculation of child support orders and to implement regulations governing recalculation services.

Implementation / Description of Process
  1.  Most support orders in the Corner Brook Supreme and Provincial Courts between July and December 2001 contained a clause ordering a recalculation of the orders as of June 2002. These orders were forwarded to FJSW, where a recalculation clerk set up a file for future review.

  2.  On May 1, 2002, all payors were sent a reminder letter from FJSW asking them for income tax information.

  3.  Where income tax information was received, the clerk proceeded with the recalculation using the Child Support Guidelines, rounding the gross income to the nearest hundred dollars. He then verified the number of children and determined the amount of support required.

  4.  Where income tax information was not received, the clerk used the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to proceed with the recalculation. This amount was multiplied by the payor's income as stated in the Court order and then added to the total income and rounded off to the nearest hundred dollars. Again the clerk then verified the number of children and determined the amount of support required.

  5.   Once recalculation had occurred, parties were notified by registered mail of the outcome of the process if there was a change (increase / decrease), and by regular mail if there was no change (court sent a copy). Increases and decreases were triggered by a change per month of more than $5. Parties had 30 days to file an objection.

  6.   If no objection was received within 30 days, the court issued a new order and sent it to both parties, copied to Support Enforcement.

  7.  If there was an objection, a court date was set to hear the matter.

Figure 2 Recalculation of Court Orders

Issues Encountered to Date

As with the implementation of any new initiative, there are unforeseen issues that arise.

Some described by staff include:

  • Difficulty in obtaining correct addresses of the parties (e.g. returned notices, etc.).
  • Situations where parties have reconciled and have not informed the court.
  • Original orders that may have included lump sum payment arrangements, which recalculation processes do not take into account.
  • Orders where a payor has agreed to pay above the Child Support Guidelines amount of support, and which is now calculated to be below that amount.
  • Undue hardship cases (if not exempted) that may have resulted in persons having to demonstrate the hardship each time recalculation is performed.
Staffing

Recalculation is performed by a clerk, the current incumbent being a person with extensive administrative experience. This person works closely with the lawyer on staff at FJSW who is available for consultation. The two judges who have assisted in the development of the process also provide advice and guidance, and the four share comments via e-mail as issues arise.

Utilization / Outcomes to Date

As of July 18, 2002, there had been 121 cases recalculated through FJSW. Key findings include:

  • Sixty-four percent (64%) of payors did not provide income tax information as required.
  • Overall, 54% of orders stayed the same, 33% increased and 13% decreased.
  • Of those cases where the payor provided income tax information, about 63% resulted in an increased support payment, 23% decreased and 14% remained the same.
  • Of those who did not provide income tax information, but provided other information (e.g. personal statement or estimates of income), 17 % resulted in an increase in support payments, 7% resulted in a decrease (due to loss of income) and 76% remained the same.
  • The average increase of support resulting from recalculation was $65.4 dollars / month (median $33; range $5 to $460).
  • The average decrease of support resulting from recalculation was $72.7 dollars / month (median $44 / $54; range $5 to $197).
  • About 10% of the orders were for an increase or decrease of $10 or less per month.
  • There were two objections filed, one where an increase was determined and one where a decrease was determined. (Note: The survey findings, which occurred after the review of administrative data, suggested that there have been at least seven objections filed. Changes occurred in two of these situations, while three are yet to be determined).

Table 1 Recalculation

Tool Used for Recalculation No Change Increase Decrease Total
Consumer Price Index 59 (76%) 13 (17%) 6 (7%) 78 (65%)
Income tax information 6 (14%) 27 (63%) 10 (23%) 43 (35%)
Total 65 (54%) 40 (33%) 16 (13%) 121 (100%)

2.7 Service Utilization

This section describes service utilization with respect to FJSW from its inception to the end of June 2002.

2.7.1 File / Referral Status

Table 2 indicates the number of total files referred to the program between February 1, 2001and June 30, 2002 and the status of these files (active versus inactive). In total, 415 files were referred to the program. The year-over-year statistics suggest that the annual referral rate for the program is approximately 300 cases per year. The tables below are broken down into three time frames to allow for a separate view of annual utilization. Given the period in which the program has been operational, the only full fiscal year available to review is April 2001 to March 2002. This gives an illustration of potential program utilization on an annualized basis.

Also in this table, the reader can see that there are an equal number of referrals from both the Provincial and Supreme Courts.

Table 2 FJSW File Status Information

  Feb. 1/01 - March 31/01 Apr. 1/01 -March 31/02 Apr. 1/02 -June 30/02 Total to June 30/02
Active files 3 63 18 84
Inactive files 44 228 59 331
Total files to date 47 291 77 415
Supreme Court files 24 140 43 207
Provincial Court files 23 151 34 208

2.7.2 Services Provided

Analysis of Table 3 shows that approximately 17% of all referrals receive no service, while another 24% receive assessment only from the program. Cases may not proceed or be screened out for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Lack of contact information.
  • No response from client / lawyer.
  • Lawyers involved and negotiations underway or completed.
  • Personal issues of clients (e.g. mental health, safety/ domestic violence).

About 59% of all referred clients receive some form of mediation, with the largest form of this mediation being individual in nature (79%).

Table 3 Services Provided to Closed Files—FJSW

Feb. 1/01 - March 31/01 Apr. 1/01 - March 31/02 Apr. 1/02 - June 30/02 Total to
June 30/02
Assessment only 7 58 15 80
Assessment & individual mediation 30 107 18 155
Assessment & joint mediation 0 11 8 19
Assessment, individual mediation and joint mediation 6 13 2 21
No services provided 1 40 15 56
*Clients that received counselling 38 125 48 211
Total closed files 44 229 58 331

* These counts are part of the counts above.

2.7.3 Client Outcomes

As Tables 4 and 5 below show, in most situations where mediation is completed (n=149), the process results in at least partial agreement on the issues (n=102, 68%), and a full consent resolution in half the cases. This includes all cases handled by the SASW and the lawyer / mediator. As one can see in Table 4, there are a myriad of reasons for cases remaining unresolved, most of which are factors outside the control of the program.

Table 4 Results of Resolved Files—FJSW

  Feb. 1/01 - March 31/01 Apr. 1/01 - March 31/02 Apr. 1/02 - June 30/02 Total to June 30/02
Consent order 13 58 19 90
Interim consent order 0 1 0 1
Partial consent order 2 6 1 9
Divorce corollary relief previously resolved 3 8 3 14
Application withdrawn 2 4 1 7
Reconciliation 0 3 0 3
Other 2 9 1 12
Resolved by consent prior to hearing 0 1 1 2
Total resolved files 22 90 26 138

Table 5 Results of Unresolved Files—FJSW

  Feb. 1/01 - March 31/01 Apr. 1/01 - March 31/02 Apr. 1/02 - June 30/02 Total to June 30/02
Mediation unsuccessful 8 30 9 47
Applicant would not participate in service 2 2 1 5
Respondent would not participate in service 0 7 1 8
Barriers to service—transportation 0 1 0 1
Barriers to service—child care 0 0 0 0
Out of province party requests provisional hearing 1 10 1 12
One party would not accept table amount 0 1 0 1
Property tied to support 3 1 0 4
Claim for undue hardship 0 2 0 2
Claim for special expenses 0 0 0 0
Financial information incomplete—applicant 1 0 0 1
Financial information incomplete—respondent 1 4 0 5
Complicated legal issues 0 3 0 3
Staff conflict 1 1 0 2
Unable to contact—applicant 0 4 1 5
Unable to contact—respondent 2 14 3 19
Child welfare issues 0 2 1 3
Mental health issues 0 2 0 2
Safety issues/domestic violence 1 1 0 2
Provincial Court stayed, matter now with Supreme Court 0 4 1 5
Multiple reasons unresolved 0 10 3 13
Other 2 7 3 12
Total unresolved files 22 106 24 152

2.7.4 Issues Addressed

Approximately 48% (n=198) of all referrals to FJSW involve custody and access issues, including about 14% (n=60) where custody and access are the only issues. Child support cases only make up about 40% (n=166) of all FJSW referrals. About 34% (n=135) of all cases deal with custody, access and support issues, while 16% (n=66) involve spousal support. About 16% of all cases (n=64) involve parties who are divorcing (See Table 6).

Table 6 Legal Issues Covered and the Number of Resolved, Unresolved, Active and HRE Files to the end of June 2002—FJSW

Legal Issues Active Files Number Resolved Number Unresolved HRE Files Total Files
Child support only 28 47 60 31 166
Spousal support only 5 2 14 0 21
Custody/access only 16 16 28 0 60
Child and spousal support 0 4 3 10 17
Child and spousal support, custody/access 2 2 9 0 13
Child support and custody/access 20 37 15 0 72
Spousal support and custody/access 0 0 0 0 0
Divorce only (excluding matters of custody / access and support) 1 7 1 0 9
Child support and divorce 0 0 0 0 0
Spousal support and divorce 0 0 3 0 3
Custody/access and divorce 1 1 1 0 3
Child & spousal support, divorce 0 0 0 0 0
Child support, custody/access, divorce 5 19 14 0 38
Spousal support, custody/access, divorce 0 0 0 0 0
Child and spousal support, custody/access, divorce 6 3 3 0 12
Miscellaneous files received from Court, e.g. property 0 0 1 0 1
Total 84 138 152 41 415

2.7.5 Counselling

The counselling service keeps its statistical records separate from the remainder of the program. As Table 7 indicates, the program, discounting the first two months of February and March 2001, where there may have been a flurry of referrals at the outset of the program, shows growth in the number of new cases seen per month from about 10 to 17. Because counselling is not linked to cases, it is difficult to estimate the percentage of total FJSW referrals in which the counsellor is involved. In terms of the number of cases receiving any service (n=303), counselling is offered in between 46% (n=141) and 70% (n=211) of cases, assuming all clients receiving service are from different families. This number is calculated by dividing the number of cases by two, assuming that all of the 141 adults receive counselling, except one, and that all of the 70 children are seen.

Table 7 Counselling Statistics—FJSW

  Feb. 1/01 - March 31/01 Apr. 1/01 - March 31/02 Apr. 1/02 - June 30/02 Total to
June 30/02
Adults received counselling 30 88 23 141
Children received counselling 8 37 25 70
Home assessment 0 1 0 1

2.7.6 Client Characteristics

The clients referred to FJSW present an interesting profile on several issues. These include:

  • Almost 74%) (n=306) of all clients referred to FJSW are not represented by lawyers, despite the fact that any referral to FJSW is contingent upon filing a court application.
  • Of those individuals indicating they had lawyers, 53% are represented by private lawyers (n=105). The remaining 47% (n=93) are represented by Legal Aid attorneys.
  • Some 63% of all referred clients attend the information session.
  • About 8% of all referred clients reside in the province, but outside the service area of FJSW.
  • About one in eight clients referred to FJSW reside outside the province.

Table 8 Client Characteristics—FJSW

  Feb. 1/01 - March 31/01 Apr. 1/01 - March 31/02 Apr. 1/02 - June 30/02 Total to
June 30/02
Files originating from Blomidon Place 0 3 0 3
Clients from outside of project area 5 48 16 69
Clients from outside of Newfoundland 11 69 18 98
Applicants that attended information session 26 124 21 171
Respondents that attended information session 9 61 20 90
Clients represented by private lawyer 0 69 36 105
Clients represented by Legal Aid lawyer 0 64 29 93
Clients unrepresented 0 233 73 306
Clients that 'dropped in' seeking information 0 3 20 23

2.8 Budget

The total budget allocated to FJSW over its two-year pilot was $489,460.The project funding has been lower than the "real" costs in three important respects, namely:

  • The counsellor role salary has been low compared to generally available salaries for similar positions.
  • In-kind costs have been borne by the provincial government (project coordinator).
  • The administrative clerk position has been paid for through monies obtained for recalculation.

Some funding is in place for transportation and rent, but there is no formal professional development budget. Training has been accessed through other funds or reallocations of existing dollars.


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