Explore Your Options in Dispute Resolution

With so many options, how does one choose the best dispute resolution process?

This blog series will attempt to identify and define as many of the options as possible. This week’s focus will be on the Do-it-Yourself  option.

The “SRL” (self-represented litigant) movement has grown in the past years, largely due to the growing sense that the legal system, and particularly the use of family lawyers, has become inaccessible to many. Dr. Julie Macfarlane of the University of Windsor has spearheaded a public movement to draw attention to the hardships of the self-represented. This has highlighted the challenges of acting for yourself during a separation or divorce proceeding or negotiation. There are  many resources that are available to assist those who are navigating a separation or divorce without legal assistance. Courts are increasingly responsive to the needs of the unrepresented as well, as are governments in their funding choices. Some of the resources include:

Family Law Information Centres

FLICs are available in all Ontario courthouses. FLICS, as they are known, employ court staff and information officers to help parties complete forms, access legal advice, and information, find useful services and understand their dispute resolution options.For more information, follow this link.

Mandatory Information Programmes

Everyone in Ontario who has started a family court action, or is served with one, must attend an information programme but these sessions are open to anyone interested, whether they are in court or not. Presenters cover the wide range of services available to those experiencing separation, including out of court processes like mediation and collaborative negotiation; and they also help prepare parties for what to expect during a court process. Visit this page for more detailed information.

Free and subsidized family mediation

In all Ontario courts, same-day family mediation is free for anyone in court that day. And for anyone in Ontario, whether they have a court case or not,  family mediation is subsidized, often extensively so, for anyone who wishes to use the service. For more information, see the Ministry of the Attorney General’s website and our video here (link to HL video)

Access to advice and duty counsel

All courts have on-staff legal aid lawyers who provide free legal advice.There are income caps, and also limits on the kinds of legal advice such lawyers may provide. For more information, read this guide.

Family court support workers

The Ontario government funds supportive services in all courts for victims of domestic violence and abuse. Such services can help victims access legal advice, counselling, and other assistance. For more information, visit the Ministry of the Attorney General’s website.

Legal Aid Family Mediation Advice and Separation Agreement Certificates

Legal Aid Ontario also funds up to 6hours of legal advice for people wanting to work with a mediator and 10 hours of legal advice parties working with lawyers to negotiate a separation agreement, again subject to income requirements. For more information, visit legalaid.on.ca

Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL):

Under the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory, children have the right to an age-appropriate role in the resolution of matters that affect them The OCL exists to represent the rights of children in their parents’ litigation, and costs nothing. For more information, read this page about the OCL.

Dispute Resolution Officers:

In many courts, senior members of the family law bar act as court-appointed officers to help parties resolve certain disputes. For more information, follow this link to the Justice Canada website.

Do-it-yourself guides

There are many guides, books, and online resources to help people navigating their own divorce or separation agreement. One such resource is mysupportcalculator.ca, which helps parties assess their child and spousal support rights and obligations. All such do-it-yourself resources have limits and are generally not considered a reliable substitute for legal advice.

For more information please refer to the following resources:

Read Steps to a Family Law Case from CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario)

Watch Divorce and Separation: Where to Start from Justice Canada