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Mediation changes aimed at reducing family litigation: Cathryn Paul

More changes to court-based mediation initiatives are set to roll out for family law litigants in Ontario this year, aimed at improving access to alternative dispute resolution and helping to resolve cases earlier, says Cathryn Paul, a family law lawyer and mediator with Oakville Mediation.

In addition to individuals seeking out alternative dispute resolution as part of an amicable separation process, Paul says the courts are also really opening up to mediation.

“They’re making huge strides in making it available to the general population and to promoting it as really a first step in terms of dispute resolution,” she says.

“With all the access to the court-based mediation that’s coming along, more cases will resolve earlier so that they don’t need as many court appearances and the judicial resources are eased somewhat,” she adds.

Paul points to a pilot project in the Milton and Brampton courts which began last year,  providing family litigants with a mandatory information program discussing the effects of litigation on various family members, the general court process and alternative dispute resolution processes.

“It’s been a really valuable experience for people to understand that when they’re getting into the court process,” she says.

The program is now being rolled out across the province, she says.

Another branch of the program is onsite mediation, which Paul has been involved with at the Milton court, providing two to three hours of mediation services at no cost to parties who are in court and those who are not yet litigating.

“That’s been very helpful in terms of reducing the load on the courts and helping people achieve an early resolution before they start throwing a whole bunch of affidavits at each other and escalating the conflict. And that’s really where I see mediation coming in … get to people before they start hating each other and before the conflict becomes something that you just can’t forget,” she says.

The offsite mediation program is also set to be revamped this summer, as part of a government Request For Proposal, which will provide government-subsidized offsite mediation.

“I certainly think that the Ontario government has shown a huge commitment to improving the access to mediation and the information about mediation and I think that’s a great start,” she says.

While there has been discussion of mandatory mediation becoming part of the family law system in Ontario, Paul says mediation should be considered in every case, but screened out where not appropriate. There are some cases where mediation is likely not the best choice, she says, namely those where there are significant power imbalances that cannot be appropriately managed in the mediation process.

Once people become more aware of mediation, it may be that the mandatory mediation won’t be necessary, says Paul. In fact, she says, mediation works better when it is voluntary, as people participating want to solve their problems.

“Not every case will resolve at mediation. But at least a lot of the time, you set the groundwork for a future resolution,” she says.

“We’re going to see significant changes over the next few years, and I think it’s going to have a very positive impact on quality of life for people who are separating and who can’t resolve matters outside of court,” she adds.





 

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