Supporting Families Experiencing Separation and Divorce Initiative Evaluation

2. Profile of the SFI

2.1. Overview and Historical Context

Since the mid-1980's, federal funding has been provided to the provinces and territories to support services and programs that assist separating and divorcing families. The SFI, the current federal family justice initiative, builds on a foundation of federal and provincial/territorial collaboration on family justice issues. The SFI is designed to strengthen the family justice system's response to the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce by contributing to continued improvements in access to family justice, and continued encouragement of greater parental compliance with family obligations, notably support and access.

The SFI is the seventh Footnote 5 consecutive federally-funded initiative in the area of family law and family justice implemented by Justice Canada. While each initiative has been articulated and implemented individually, they are all interconnected and have built on successes from previous initiatives. Three core principles have been prominent, but with varying degrees of emphasis, over time. These include:

  • promoting the best interests of the child;
  • improving compliance with orders and agreements; and
  • reducing conflict in marriage breakdown.

The best interests of the child was confirmed as the only factor to be considered in custody and access cases when the Divorce Act was amended in 1985. It is widely-recognized as the guiding principle for custody matters in domestic and international law. This principle has been reaffirmed by Justice Canada and is fundamental to the SFI.

A number of trends can be observed in relation to the evolution of the initiatives leading to the SFI. Federal, provincial and territorial collaboration, a central element of the SFI, was facilitated by the establishment of the federal, provincial and territorial Family Law Committee in 1981. This initial collaboration led to the development and implementation of Provincial Maintenance Enforcement Programs (MEPs). In 1991-92, Justice Canada provided funding to support the MEPs through the Brighter Futures Program. During the Child Support Initiative, which began in 1996, further funding to the provinces and territories assisted with the implementation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines. These activities strengthened the capacity of the provinces and territories to deal with family justice issues and provide greater access to family justice.

As the percentage of divorced and separated Canadians in the population has increased, the complexity and scope of family justice issues addressed by the initiatives have grown. Initiatives have assisted with the implementation of harmonized child support guidelines across the country and the improvement of inter-jurisdictional processes related to family support both at the national and international level. There has also been an expansion of provincial and territorial programs that also help parents access public legal education and information (PLEI) and deal with their parenting arrangements.

Over the last two Initiatives, Justice Canada has also assumed a growing role in the dissemination of PLEI and tools. It started with products that supported the development of the Federal Child Support Guidelines, and then expanded to include a publication on how to divorce in Canada, a booklet for children on divorce, a calendar for children to keep track of their time with each parent, a searchable database of family justice services across Canada, a guide for parents on how to make a parenting plan, an online child support calculator and a popular website, among many other products.

2.2. Governance of the SFI

The Family, Children and Youth Section (FCY) is a multi-disciplinary team within the Policy Sector responsible for developing, monitoring and implementing policy, providing expert legal advice, delivering services to assist in enforcing support obligations and in detecting duplicate divorces through such programs as the Central Registry of Divorce Proceedings (CRDP). The Senior General Counsel of the FCY is accountable for the overall development, direction, implementation and management of the SFI and also serves as the federal co-chair for the Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials-Family Justice (CCSO-FJ). Permanent and ad hoc sub-committees and working groups comprised of federal, provincial and territorial representatives, work collaboratively within this structure to address family justice issues.

Each unit within the FCY is responsible for a range of activities which contributes to the effective implementation of the SFI, supports the federal and provincial roles in family justice and ultimately helps address the needs of parents experiencing separation and divorce. Examples of the specialized activities carried out by the units include the following:

  • The Family Law Policy Unit is responsible for all aspects of legal and policy advice including development, analysis, and implementation and monitoring, with respect to the Divorce Act and its regulations including the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the CRDP regulations, as well as for family law/justice policy generally.
  • The Support Enforcement Policy and Implementation Unit is responsible for legal and policy advice including development, analysis, implementation and monitoring with respect to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act (FOAEAA) and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act (GAPDA); support enforcement generally; and, for the national coordination of inter-jurisdictional support enforcement initiatives.
  • The Communication and Law Information Unit is responsible for communications advice and services with respect to family justice policies and programs. The unit was merged with the Communications Branch in August 2012.
  • The Program Development Unit (PDU) is responsible for administering the Supporting Families Fund (SFF) including its analysis, development, implementation, coordination, performance monitoring and quality control. The PDU also supports non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing family law information and training resources.
  • The Research Unit carries out social science policy and statistical research to inform family justice policy and program development and implementation.
  • The Administrative Services Unit is responsible for the coordination and management of an effective business framework for the FCY.
  • Family Law Assistance Services (FLAS) administers activities mandated under FOAEAA, GAPDA and manages the CRDP.

FCY collaborates and consults with the provinces and territories with regards to policy and program planning, and research work. At the federal level, although the PDU oversees the contribution agreements with the provinces and territories and NGOs under the SFF, all the FCY units review and have input into funding decisions.

2.3. Stakeholders and Beneficiaries

Key stakeholders

Key stakeholders of the SFI include provincial and territorial partners involved with family justice services and programs including family court judges, family law lawyers and mediators (including professional organizations such as the Canadian Bar Association), other professionals, support staff from the MEPs and courts, and non-government organizations that deliver family justice services and programs and PLEI.

FCY also directly works with other federal government departments and agencies including the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS), which administers national surveys pertaining to the family justice system, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, Finance Canada, Transport Canada, Citizenship and Immigration, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In addition, FCY engages international partners on family justice issues in collaboration with the provinces and territories. Federal, provincial and territorial officials also work together to assess the feasibility of implementing the 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children (1996 Convention) and the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support (2007 Convention). FCY also provides support for the implementation of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Beneficiaries

Provincial and territorial family justice services and programs as well as non-government PLEI groups and organizations are key beneficiaries of the SFI. However, it is the families who have experienced separation and divorce, their children and other family members who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the activities, services and support provided through the SFI.

In a broader sense, the family justice system is also a beneficiary of the SFI. Services and programs funded through the SFI such as mediation, parent education, support enforcement Footnote 6 and a range of family justice PLEI products provide families with options for handling custody, access and support issues, and provide tools that support compliance with family obligations. More efficient and effective use of the family justice system can help to reduce costs and delays for the courts as well as reduce costs to families.

2.4. Resources

The SFI is a five-year, $122 million initiative. Table 1 presents the resources allocated by each year of the Initiative.

Table 1. Resources Allocated to the SFI by Each Year of the Initiative
Initiative Resources 2009/10 2010/11 2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 Total
Salary + Operations and Maintenance (O&M) 7,169,689 7,169,689 7,169,689 7,169,689 7,169,689 35,848,445
Grants and Contributions (G&Cs)Footnote 7 16,000,000 16,000,000 16,000,000 16,000,000 16,000,000 80,000,000
Total Resources (excluding employee benefit plan and accommodation costs) 23,169,689 23,169,689 23,169,689 23,169,689 23,169,689 115,848,445

In addition to $115,848,445 directly allocated to FCY, the employee benefit plan and Public Works and Government Services Canada accommodation costs for the five-year period were $6,151,555, bringing the overall Initiative total to $122 million.

The Treasury Board's 2009 Policy on Evaluation requires that non-initiative Footnote 8 resources (salary and O&M) also be accounted for in the evaluation of initiatives. In addition to the $122 million Initiative funding, a total of $5,975,656 in non-initiative funding over the five-year period was available for SFI-related activities. This amount was composed of $1,147,361 for each Footnote 9 of the five years in salary dollars, and $79,617 in O&M for the first three years only (2009-2010 to 2011-2012).

The total initiative and non-initiative funding for SFI related activities over the five years is therefore $127,975,656. Forty-seven full-time equivalents (FTEs) are funded through the SFI and 13 FTEs are funded through non-initiative resources for a total of 60 FTEs per year over the five-year period.

2.5. SFI Program Logic

The ultimate outcome of the SFI is to increase the effectiveness of the family justice system in meeting the needs of families that are experiencing separation and divorce. This is expected to be achieved through a number of activities aimed to increase accessibility to the family justice system and promote compliance with parental responsibilities and financial obligations. The SFI Logic Model, on the next page, outlines the various activities, outputs and outcomes that are expected to contribute to the achievement of this outcome.

SFI Logic Model, described below
Text equivalent: SFI Logic Model

The activities for the SFI are:

  • Federal SFI Leadership, Investments and Assistance

These activities are expected to lead to the following outputs:

  • Partnership reports, plans;
  • Federal legislation and policy, reports, federal, provincial and territorial best practices and agreements;
  • Federal enforcement supports and tools;
  • Funding agreements, reports; and
  • Information products.

The outputs of the SFI will result in the following direct outcomes:

  • Strengthened federal capacity to respond/address needs of families experiencing separation and divorce; and
  • Improved capacity in provinces and territories to provide and deliver family justice services.

The direct outcomes are expected to result in the following shared intermediate outcomes:

  • Enhanced awareness and understanding of the parental obligations, compliance, and the family justice system;
  • Expanded accessibility of custody/access, support and enforcement services; and
  • Improved efficiency in enforcement supports and services.

These three outcomes are expected to lead to;

  • Enhanced capacity of parents to reach appropriate custody, access and support agreements;
  • Enhanced ability of parents to comply with custody/access responsibilities; and
  • Increased parental compliance with financial support obligations.

Overall, the SFI will contribute to the following ultimate (long-term) outcome:

  • Increased effectiveness of the family justice system in meeting the needs of families that are experiencing separation or divorce.

This outcome is linked to a broader Justice Canada strategic outcome, which is:

  • To promote a fair, relevant and accessible Canadian Justice System.

2.5.1. Activities and Outputs

The SFI is intended to strengthen the family justice system's ability to respond to the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce through a renewed emphasis on improving access to family justice and promoting parental compliance with family support and custody/access obligations through three main activity streams:

  • SFI Leadership activities encompass the federal role in working with partners and stakeholders in the provinces and territories to facilitate coordination, collaboration and planning on family justice policy, research and program development. The leadership and collaboration role of the SFI with the provinces and territories is facilitated through the CCSO-FJ, its related sub-committees and working groups and through specific policy and research initiatives that have a national impact on families experiencing separation and divorce. This includes making regulatory changes to update the Federal Child Support Tables which form part of all federal, provincial and territorial child support guidelines except for Quebec.
  • SFI Assistance activities include the CRDP which detects duplicate divorce proceedings across Canadian courts and the development and availability of federal tools that facilitate and promote compliance with family support orders and agreements in the provinces and territories. Tools include payor tracing, garnishment and licence denial governed by the FOAEAA and the GAPDA; federally-developed PLEI tools that are intended to help families determine child support amounts, find family justice services available in their jurisdiction, and develop custody and access agreements; and activities to support the efficient and effective management of spousal support through the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAG). The SFI also provides federal policy research and monitoring activities that assist the provinces and territories with understanding the issues faced by families experiencing separation and divorce in their populations.
  • SFI Investment activities include federal funding for provincial and territorial activities, services and programs, and for the development and dissemination of legal education and information and training products related to the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce. Through the SFF, the SFI contributes to supporting and maintaining family justice services and programs administered by the provinces and territories that help parents meet their custody, access and support responsibilities. These programs and services include parent education, mediation, child support recalculation services and legal information services delivered through information centres. In addition, the SFI provides funding to provinces and territories for the development and implementation of innovative or pilot projects to address a variety of issues. These include: improvements in technology that support access to services by parents in remote communities and implementation of innovative or pilot projects to address the needs of families facing high conflict separation and divorces. Funding is also provided to NGOs in the provinces and territories under the SFF to support the development and dissemination of PLEI. There are also investment activities that include the collection of national data from the MEPs and information on case activity as well as family court data through the Civil Court Survey (CCS).

Leadership, assistance and investment activities are intended to result in outputs which, when completed, result in the achievement of direct, intermediate and long-term outcomes. Each of these outputs and expected results are described below.

Partnership Reports and Plans: Federal leadership activities are intended to result in consultative and collaborative partnerships, as well as lead to the development of reports and policy on national family justice topics of concern and the establishment of priorities or work plans on family justice issues.

Federal Legislation & Policy, Reports, Federal, Provincial and Territorial Best Practices and Agreements: SFI Leadership activities are expected to lead to draft legislative and regulatory amendments to federal family law such as the Divorce Act, as well as policy development and best practice documents. Federal, provincial and territorial agreements to facilitate policy related to compliance for both access and support arrangements may also be produced.

Federal Enforcement Support and Tools: Federal assistance in the area of support enforcement includes the development, and improvement of systems and tools (e.g. software, linkages with federal databases and systems improvements) and other supporting materials to assist the provinces and territories in the delivery of efficient and effective enforcement services. Through the provision of federal enforcement support, federal moneys are made available to MEPs for garnishment purposes. Federal licences and passports can also be suspended at the request of a MEP.

Funding Agreements and Reports: SFI funding investments, in accordance with the SFI funding criteria are expected to result in bilateral federal funding agreements with the provinces and territories for family justice projects, programs and services.

Information Products: SFI funding investments are expected to result in a range of PLEI materials for families experiencing separation and divorce as well as information and training products for family justice professionals Footnote 10 dealing with these families.

2.5.2. Direct Outcomes

Strengthened federal capacity to respond to and address needs of families experiencing separation and divorce

The outputs identified earlier are expected to contribute to a strengthened federal capacity to respond to the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce. Legislative and regulatory amendments, if passed and proclaimed, would help to better address the needs of these families. Policy development will also address identified gaps within the family justice system that hinder accessibility. Information service products and funding agreements with provinces and territories are important strategic levers for addressing access to justice issues, specifically, addressing gaps in services for different groups of parents experiencing separation and divorce. Improvements to various enforcement supports and tools are also expected to contribute to a strengthened federal capacity. Taken together, changes to the legislative and policy framework for family justice, project-level investments in family justice programs and services, improvements in operational processes and tools, and the maintenance of partnerships would strengthen the federal capacity to respond to the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce.

Efforts to support the family justice system in Canada involve both federal contributions (funding to support family justice services, and facilitation of enforcement and compliance activities), and provincial and territorial contributions (the provision and delivery of family justice services). The SFI rests on federal, provincial and territorial governments working together in the area of family justice.

Improved capacity in provinces and territories to provide and deliver family justice services

A strengthened federal capacity to respond to the needs of families experiencing separation and divorce is integrally linked to improving the capacity of the provinces and territories to provide and deliver family justice services. It is recognized that the federal SFI investment in family justice services represents a portion of family justice expenditures at provincial and territorial levels. It remains an important mechanism to advance service improvements, by helping the provinces and territories address identified gaps that hinder accessibility to family justice programs and services, as related to provincial and territorial operational contexts.

2.5.3. Intermediate Outcomes

Enhanced awareness and understanding of parental obligations, compliance, and the family justice system

A range of shared federal, provincial and territorial activities contributes to the realization of this outcome. Federal investment in the delivery of family justice services such as parent education and mediation helps parents become aware of and understand their family obligations, the importance of complying with orders, and the family justice system in general. Providing information and other materials and supports for family justice professionals will also help parents with whom these professionals work, to become more aware of their responsibilities and understand the family justice system.

Expanded accessibility of custody/access, support and enforcement services

Federal SFI leadership, investment and assistance help to expand access to provincial and territorial services and supports. For example, federal investment contributes to ongoing provincial and territorial efforts to address linguistic, cultural and geographical, or other circumstantial barriers that make it difficult (or impossible) for parents to obtain the information they need about custody/access and support (both child and spousal).

Improved efficiency in enforcement supports and services

Federal investments in information technology and protocols, as well as other systems improvements help to increase the efficiency of enforcement supports and services. This involves improvements to tracing services, increasing the use of garnishment tools, and increasing the use of license and passport denials (where appropriate). Collaboration among federal, provincial and territorial partners to improve enforcement supports and services is key to realizing longer term family justice outcomes.

Enhanced capacity of parents to reach appropriate custody, access and support agreements

The first three intermediate outcomes collectively help to enhance the capacity of parents to reach appropriate custody, access and support agreements. Through work at the "front end" of the family justice system, such as parent education programs and better access to family law information and supports, families are better equipped to reach appropriate agreements. Expanded access to family justice materials (e.g., through technology and increased availability of family justice materials in languages other than English and French) help to bridge gaps in service, particularly among cultural and language minority groups, as well as those in geographically-isolated areas. Enhanced awareness and understanding of parental obligations related to family law, as well as in targeted areas of need, also contribute to increased compliance among parents who have gone through separation or divorce. Improvements to enforcement supports and services also help provinces and territories to better coordinate their work, including the transfer of information.

Enhanced ability of parents to comply with custody/access responsibilities and Increased parental compliance with financial support obligations

The program rationale is that the better informed and aware parents are, the more likely they will be to comply with their responsibilities and obligations. This will prevent family conflict, contribute to family well-being and help to ensure that children and families receive the financial support to which they are entitled.

2.5.4. Long-term Outcomes

Increased effectiveness of the family justice system in meeting the needs of families that are experiencing separation and divorce

An effective family justice system includes a focus on accessibility, efficiency, and fairness. By focusing on updating policy and legislation, increasing accessibility to family justice and promoting compliance with parental obligations, it is expected that the family justice system will be more effective in the long term and be better equipped to meet the needs of parents and their children. The SFI builds on past successes in improving the family justice system.

This outcome is linked with the broader strategic outcome of Justice Canada, which is: A fair, relevant and accessible Canadian justice system Footnote 11.

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