Overview of Canadian Family Justice
SECTION 2 — NATURE OF FAMILY JUSTICE SERVICES ACROSS CANADA
- Innovations and Trends across Canada
- Parent Education and Information
- Family Court Services
- Family Law Information Centres/Family Resource Centres/Family Justice Centres
- Support Establishment Services
- Support Recalculation Services/Variation Services
- Services for Children
- Supervised Access
- Inter-jurisdictional Support
- Enforcement Services
- Use of Technology in Family Law Matters
1. Innovations and Trends across Canada
Many family justice services that are available in Canada share common trends, objectives and themes. Jurisdictions across the country continue to examine and explore new, sensitive and innovative ways to reduce the financial and emotional strain of separation on families and legal systems alike. Provinces and territories place considerable emphasis not only on streamlining processes, but also on providing responsive, accessible family justice systems.
An important aspect of Canada's evolving family law system is the alternatives to litigation that help resolve issues that arise when parents separate and divorce. The objective of mediation and other similar programs is to take dispute resolution out of the adversarial court process and place it in a more co-operative framework. The goal is for the parties to come to an agreement with the help of a mediator who is neutral with regard to the outcome. All provincial and territorial governments have implemented, or are planning to implement, programs and procedures to ensure that parents can use an alternative dispute resolution service to address some or all of their family law issues. To find out if this service is available in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fjs-sjf/brows-fure.asp?type=1
3. Parent Education and Information
Parent education and information programs are usually run by lawyers and/or social workers working together to help separating and divorcing couples cope with the emotional effects of separation and divorce on themselves and their children. The objectives of these programs are to provide separating parents with an understanding of the demands and challenges of post-separation parenting, and to educate them on methods of communication, dispute resolution and co-parenting. Many programs also aim to educate parents about the effects of conflict on children. To find out if this service is available in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fjs-sjf/brows-fure.asp?type=2
4. Family Court Services
Family Court Services are designed to make the client's experience with the court system as streamlined as possible, recognizing that family law matters are often both complex and emotionally charged. Efforts to be more sensitive to parties' circumstances take a variety of forms ranging from case management, referrals, assessments and improvements to computer systems. To find out if these types of services are available in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fjs-sjf/brows-fure.asp?type=3
5. Family Law Information Centres/Family Resource Centres/Family Justice Centres
Many jurisdictions have services that can assess parties' needs and, if appropriate, refer them to appropriate services, often to a service that can help resolve disputes before they go to court. These services may provide legal information, help clients deal with the court system, provide mediation, and refer people to organizations that can help them with their family issues.
These services may help people learn about the court process, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, parenting time and child support guidelines. They may also assist those people who are bringing a court application without the aid of a lawyer. To find out if this service is available in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fjs-sjf/brows-fure.asp?type=4
6. Support Establishment Services
Services that assist parents in establishing support may be provided in courthouses and vary from one jurisdiction to another. To find out if this service is available in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/fcy-fea/lib-bib/tool-util/apps/fjis-rsgjf/brows-fure.asp?type=5
7. Support Recalculation Services/Variation Services
The child support amounts set out in agreements and court orders can be varied as the personal and financial circumstances of separated and divorced parents and their children change. In jurisdictions without a recalculation service, an application must be filed with the court and a judge makes a new order varying the existing order.
Several jurisdictions have attempted to simplify the process through revised procedures, special pilot projects or both. Other jurisdictions have developed, or are developing, administrative recalculation services that recalculate child support payments on a regular basis, based on the parents' updated income information. A recalculation is different from a variation in that a recalculated order cannot deal with support prior to that date, nor can it deal with any arrears. These services enable parents to have an administrative service update the amount of child support stated in their original order or agreement. Although a court order may initially be needed for an order to be recalculated by such a service, once that order is made, the service will take the necessary steps to recalculate child support. To find out if this service is available in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/fcy-fea/lib-bib/tool-util/apps/fjis-rsgjf/brows-fure.asp?type=6
8. Services for Children
Awareness of the impact that divorce and separation have on children has been increasing across the country. While parent education programs can help parents focus on the needs and experiences of their children during separation and divorce, it has been increasingly recognized that children can benefit from receiving direct services/information. To find out if this service is available in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fjs-sjf/brows-fure.asp?type=7
9. Supervised Access
Supervised access centres/programs provide a safe, neutral, child-focussed setting for visits or exchanges between children and non-custodial parents or other persons such as grandparents. They are used in cases where there are concerns for the safety of the child and/or the custodial parent. The centres/programs provide a means for safe compliance with orders of the court where there may be safety or parenting dispute concerns. They provide an alternative means of dealing with access/parenting time/contact disputes. Some supervised access centres/programs provide reports to the court regarding participants' use of/involvement with the service. To find out if this service is available in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fjs-sjf/brows-fure.asp?type=8
10. Inter-jurisdictional Support
Each Canadian province and territory has its own reciprocal enforcement of support legislation. All provinces and territories have reciprocal arrangements with each other under this legislation which enable family support orders made under one province's or territory's law to be registered and enforced in another province or territory. The same is true for support orders from other countries with which the province or territory has a reciprocal arrangement. Since 2003, most provinces and territories have implemented inter-jurisdictional support order legislation to streamline the process of obtaining and varying family support and registering existing family support orders.
Each province and territory has a designated authority responsible for transmitting documents for those wishing to obtain, change or enforce maintenance orders in inter-jurisdictional cases. To find out about this service in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fjs-sjf/brows-fure.asp?type=9
11. Enforcement Services
a) Support Enforcement
The services of Maintenance Enforcement Programs (MEP), available in all jurisdictions, aim to ensure that family support obligations (child and spousal/partner support orders) are met and more money flows to children and families.
To complement the standard MEP service, several jurisdictions have improved the effectiveness and efficiency of the system. One example is specialized units within MEPs that have dedicated resources to locating defaulting payors and gaining compliance from payors who have a history of failing to comply with their support obligations. Other initiatives to improve the maintenance enforcement system include dedicating staff to work on particular types of cases and issues that are known to be complex and time-consuming. By devoting human and financial resources to these specific efforts, the other MEP client service representatives are able to use their time effectively to serve clients quickly while those clients requiring further attention also see their needs addressed. To find out about MEP service in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fjs-sjf/brows-fure.asp?type=10
b) Enforcement of Parenting Arrangements
The provinces and territories have legislation that provide a variety of means to enforce compliance with custody, access, parenting, and contact orders.
This legislation can be invoked where an order is being breached in a province or territory (e.g. if access/parenting time/contact is denied, or if a child is being abducted to, from or within a province or territory). This enforcement legislation applies to court orders granted by the courts of the province or territory in question, as well as to out-of-province orders made by a court or tribunal with jurisdiction to make such an order.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Hague Abduction Convention), which has been implemented in all Canadian jurisdictions, is a treaty that applies in international child abduction situations (not those of an inter-provincial/territorial nature). The purposes of the Hague Abduction Convention are to secure the prompt return of wrongfully removed or retained children to the country where they habitually resided before their removal, and to thereby ensure that rights of custody and of access under the law of that country are respected. Each province and territory has a Central Authority to meet certain obligations pursuant to the terms of the Convention. There is also a federal Central Authority.
Non-exercise of access/parenting time/contact can be as damaging to a child as denial of access/parenting time/contact. Several jurisdictions have legislation under which a parent may seek financial compensation or other remedies in the event that the other parent fails to exercise access/parenting time/contact as contemplated in the original order.
Custody, access, parenting and contact orders and agreements are generally enforced through civil enforcement measures initiated by the parent seeking compliance. Legal Aid programs may offer assistance in some jurisdictions. Central Authorities, pursuant to the Hague Abduction Convention, will assist and provide information to parents seeking the return of abducted children. Some jurisdictions submit court applications for the return of children abducted to their province. To find out about this service in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fjs-sjf/brows-fure.asp?type=11
12. Use of Technology in Family Law Matters
Technology is used in Family Law courts across the country. The courts use videoconferencing and teleconferencing in almost every province and territory. Some jurisdictions require the consent of a judge to use these services. Some jurisdictions also permit the presentation of evidence electronically. To find out how technology is used in your jurisdiction click on this link: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/fjs-sjf/brows-fure.asp?type=12
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