Summary of Activities for the Child-centred Family Justice Fund 2003-2009
Appendix I: Jurisdictional Breakdown of Activities (Part 2)
Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG)
- The Family Law Rules are specialized rules of procedure for family law cases. Since 1999, they have applied to family law cases in the Family Court of the Superior Court of Justice (“Unified Family Court”) and the Ontario Court of Justice. Effective July 1, 2004, the application of the Rules was expanded to the Superior Court of Justice, resulting in a single set of court rules for all family trial courts. The Rules emphasize the early resolution of cases and incorporate a system of case management, a key feature of which includes a duty to manage cases expeditiously and fairly.
- Family Law Information Centres (FLICs) have now been established at all court locations across Ontario. FLICs provide valuable family law information to members of the public, whether or not they have started a court case.
- The Mandatory Information Program at the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto is required by all litigants in contested family law proceedings before continuing with their court proceeding. Litigants are presented with information about the process of separation and divorce, options for dispute resolution, legal procedures and support available in the community.
- All family litigants in the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto have access to information sessions as a result of the Donner Pilot Project. Evening information sessions are provided to clients and cover a wide range of issues related to family law, the court process and the impact of divorce and separation on children.
- The Dispute Resolution Officer is also connected to the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto. Senior family law lawyers meet with parties prior to court appearances and attempts to resolve the matters through negotiation and resolve the matter before it comes before a judge.
- To facilitate public awareness and understanding of the Child Support Guidelines, a public inquiry line continued to be funded and information kits on the Child Support Guidelines and other family law materials continue to be distributed to the public, court staff, client services associates at FRO and Family Support Workers at the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
- At the 17 Family Court (“Unified Family Court”) sites, the Ministry contracts with service providers through a competitive procurement process to deliver voluntary mediation and parent information sessions. These services include mediation of most issues arising due to family breakdown: custody, access, support and division of property. Off-site mediation services deals with complex issues and there is a user fee. On-site mediation services are available to deal with narrow issues for parties on that day's court list, and are free of charge. An Information and Referral coordinator provides information about mediation services, community resources and makes appropriate community referrals. The Ministry of the Attorney General continues to explore the potential of providing mediation services in child protection cases with specific emphasis on a potential partnership with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
- The MAG has also adopted FRANK, a court case tracking system, to ensure consistent, province-wide tracking methodology. The system performs data collection and facilitates the tracking activities of not only family court cases but also civil and small claims cases.
- Ontario MAG is using a Web-based index to maintain a listing of people who have a family court restraining order against them. The index will leverage the police extranet to provide police access and will be piloted in 1‑2 court sites to assess effectiveness. It will be an investigative tool for police to ensure that family law restraining orders are enforceable and will perform a monitoring and research analysis function as Court Services Division moves towards implementation of its long-term information technology strategy. In 2008‑2009, the Index proceeded through various IT“checkpoints” to ensure that the Index meets with standard government IT practices and security requirements.The start date for the pilot of the Index was in the Fall of 2008.
Ministry of Community and Social Services, Family Responsibility Office (FRO)
- In November 2001, FRO entered into a partnership with four private sector collection agencies and established the Enhanced Collection Agencies Project (ECAP), which was concluded in November 2004. A value for dollar audit concluded that ECAP met its mandate by helping FRO identify difficult to enforce cases so that resources could focus on their arrears and by assisting FRO in the collection of arrears in these difficult to enforce cases.
- An enhanced Trace and Locate Unit was formed within FRO in 2003‑2004 to conduct intensive trace and locate actions on returned mail. In the past this mail would accumulate and no action would be taken. This new unit has been extremely successful and has exceeded its targets by tracing and locating not only current mail being returned but mail that has been returned in the past.
- In 2003‑2004, FRO launched its new Registration Calls Unit. This is a dedicated unit that endeavours to contact approximately 400 new FRO clients per week, within 48 hours of their case being registered. During this phone call, FRO welcomes them to the program and explains to them their rights and responsibilities and updates any incomplete or missing information on the file.
- A new system for referrals to credit bureaus was developed and implemented by FRO. The system warns the defaulting payer before they are reported to the credit bureau and gives the defaulting payer an opportunity to contact FRO to set up a payment schedule in order to avoid being reported to the credit bureau. If the defaulting payer does not respond to FRO's warning letter then the payer is reported to the credit bureau and the system creates an electronic report of defaulting payers to be reported to the credit bureau. Results from this initiative have been extremely positive in that payers tend to make contact with FRO to avoid being reported to the credit bureau.
- As part of the project to enhance reciprocal enforcement with other jurisdictions, FRO's legal counsel worked on the development of reciprocating agreements with three other jurisdictions: the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Switzerland. FRO is also currently in the process of negotiation with Hungary and has reported that those negotiations are proceeding extremely well.
- FRO has placed considerable emphasis on awareness building activities and has developed a structured and strategic outreach initiative that provides more materials to high-traffic government offices and proceeds with ongoing client and stakeholder outreach and Web site improvements. FRO has also developed Outreach Sessions for legal professionals, police, judiciary, the bar and family support workers.
- In 2003‑2004, FRO launched the pilot project phase of the PIN project. FRO has moved to stage two and three of the PIN project and is now issuing PINs to all newly registered FRO clients and to clients who phone the Call Centre.
- FRO has also undertaken research activities including the implementation of the national Maintenance Enforcement Survey in Ontario. The Maintenance Enforcement Survey has been in place since 1999‑2000. The purpose of the project is to collect data and deliver tables for inclusion in a national survey of provincial and territorial child and spousal support data.
- In 2003‑2004, FRO started preliminary work on a Client Satisfaction Survey. It is critical for FRO to gain more information about the clients (payers and recipients) it serves and about the quality of client service that FRO provides to these clients.
- Ontario FRO is also undertaking a Document Processing Business Improvement Project that will assist in streamlining the paper work. FRO scans an average of 50,000 documents each month and this number continues to grow. They will review the scanning process and look at implementing auto-scan fax machines which would enable a fast and efficient delivery of documents directly to the case owners which would reduce the wait time for documents.
- The fund allowed Ontario FRO to implement and coordinate the Legal Services Branch Proof of Concept project. The objective is to assess whether greater efficiency and greater effectiveness can be realized by increased usage of in-house counsel and reduced reliance on panel lawyers in default proceedings and other default-related motions. If the project demonstrates the value of the in-house approach, it will also provide valuable information to support the request to fund in-house counsel positions wherever feasible and appropriate in other areas of the province.
- An Administrative Recalculation Service was implemented and that will provide revision of income information provided annually by the support payer and recalculates his/her support order by reference to the Child Support Guidelines without the need for intervention by the courts.
- The services of a consultant are retained to help identify key performance indicators and assist in the development of a performance measurement framework.
- In 2008‑2009 FRO undertook a Document Processing Business Improvement Project that will assist in streamlining the paper work. FRO scans an average of 50,000 documents each month and this number continues to grow. They will review the scanning process and look at implementing auto-scan fax machines which would enable a fast and efficient delivery of documents directly to the case owners which would reduce the wait time for documents.
- Also in 2008‑2009, FRO undertook a Case Management Proof of Concept project as part of the transition to case management. The transition will assist the clients in remitting payments in a more timely fashion. It will also allow for true “case management” which will enable the case workers to focus directly on their case load. Statistical information will be captured and analyzed at the end of the project to determine how successful the Proof of Concept unit is in comparison to the control unit.
- Manitoba's Family Conciliation, Department of Family Services and Housing Manitoba offers free of charge a parent information program called For the Sake of the Children, which is delivered as a six-hour program divided into two seminars. The first seminar is generic with all participants attending. With assistance from program specialists and by completing a “self screening questionnaire” participants enrol in one of two programs provided in the second seminar. One seminar is designed for parents with lower conflict relationships where higher contact is possible. The other is designed for parents in higher conflict relationships where lower contact is preferable. To address remote service delivery and the needs of the northern communities, Manitoba launched a CD‑ROM package in November 2003 containing information from the first seminar that includes a copy of the Legal Considerations video followed by the production of the second seminar on CD‑ROM format. Parents located in northern communities can obtain a copy of the CD‑ROM package through a number of service providers such as their local library, women's resource centres, court offices and legal aid offices to name a few. A portion of Manitoba's funding is used to offset administrative and operational program costs.
- The Comprehensive Co-Mediation Program became a service integrated with Family Conciliation, Department of Manitoba Family Services and Housing, after the Comprehensive Co-Mediation and Mediation Internship Pilot Project ended in September 2000. The Comprehensive Co-Mediation Program provides parents with a cost-effective alternative to litigation while helping to reduce the levels of conflict between parents. Comprehensive Co-Mediation involves a consideration of all the issues that arise from separation/divorce: parenting issues (parental responsibilities/time sharing), child support, spousal support and division of marital property. A family law specialist/lawyer and a family relations specialist/social worker work together with the family to assist in resolving their issues. After completing the co-mediation process, a written agreement is drafted, reflecting those issues that are successfully resolved through co-mediation. This agreement is then forwarded to the participants' lawyers for review and possibly made into a legal separation agreement or a consent order. Ninety‑two percent of the mediated cases reported reaching a full or partial agreement with the majority of these (73%) being full agreements. The demand for this program has risen considerably resulting in a waiting list of two to three months on average.
- For over a decade the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Family Division has been operating a Case Management Program in Winnipeg. The case management process is intended to promote a non-contentious resolution of family law matters, reduce unnecessary delays and minimize costs to litigants. A critical component of case management is the case conference, an informal meeting between the judge, the parties and their lawyers. The goal of the case conference is to encourage parties to work together to reach a satisfactory solution to their cases. Only if the case cannot be resolved in this non-contentious manner (or if the matter is deemed urgent) will the judge schedule a contested hearing. During the initial phase 10-20% of new cases were randomly selected for case management, and in November 2002 case management was implemented 100% in Winnipeg. An evaluation was conducted in 2003‑2004 to measure the level of success in the expanded program and the effectiveness of the court process and procedures. The Case Management of Family Matters brochure is available on the internet in English and in French.
- As part of the Family Division Case Management process, the Brief Consultation Service provides families and their lawyers, as well as the court, with brief, timely consultation services regarding children's developmental issues; post-separation parenting; post-separation communication options; counselling needs; information sharing with children related to separation/divorce; scheduling issues and access options; and information/screening regarding other relevant services. A brief focused assessment is conducted by a Family Conciliation counsellor who meets with the parents and if necessary with the child(ren) and prepares a report for the court within five weeks of the court referral.
- The Automated Family Court Order Project, or the “Auto Order” computer process, eliminates traditional delays by enabling family court orders to be produced immediately after a court hearing. The Family Law Branch staff creates a Draft Order using the Auto Order computer system and electronically submits it into the Court Registry System. In the courtroom the clerk edits from the Draft Order (prepared by counsel) and electronically submits into the Court Registry System and distributes it to all parties—all prior to anyone leaving the courtroom. Manitoba's Automated Family Court Order Project, or the“Auto Order” computer process, is in its 1st year of release. The new AFCO System to the Court of Queen's Bench Master's Maintenance Enforcement Court was implemented at the end of 2007‑2008. In 2008‑2009, the next phase to take place, involves a release to the remaining general Family Division courtrooms in Winnipeg and to external legal professionals. The Auto Order Standard Clauses are available on the Internet in English and in French.
- As of July 2005, Manitoba Justice began operating a Child
Support Recalculation Service. Part of a
two-year pilot project, the service recalculates certain child support orders
at regular intervals, based on updated income information. To be eligible for
- The order must contain an amount for child support based on the Child Support Guidelines tables.
- The child support order must, in most cases, be based on the actual income of the parent paying the child support.
- Both parents must live in Manitoba.
- One of the parents must get a court order authorizing the recalculation.
- Manitoba's A Guide to Changing a Child Support Order in Manitoba is intended to help a parent apply to Court in Manitoba to change a child support order. This comprehensive guide contains information on the requirements and procedures of the courts for child support variations, a resource section as well as a glossary of terms to assist a parent in understanding the procedural and legal terminology used in the variation process. The Guide is available on the Internet in English and in French.
- First published in 1994, the Family Law in Manitoba public information booklet has been revised several times over the past ten years to reflect changes in provincial and federal legislation. The booklet is designed to provide separating and divorcing parents with an overview of family law and the legal system and the services and resources available to assist them. Manitoba revised the version of the 2005 edition in 2007‑2008. Approximately 2,000 copies of the French booklet is being produced. The Family Law in Manitoba, 2008 booklet is available on the Internet in English and in French.
- Since Manitoba's new Common-law Partners' Property and Related Amendments Act came into force on June 30, 2004, common-law partners have been able to register their relationship with Vital Statistics. New property laws that took effect the same day give common-law partners (who have lived together for a certain period of time or registered their relationship with Vital Statistics) the same rights that married couples have to family property on separation or death of a partner. A public information pamphlet describing how the Act can affect common-law partners and a section on frequently asked questions was developed with the support of the CCFJF.
- A Special Investigation Unit was established in Winnipeg's Maintenance Enforcement Program in 2002‑2003 to establish consistent, aggressive enforcement practices with default hearings. Formerly known as the Compliance Unit, MEP consolidated all default hearings using both levels of court available into a single caseload and prepared evidence for these processes. As a result, the Unit continues to secure fuller compliance for some of the most difficult files. This initiative offers a training opportunity for staff to do a general file review across the program.
- The Parent Education Sessions include options for resolving disputes; the Child Support Guidelines; stages of separation and divorce; the impact of separation and divorce on children and parents; and the importance of ongoing positive parenting. To address parents with high-conflict needs, Saskatchewan has developed a high-conflict module.
- Also, Saskatchewan piloted the Access Facilitation program where parents in the program first attend a Parenting after Separation and Divorce information session offered by Family Justice Services, followed by a legal information session with a lawyer from the Family Law Information Centre. Parents then participate in up to four joint mediation sessions to work through access conflict and develop a parenting plan. The Access Facilitation program links and builds on these existing services to provide a comprehensive and integrated strategy for resolving access issues.
- A curriculum and series of videos was developed for children experiencing separation or divorce. Children learn to understand what they are experiencing, how to communicate with their parents and that they are not alone in dealing with these issues.
- The Support Variation Project provides an out-of-court alternative available to lower-income parents who can agree on varying their child support order or agreement. As part of its information and resource component, the Support Variation Project also responds to requests for assistance with self-help kits for court applications to vary child support.
- Saskatchewan Justice continues to operate the provincial toll-free information lines, one for the north and another for the southern part of the province. They are also updating the aging Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system in order to mitigate the risk of failure. The new redevelopment of the system includes: establish a remote connection to the existing IVR, gather information from the existing IVR, develop and test programming to convert telephone applications, review and convert start-up procedures, convert and test new data import application, configure, test and convert specific file applications, prepare the IVR server application installation plan, correct software bugs, and ensure that custom cabling operates.
- Specialized self-help kits for the use of self-represented litigants seeking to vary court orders were developed in 2003‑04 by family law lawyers. The kit is available either in print or on-line. There are now available a variety of kits including: Child or Spousal Support Variation; Variation for a child over 18; Custody or Access Variation; Preparing a Separation Agreement; Initial Application for Custody, Access and/or Child Support; Preparing a Consent Order; Inter-jurisdictional Support Variation of a Divorce Act Order; and several other services.
- The Maintenance Enforcement Office helps collect maintenance or support payments ordered by the court or agreed to by two parties. The MEO enrols, receives and processes payments as ordered by the courts, enforcing court orders and agreements if necessary. Saskatchewan is also conducting Maintenance Enforcement and Child Support Information Sessions in northern and rural communities. The information sessions covers all aspects of child support and enforcement of child support orders and agreements.
- This jurisdiction conducted several researches on what family law services are required by Aboriginal communities and whether existing family law and related programs and services meet those needs through consultations and analysis of existing reports from other jurisdictions. There was also the development of a CD-Rom version of the parent education program for use in Aboriginal, rural, and remote communities.
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