Federal Funding of Provincial and Territorial Child Support, Support Enforcement and Child Custody and Access Projects

Family Justice Initiatives Projects

The following provides an overview of the programs, services and projects that have been funded under both the Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund and the Child-centred Family Justice Fund. The appendices profile the projects funded in each province and territory. The body of the report and the appendices have been organized under the eight primary areas of activity identified above.

Coordination

Federal, provincial and territorial governments have long recognized the importance of cooperation and collaboration in the development and implementation of family law reforms.  It was in that spirit that deputy ministers of justice and deputy attorneys general established the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Task Force on Child Support Initiatives (FPT Task Force) in 1996 to facilitate national planning and coordination of policy, public awareness, research and evaluation activities and to provide a forum for sharing information.  In the same spirit, the federal government has made funding available to support planning and coordination in each province and territory, as well as provincial and territorial participation in national planning and consultations.

The provinces and territories adopted a variety of committee and project management structures to meet their planning needs.  British Columbia, for example, established a planning process that involved six Ministry of Attorney General branches, other departments and agencies, and the Legal Services Society of British Columbia.  Manitoba’s Department of Justice had two committees to oversee preparations for and implementation of the family law reforms.  An internal interdepartmental committee brought together representatives of the provincial departments and agencies dealing with family law and child support issues.  The second committee, comprised of representatives of the Bench, the Canadian Bar Association, various subsections of the Manitoba Bar Association, community organizations and provincial departments, continues to serve as a consultative forum for exploration of policy and procedural matters affecting the administration of family law in the province.  Justice Saskatchewan’s Policy Planning and Evaluation Branch and an interdepartmental committee, chaired by the branch director, oversee implementation and evaluation of child support activities and reforms.

Nine provinces and territories used Fund resources to hire project coordinators or managers.  Typically, these individuals are responsible for consultation and planning activities, including participation in the FPT Task Force and its subcommittees, and often for the administration of and accountability for federal funding.  In some cases, the project coordinators are also expected to be involved in direct program development and management activities.  For example, New Brunswick’s project coordinator managed training, public information and research activities, while in Newfoundland, the coordinator’s duties included implementing court rule reforms.

With the most significant portion of the guidelines implementation work completed, the provinces and territories began in 1999-2000 to plan for the transition to operational status and/or new development goals.  In New Brunswick, with most of the child support guidelines implementation activities completed, the Department of Justice assigned the project manager additional responsibilities for the expansion of the province’s Domestic Legal Aid project.  In Ontario, the group involved in guidelines implementation was assigned new responsibilities for planning and developing family law projects and services and for managing Family Mediation Services, Family Law Information Centres and public legal information activities.

Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consultations on Family Law

The 1997 amendments to the Divorce Act included a requirement for a comprehensive review of the child support reforms and a report to Parliament on the review before May 1, 2002.  From the outset, the Department of Justice Canada planned to conduct a national consultation as part of the review process.  Later, in its May 1999 response to the Special Joint Committee report, For the Sake of the Children, the Government undertook to bring forward proposals addressing the Committee recommendations by May 2002, integrating the work with the review of and report to Parliament on child support.  This undertaking, too, called for national consultations on a range of family law issues, especially issues touching on child custody and access policies and procedures.

While the first responsibility for the conduct of these consultations fell to the federal government, provincial and territorial governments were directly implicated and had an equal interest in ensuring that parents, family law professionals and others across the country had adequate opportunities to register their views on child-centred family law matters.  Accordingly, the FPT Task Force and the governing federal-provincial-territorial Family Law Committee were involved in planning for the national consultation.  In addition, a portion of the Child-centred Family Justice Fund resources available to each province and territory was dedicated to supporting provincial and territorial consultations.

In 2000-2001, the provincial and territorial departments responsible for family law policy and services used the federal resources to develop consultation plans appropriate to their demographic and geographical circumstances.  Most assigned responsibility for the development of these plans to the project teams or committees responsible for coordination of the implementation of the child support guidelines.  Many provinces and territories retained consultants or assigned staff to provide strategic and logistical support to these planning bodies.

In all, consultation sessions were held in more than 35 communities in every province and territory and across the country.  The final report on these consultations, entitled Report on Federal-Provincial-Territorial Consultations on Custody, Access and Child Support in Canada, is available on the Department of Justice Canada Internet site under “Child Support.”

Family Justice Enhancements and Innovations

Over the past four to five years, provincial and territorial governments, with the financial support of the federal government, have tested and implemented new services and modified existing programs with the goal of offering divorced and separated parents opportunities to cooperatively and positively redefine their parenting relationships, responsibilities and arrangements.  These new services were also designed to reduce the stress, delays and costs associated with the necessary legal processes involved in arriving at child support, custody and access agreements and orders.  These efforts have ranged from technical and administrative measures designed to improve the predictability and timeliness of court proceedings to mediation services and parent education programs.

Parent Education

Parent education programs have been established in most provinces and territories since the earliest pilot programs in the mid-1990s.  Evaluations of the programs have found that participating parents are generally satisfied with their experience and tend to support the idea that the sessions should be mandatory.  The research has also found some early, but tenuous, evidence of benefits in terms of improved parenting.[1]  The programs provide separated and divorcing parents opportunities to learn about the following:

  • the impact of separation on children and adults;
  • how parents can best help their children through this difficult time;
  • the legal process and the range of dispute resolution options available in the justice system, including mediation and the court process; and
  • how the child support guidelines work and how to find out more about them.

Typically, trained facilitators lead the sessions using a provincially developed curriculum, facilitator’s guide, videos and handouts.  In most provinces and territories offering this service, the program is readily available in larger communities, but it is often difficult to make it available in smaller communities.  The programs vary in a number of respects, as the following brief profiles of programs supported by federal funding illustrate.

Children’s Education

While parent education programs focus on the needs and experience of the children affected by separation and divorce, it has been suggested that the children might benefit from more direct services.  To that end, some agencies (government and community-based) have developed education-information programs for children.  One such endeavour was supported through the Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund.  Saskatchewan’s Department of Justice developed a curriculum, facilitator’s guides and three videos for education sessions designed for three age groups (6-9, 9-12 and 12-16).  The material covers information about the legal process as well as the emotional experiences and changes in relationships that follow divorce or separation.  The province has made the curriculum, facilitator’s guides and supporting materials available to community groups that organize and deliver sessions for children, and distributed the videos to government agencies, regional library branches, district health boards and interested community agencies.

Mediation

Mediation and other alternatives to formal litigation for resolving the issues that arise when parents separate and divorce are important features of Canada’s evolving family law system.  All provincial and territorial governments have implemented or are planning to implement programs and procedures to ensure that parents can use the dispute resolution service that is most appropriate to their needs and circumstances.  The following highlights provincial and territorial programs and services.

Information and Intake Services

Provincial and territorial governments have implemented a variety of programs and services that are intended to promote early resolution of child support, custody and access issues while reducing administrative and procedural complexities.  The following examples, each supported by federal funds, illustrate the ways in which the jurisdictions deliver, or plan to deliver, information and intake services to separated and divorced parents seeking to establish or revise child support, custody or access agreements and orders.

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