A report addressing gaps in the early stages of the family law system is a beneficial step towards better processes, says Toronto family lawyer Nathalie Boutet.
The new report, released by the Law Commission of Ontario, includes several recommendations aimed at creating a more inclusive, accessible, effective system for families.
One recommendation suggests setting up multidisciplinary centres where people could go as their first stop in trying to resolve family problems, with trained staff laying out the process for them.
“It’s actually refreshing,” says Boutet. “This is good news because it tends to address the crisis the family experiences right at the time of the crisis, whereas other reforms have dealt with access to tribunals. What this report highlights is that most families, when they experience a crisis, don’t say, ‘I’m going to try to access a tribunal,’ they say, ‘What do I do now.’ This addresses the timely situation, rather than down the road.”
A CTV report says the cost of legal representation makes it beyond reach for most, and while family law information is available freely online, many people find it complex and daunting.
“There is a lot of information available, but reading a book or reading online information … it’s very hard to connect to your own life,” says Boutet. “Sometimes it just takes someone to say, ‘This is what you have to do in these circumstances.’ People may go on the web and find resources but it may not be Ontario law. It’s very complicated and it’s really hard to know what applies to you.”
If the entry-point centres are established, Boutet says it’s crucial that staff be trained to fully understand the system, and the benefits of out-of-court resolutions.
“This is a very important point for me, because you can do all kinds of reforms with the court system, but that’s not where people need help,” she says. “It’s really hard to describe the quality of an agreement that you can get in out-of-court negotiation versus in a final court order from a judge.”
Another benefit to mediation, Boutet says, is keeping the matter out of public record.
“You can get a much better result for everyone in the family when you all work outside of the court system and you really get an agreement that you helped create as opposed to getting a trial judge to tell you when you’re going to see your kids.”
While she supports the report, Boutet says it could have gone further in looking at how family conflicts start. “I would say one step missing in the report is what do we do in the family to prevent the crisis … what’s the government doing to prevent crises from happening in the first place?”