Summary of Activities for the Child-centred Family Justice Fund 2003-2009

Family Justice Initiatives (Part 1)

As noted earlier, this stream of funding supported provincial and territorial family justice programs and services aimed at helping parents deal with child-support, support-enforcement, and parenting-arrangement issues (for example, parenting agreements and orders, contact orders, custody orders and access rights). (Note: Although there was a separate stream of funding for pilot projects, some provinces and territories also used this stream of funding for pilot projects.)

Parent Education

Adjusting to changes to the family dynamic is often very stressful for children, especially in high-conflict cases. All provinces and territories used the Fund to support programs designed to educate parents about the possible consequences their actions could have on their children and about the potential harm that could come to children if their needs were not met. In most cases, these education programs were delivered as seminars in which facilitators used literature, discussion and video presentations to inform parents about services and skills that could reduce conflict in separation and divorce and improve the chances of reaching a mediated settlement. The Northwest Territories received funding to design and implement a new parenting-after-separation program that could be delivered efficiently in that jurisdiction, taking into consideration the geographic, demographic and linguistic diversity of the residents.

Evaluations have indicated positive outcomes resulting from the education programs. For example, responses to the Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick programs revealed that program participation reduced parental conflict, improved relationships between former partners, eased adjustment to parenting from two homes and significantly increased understanding of co-parenting issues, mediation and support services. These outcomes have demonstrated that better-informed parents are more capable of avoiding the sorts of conflicts that can harm children. Manitoba's evaluations of its parent information program confirmed similar positive outcomes, including increased satisfaction with child-support, custody and access arrangements.

While parent education programs were offered free of charge in every jurisdiction, some jurisdictions went a step further and made the program mandatory in certain cases. For example:

Saskatchewan Justice used some of its funding to operate a province-wide, voluntary, parent-education program called Parenting After Separation and Divorce. Based on that program's success, attendance at a parent-education session was made mandatory in Yorkton, Saskatoon, Regina, and Prince Albert. Saskatchewan Justice also continued to expand the locations where voluntary parent education sessions would be offered. These initiatives made the program accessible to more individuals.

An evaluation assessing the differences in outcomes for voluntary and mandatory clients found strong evidence to support mandatory-attendance policies. One of the most important factors supporting mandatory parent education was that the range of participants was more inclusive. Other positive markers included the high rating given by parents on exit questionnaires for the parent education programs and the finding that high-conflict parents may have experienced the greatest change in parenting behaviours after attending the program. Considering the positive outcomes, it was found that attending such a program would be beneficial for most, if not all, parents going through a separation/divorce.

Saskatchewan also used some of its Family Justice Initiative Funding to operate the Access Facilitation Pilot project. As part of this project, participating parents were first required to attend a Parenting after Separation and Divorce information session offered by Family Justice Services, followed by a legal information session with a lawyer from the Family Law Information Centre. Parents then participated in up to four joint mediation sessions to work through access conflict and to develop a parenting plan. The Access Facilitation Pilot Project linked to, and built on services that already existed to provide a comprehensive and integrated strategy for resolving access issues.

There were other variations of the basic program. British Columbia, for example, began offering specialized programs in Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi and Hindi in the Greater Vancouver Area, and New Brunswick began providing a program in French, while Nunavut took steps to distribute illustrated booklets in both English and Inuktitut.

Some jurisdictions developed two streams within their programs: one for low‑conflict parents and another for high‑conflict parents. It was widely acknowledged that parents in high-conflict relationships required a more specialized course directed at their specific issues. Those parents were also a very important group to reach because such conflict could have a severe impact on the children. Dual-stream programs were made available in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Alberta.

Technological advances were also incorporated into the program in many provinces. For example, Manitoba developed a CD-ROM for residents in rural and northern communities. Several jurisdictions also worked to improve the content available through government websites.

Children's Education Programs

While parent-education programs were found to benefit children by reducing conflict and shifting parents' focus to the needs and experiences of children affected by separation and divorce, it was increasingly recognized that children also benefit from more direct services. To that end, some government and community-based agencies developed education and information programs for children. Those programs were designed to provide information about the legal process in a way that children could understand, as well as information on the emotional experiences and changes in relationships that follow divorce or separation.

Two jurisdictions, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island used the Fund to support the creation of programs for children similar to those offered to their parents.

Prince Edward Island's program, “Parenting From Two Homes: For Kids!”, was designed to be offered to children in three different age groups—6 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 to 16 years of age—with information and discussions appropriate to the age. The aim was to give children the opportunity to learn through play, art and discussion in groups with their peers. Initially, these programs were to be offered in communities and in three elementary schools. An evaluation conducted by Prince Edward Island supported the continuation of the “Parenting From Two Homes: For Kids!” program and its expansion into additional schools. The evaluation revealed that providing the program to children at an earlier stage in the parents' separation process was more beneficial than at a later stage. Ninety percent of parents surveyed reported improvements in children's emotional health after attending the program.

Saskatchewan's program was also designed to offer information sessions to help educate children about the issues surrounding divorce. These information sessions are supplemented by a service referred to as Hearing Children's Voices, involving court-ordered interviews of children over 12 years of age. Considering children's opinions along with other case evidence recognizes the individuality of each situation.

Manitoba set up a children's education program called Caught in the Middle, which is now offered through the Family Conciliation Branch.

The Northwest Territories, produced a publication called Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families and distributed itto parents who attended education programs.

Yukon introduced a program called Kids in Transition, aimed at providing children with a safe place to understand their new situation and helping them to learn coping skills.

British Columbia designed a website to give children their own tool for navigating their new situation.

Family Law Information Centers (FLICs)

Family law information centers were set up primarily to help people learn about the court process, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and the child support guidelines, and to provide assistance to those who make court applications without the aid of a lawyer. During the five years of the Strategy, several jurisdictions used money provided by the Fund to expand Family Law Information Centres to meet a growing demand. Centres are now operating Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Alberta and Yukon. Alberta's centres, in particular, continued to see a consistent rise in inquiries from year to year.

In addition to providing information, some centres began offering specialized services that would link clients with other community or court-connected services. For example:

Newfoundland and Labrador established a Support Applications Social Worker Program to help low-income clients apply for support and to provide information about mediation.

Ontario's “Unified Family Court”, began providing on-site services of an Information and Referral Coordinator toprovide information about mediation services as an alternative to court; to provides specific community information and referral support; and to registers members of the public for free parent-information sessions.

Lawyers in Alberta's Family Law Information Centres continued to provide important support to the judiciary, including the services of a Dispute Resolution Officer and a Court Generated Orders and Child Support Resolution Officer. These officers also review documents and conduct ongoing research for the court. This has helped to streamline the proceedings before the court by insuring that basic preparations and necessary forms are all completed prior to a scheduled appearance.

Nova Scotia established two Family Law Information Centres: one in Sydney and one in Halifax. Clerks in these centres provide information (though never advice) about a wide variety of family law subjects. The focus was on unrepresented applicants, with a view to referring such clients to community agencies where applicable. In 2008, Nova Scotia also launched an on-line Family Law Information Centre to enhance the services that were already on its website and to make it easier for clients to access information and increase their knowledge of court processes. This was done primarily to help self-represented litigants to adequately represent themselves throughout the family justice process. The website content includes for example: on-line interactive forms; linkages to existing internet resources; promotion of the existing Family Law Information Centres; and information about available family law programs such as mediation, supervised access, conciliation, summary advice, and parent information.

Yukon established a Family Law Information Centre after conducting a feasibility study in 2004 and 2005, and hired a casual employee to set up a resource centre and website. Yukon also began to develop and implement a communication strategy to expand the Family Law Information Centre's Resource Centre and its website to ensure widespread awareness of new family law services and information available to the public.

Mediation, Dispute Resolution, and Conciliation

Mediation and other alternatives to formal litigation for resolving issues between parents who separate or divorce are important features of Canada's evolving family law system. All provincial and territorial governments have either implemented or are planning to implement programs and procedures to ensure that parents can access the type of dispute resolution service most appropriate to their needs and circumstances. Following are some examples of activities that were supported by the Strategy's Child-centered Family Justice Fund from April 2003 to March 31, 2009.

Quebec has offered an extensive mediation program for several years, and this was continued under the Strategy. The Fund helped Quebec to promote this program through an information session that was mandatory for most clients. Sessions for separating or divorcing couples could be for a group, or they could be private, and could be followed by up to five additional mediation sessions of over an hour each at no charge to clients. A 2001 evaluation of the mediation program indicated that it was favourably viewed by all parties. Judging from the number of agreements signed by participating parties, it was determined that the program's success rate has been 75 percent or more.

The Inuusirmut Aqqusiuqtiit program that Nunavut undertook to develop was innovative because it combined mainstream mediation techniques used in other jurisdictions with traditional Inuit approaches to problem solving. The goal was to enable the program to deliver culturally relevant dispute-resolution services to Inuit people. The program was designed to increase access to family justice services in the territory. A key focus of the Nunavut Department of Justice was to expand services to additional communities and to develop a violence-screening protocol, which was an element deemed key to the program's success. By providing community-based family law information as well as dispute resolution services, the program will parties to settle custody, access, support and other family matters arising from relationship breakdowns.

The Northwest Territories developed a new program model that would provide mediation services in person to divorcing and separating parents in various urban communities, and by teleconference to those living outside of the major city centres. The model was built on the successes of a previous pilot program, with minor adjustments to the method of delivery.

Manitoba developed a Co-Mediation Program that has provided parents with a cost-effective alternative to going to court and with assistance in reducing the levels of conflict between parents. Comprehensive co-mediation involves a consideration of all the issues that commonly arise from separation and divorce including, for example, parental responsibilities, time sharing, child support, spousal support and division of marital property. A family law specialist/lawyer and a family relations specialist/social worker work together with the family to help resolve these complex issues without the combativeness of court proceedings. Ninety-two percent of the mediated cases have reported reaching a full or partial agreement. The majority of these (73 percent) reported full agreements. Manitoba has supplemented this program with a short-term Consultation Services Pilot Project designed to help parents deal with issues such as access problems, post-separation communication, scheduling issues and other.

The Fund supported a variety of mediation services in Ontario. For example, a Dispute Resolution Officer service was offered in the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto on a pilot-program basis. This service was provided by senior lawyers and involved the screening of family law variation cases with the goal of resolving cases without the need for a judicial hearing. The Dispute Resolution Officer program registered a 63-percent success rate, thus keeping a substantial number of cases from appearing before a judge.

A Mediation Roster was developed as part of the Mandatory Information Program in the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto. The aim was to provide clients attending the information sessions with a list of private mediators they could contact if they wished to pursue mediation.

Voluntary family mediation services were made available at all 17 Unified Family Court locations in Ontario. Clients were encouraged to make use of these services. as well as other alternatives to the court process, to resolve custody, access, support, property and other issues arising from family breakdown. Services are now available to all clients, including those who have not filed a court application. On-site mediation services handle narrow issues for parties on that day's court list at no charge. Off-site mediation services handle more complex issues and charge a user fee.

Prince Edward Island, by comparison, offered up to eight sessions or 12 hours of mediation services without charge province-wide.

Alberta established a Dispute Resolution Officer service based in Calgary. The service is provided by a senior family lawyer with similar responsibilities to those of Ontario's Dispute Resolution Officer described above. Alberta also established a Child Support Resolution Officer servicein Edmonton to help deal with self-represented applicants involved in child-support disputes.

New Brunswick, operated a Child Support Variation Service in one judicial district as a pilot program. It was a mandatory conciliation service in all cases where a motions to vary a child support order had been filed with the Court.

Nova Scotia employed a Conciliator as a high-level intake person to assist in negotiations between the parties—for example, by making appropriate referrals to the variety of services available to resolve family law disputes, by screening for violence and abuse issues that could affected the appropriateness of certain referrals and by assessing the risk of bringing the parties together to discuss their issues.

British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador conducted mediation services as part of their large multi-service programs, namely, the Family Justice Registry Program (Rule 5)and Family Justice Service Western, respectively. British Columbia also introduced a Family Justice Registry that was designed to triage all cases before family court and refer some to mediation.