Family, Mediation

Mediation helps separating couples avoid costly court system

Mediation is becoming an increasingly popular method of handling separations as couples avoid the costly and often combative court system, says Oakville family lawyer and mediator Cathryn Paul.

"The courts are expensive, backed-up and adversarial, and people are often wanting something that is a more humane process and really tailored to their needs,” says Paul, of Oakville Mediation.

Paul, who was called to the bar 20 years ago, has been focused on family law in Halton for 12 years. She now emphasizes her practice on alternative dispute resolution, mediation and arbitration.

She is a lawyer but mainly works as a mediator and arbitrator, bringing her years of expertise in family law to the negotiating table.

“I don’t represent individuals anymore,” says Paul, an accredited family mediator with the Ontario Association for Family Mediation and a chartered mediator with the ADR Institute of Canada. “It lets me be more forthright and neutral.”

While it doesn’t work for everyone, mediation can often be an effective tool for couples who are going through a breakup.

“There's not a great legal solution to all the problems that arise when families separate,” she tells

“The law is really a blunt instrument when it comes to all the nuances of parenting past separation.

“There are tools in the Family Law Act and the Children's Law Reform Act, but they don’t address the underlying concerns, emotions and history that people have.”

Mediation is about really listening to where people are coming from, and crafting a creative solution. It allows her to spend the time that’s necessary to hear where people are coming from, says Paul, who also represents children through the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.

Going through a lengthy court process may lead to a number of conferences, followed by an appearance in front of a judge, and there’s no guarantee of making progress or finding a solution, Paul says. The case may still go to trial.

“With mediation we can get parties through the process much more efficiently, and generally at a much lower cost as well.”

Through the mediation process, a common goal is to reach a separation agreement. That would set out issues dealing with children, support payments and any property issues, she says.

“It’s about where are the kids going to spend time, who lives in the house, who pays for the kids’ snowsuits and those kinds of things,” she says.

Most separating couples just want to get the process over with as quickly and as amicably as possible, she tells the online legal newspaper.

"I have people who come to me and say, 'We just want something simple. We already talked about what we're looking for and we don’t want to go through a long, drawn-out process.’

“And that's great. I can work with those people in a couple of sessions.” However, mediation can also be appropriate in more complex or high-conflict situations, and Paul says she will work with the parties to tailor the process to their particular needs.

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