How to reduce the high costs of divorce?

The Toronto Star recently had an interesting story about how much more expensive it can be when only one person in a family law case has a lawyer. (Tracey Tyler, August 1, 2011).

Ms. Tyler reported on a recent survey of family law lawyers conducted by Queen’s University Law Professor Nick Bala. The survey asked the respondents if their client’s fees increased when their partner did not have a lawyer. The resounding response was yes.

Ms. Tyler wrote that the government is trying to remedy the problem by its new (as of July 15) program requiring litigants to attend an information session that explains the process they will encounter in the courts and some alternatives to the courts.

A good story– but it misses a key part of the program– mediation in the courts, at no cost.

Along with the mandatory information sessions, on-site mediation is available to everyone in court, five days a week, free of charge. Off-site mediation that is also available to everyone, with very modest fees for those with low incomes. (Mediation is not mandatory.)

On-site mediation is for those who are scheduled to be in court, either on a motion or case conference, that day. On-site mediators will work with parties for up to two hours to help resolve issues that might be resolved quickly. These services are free of charge.

If the issue is one that cannot be resolved in that period of time, or the parties have not initiated a court action and would like to try mediation before they proceed to court, off-site mediation services are available at rates based on the income of each participant. Off site mediation is funded for up to 8 hours including the first interview with each party (the first interview if free of charge to encourage each person to consider without any pressure to commit to the process.)

The mediators providing these services are accredited and experienced.

As a family mediator involved in this project, it is my view there is little to lose by trying mediation. Each party is screened by an accredited family mediator to ensure that the case is appropriate for mediation, and that power imbalances are identified and dealt with. If the issues are not resolved in the time allowed then the parties are free to proceed to court or continue with mediation at the mediator’s regular rate.

The program has become very successful in other jurisdictions around Ontario; it is now available here in Toronto and at all locations of the Superior and Ontario Courts of Justice.