On “non-alternative ADR”

From a Globe and Mail editorial on July 21, 2010 about B.C.’s proposals to update its family law statute:

[…]

To a considerable extent, family law is about family breakdown and the disagreements that follow. No one thinks that courts of law are the ideal place to deal with these matters. But though the concept of alternative dispute resolution has been in currency since the 1980s, many of the attempts at it have still been very much inside the court context – what might be called “non-alternative alternative dispute resolution.”

The white paper presented on Tuesday by Michael de Jong, the Attorney-General of B.C., sets a forthright goal of dispute resolution processes that are genuinely independent of the courts. It says that the commencement of a lawsuit should no longer be the “presumptive” or “implied” starting point for sorting out the consequences of a separation of spouses. The principal device proposed to displace that default mode is to require lawyers to certify that they have presented to their clients the full spectrum of other ways to settle their differences, before they resort to judges by filing papers in court, thus starting litigation.

In Ontario, subsidized family mediation is offered to low-earners in a number of jurisdictions.  In Ottawa, for many years now, couples in this category had access to roughly an hour of on-site family mediation on days when they attended court, and to three or so two hour off-site family mediation sessions.Since April 1, low-earning Ottawans can only avail themselves of subsidized on-site family mediation.  Or, in other words, the starting point for working out arrangements of spouses (and often, parents) who separate is a legal action if you are among those with low incomes.  Exactly the situation that B.C. is seeking to remedy was reintroduced in Ottawa until March 31, 2011 when the Ontario government’s contracts with on-site mediators ends.  Clearly, a retrogressive step from a government that prides itself on “…moving forward with the changes needed to make family matters easier to resolve and more affordable for Ontario families.”

If you live in Ottawa and you think the less advantaged in our city need greater access to alternatives to sorting out arrangements following marriage breakdown, consider writing to the Attorney General of Ontario at:

Hon. Christopher Bentley
Ministry of the Attorney General
11th Floor
720 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2K1

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