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.
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.
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.”
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 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. 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.
British Columbia. The Family Justice Services Division, Ministry of Attorney General, delivers both voluntary and mandatory sessions under its Parenting After Separation program. The three-hour sessions are co-facilitated by a man and a woman through agencies under contract. The sessions are also offered in Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi and Hindi, as well as English, in the Greater Vancouver area. The voluntary sessions are available in many locations throughout the province, but are being reduced as the mandatory program expands.
Mandatory participation was introduced in 1998-1999 as a pilot project in the Burnaby and New Westminster provincial courts and is now delivered in eight locales, with more added as planning and resources permit. Under the mandatory program, parents must attend one session before their first court appearance can be scheduled.
Alberta. The Court Services Division of Alberta Justice has a parenting education program, which is delivered through local agencies in nine communities throughout the province, with plans to expand to four additional centres. The program features a six-hour seminar presented in two three-hour segments designed to give parents a better understanding of the effect of family break-up on their children and of ways to minimize negative impacts. The sessions also provide information about alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, child support and child support guidelines. In areas where a live seminar is not available, parents may view a two-hour video that highlights the concepts covered in the full seminar. The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench has made attendance at a Parenting After Separation seminar mandatory, with limited exemptions.
Saskatchewan. The province reports that its parent education program recognizes that cooperative problem solving and decision making are integral to the well-being of the children affected. Normally, parents attend three two-hour sessions on separate evenings, but in some centres they are delivered in a single six-hour session. The sessions are co-facilitated by a social worker from Family Law Support Services and a mediator with the provincial Mediation Services. As attendance is voluntary, the province promotes the program by distributing posters and other materials through Department of Social Services offices, churches, libraries, the courts, law offices and other locations. While the program has not been evaluated, it benefits from participant feedback obtained from questionnaires distributed at the conclusion of the sessions. Generally, participants have been positive about the program, especially the modules dealing with children’s reactions to family break-up, separation and divorce.
Manitoba. Staff of the Family Conciliation Branch, Department of Family Services, deliver the province’s parent education program, For the Sake of the Children, which consists of two three-hour sessions. The introductory session, designed for all participants, covers general information about the needs of children of different ages, parenting plans, economic and legal issues, and alternatives to formal litigation. At the end of this session, participants are streamed into either a low-conflict or high-conflict second session. The high-conflict session is designed for parents who have experienced significant difficulties in their relations and little post-separation contact is expected. The courts do not require that litigants attend parent education sessions, however, the Family Conciliation Branch and the Comprehensive Co-Mediation Project require that parents seeking mediation services first attend parent education sessions. The program has been the subject of an evaluation.
Ontario. Voluntary parent information sessions are offered and funded by Unified Family Courts and through some local and/or community-based programs. Two information programs are supported through federal funds. One is the voluntary parent information sessions delivered through the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto, which was established with the assistance of Osgoode Hall Law School and a Donner Foundation grant. It offers evening information sessions for family law clients. The other is a mandatory information program offered through the Superior Court of Justice, Toronto. The Superior Court requires that all litigants in contested cases attend a family law information session before continuing their court proceedings. The sessions, offered by lawyers and mediators, provide information about separation and divorce, legal procedures, options for dispute resolution and community resources. The video Separate Ways is used as a presentation aid in the sessions. Both programs are being evaluated.
Quebec. The provincial government has not implemented a parent education program, but there are some community-based programs available. For example, Les Centres Jeunesse de Montreal offers its family mediation and assessment clients a program entitled Co-Parenting After a Separation. None of these services is supported by federal funds.
New Brunswick. The province has adopted Manitoba’s parenting program, For the Sake of the Children, revising the session scripts, print documents and video materials to accommodate differences in the two family law systems. The program, which is delivered by trained contract facilitators, is available in both official languages. Participation in the program is voluntary, but strongly encouraged by court social workers who have contact with most of the parents during the court intake process.
Prince Edward Island. The Office of the Attorney General recruits and trains volunteers to deliver the program, which involves two three-hour sessions. Participation is voluntary, but those who do wish to attend are screened. Mothers and fathers attend separate sessions, and individuals with histories of domestic violence are excluded. The program is the subject of an evaluation being done in cooperation with the Department of Justice Canada.
Nova Scotia. Co-facilitators (a lawyer and a mental health worker) deliver the parent education program, which involves two two-hour sessions, using the Children in the Middle video series. One session deals with support guidelines, non-adversarial methods of resolving family law matters, and court procedures and the other with relationship and parenting issues. The program incorporates some skills building aimed at helping parents avoid conflict, especially conflict that implicates children. Participation in the parent education program is mandatory in three Supreme Court Family Division districts, but is otherwise voluntary.
In addition to the parent education sessions, Nova Scotia is developing a mandatory education program for parties who are dealing with family law matters other than child maintenance in the Supreme Court (Family Division). The sessions, delivered by court staff and volunteer mental health professionals, will provide basic information on court procedures and inter-personal issues in separation and divorce.
Newfoundland. The Parents Are Forever program involves four three-hour sessions in successive weeks. The first session looks at the separation experience from both the parents’and children’s perspectives. The second deals with relationship and communication skills. The third and part of the fourth session teach conflict management skills. The last one-and-a-half hours look at legal issues, procedures and alternatives. The sessions are facilitated by social workers, assisted by a lawyer.
Northwest Territories. The Department of Justice, in cooperation with the Legal Services Board, developed a parenting after separation program modelled after the Alberta and British Columbia programs, modified to meet the legal and socio-economic realities of the North. The program was delivered by contract staff and ran as a pilot project in 1999-2000. Two sessions per month were offered from September to March. The sessions are intended to help parents move from a self-centred to a child-centred framework to improve their parenting skills. There are plans to continue the pilot project in 2002.
Yukon. The Department of Justice, in partnership with the Women’s Directorate and the Departments of Health and Social Services and Education, developed its program using the Manitoba model. It now contracts with Partners for Children, a local service organization, to organize and facilitate the sessions and to train additional facilitators from other organizations to deliver the program outside of Whitehorse. The program is facilitated by a social worker and a lawyer, and has been presented to parents six to eight times per year. Separate information sessions have also been held for judges, lawyers and community service providers.
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 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.
British Columbia. The province’s 31 Family Justice Centres provide mediation and other dispute resolution services for people of modest income in cases involving custody, access, guardianship, child support and spousal support. Centre employees, trained and certified as family mediators, provide the services. The province has not allocated federal funding to this program.
Alberta. The Court Services Division of Alberta Justice manages Family Mediation Services, which helps parents referred by other programs, the courts and family law practitioners. When the parties have a child younger than 18 and the gross income of one of the parents is less than $40,000, the Government of Alberta provides mediation at no cost. In Edmonton and Calgary, Division staff members serve as mediators, while fee-for-service professionals provide the service in other communities. Participation is voluntary, and the province estimates that approximately 1,200 couples take advantage of mediation services each year. The majority of cases proceed to joint mediation, while only a small proportion are screened out as unsuited for mediation. During 2000‑2001, full agreements were achieved in 61.1 percent of the 1,033 cases that proceeded to joint mediation, and partial agreements
were the result in 19.7 percent of cases.
Saskatchewan. Mediation Saskatchewan offices provide comprehensive mediation when the courts have ordered mediation to resolve a dispute about supervised access or as the result of a custody and access evaluation report. Others seeking mediation services are provided with pamphlets on the mediation process and how to choose a mediator along with a Mediation Saskatchewan directory that lists all mediators in the province.
Manitoba. Beginning in 1997-1998, Manitoba allocated federal funds for the development of the Comprehensive Co-Mediation and Mediation Internship Pilot Project. Its primary objective was to offer mediation services to separated and divorcing parents with children younger than 18. Its secondary objective was to recruit and train mediators accredited through Family Mediation Canada. In 1998‑1999, the project recruited 24 interns to train and work as co-mediators (with lawyers) in cases referred by the Family Conciliation Branch, courts, parent education programs, lawyers and others.
In 2000-2001, Manitoba Justice integrated the project into its Family Conciliation Branch, which had previously done mediation only in custody and access cases. The Branch will maintain the internship component of the project, but on a smaller scale, and offer co-mediation services in separation and divorce cases generally.
Ontario. The Ministry of the Attorney General provides for voluntary family mediation through all 17 Unified Family Court locations. Private practitioners contracted by the Ministry deliver the actual mediation services and clients are charged a user fee on a sliding scale. While the province has not allocated federal resources to this program, it has used the federal funds to support the following two mediation initiatives.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto maintains a roster of family mediators who are available to all court clients. The clients are required to pay for the service: mediators on the roster charge $300 per party for the first four hours of mediation (including preparation and screening), after which they may charge their usual fee. They are also required to provide a minimum of 12 hours of pro bono mediation per year.
The Kingston pilot was designed to test whether it would be suitable to require litigants in support variation cases to attend a mediation or information session with a mediator. The sessions, designed to give the parties a chance to learn about mediation and explore whether mediation would be appropriate in their circumstances, were provided by a government-funded family mediation service located at the Kingston Family Court. The project was completed in September 1999.
Quebec. Quebec’s legislation requires that married and unmarried parents making an application to the court in a dispute concerning child custody, access, or support or other matrimonial rights attend an information session on mediation before the application is heard. The session is designed to inform parents about the mediation process, how it works and the role of the mediator. The program allows parents to satisfy the requirement in one of three ways: the parents can meet with a mediator of their choosing, attend a group session together, or attend separate group sessions. At the end of the session, the couple must choose between mediation and court proceedings. If they proceed with mediation, the services are provided by accredited private practitioners or mediators employed by youth centres who deal only with cases involving children. The provincial government covers the costs of up to
six sessions, except in the case of an application for review of an existing order, for which all costs are covered. Parents requiring additional sessions must pay the fees themselves. In some circumstances, the courts may require mediation.
New Brunswick. The New Brunswick Family Support Service has long provided mediation, one-to-one counselling and information services for family support clients. In 1997-1998, the province expanded this service by adding six court social worker positions, providing them with advanced on- site mediation training. The ongoing improvements to mediation services are a priority for the province. The improvements have included the development of screening tools to help assess whether mediation would be an appropriate alternative, production of a mediation manual and training for the court social workers.
Nova Scotia. Parents appearing in Halifax-Dartmouth Courts on applications dealing with custody, access and support have been able to participate in mediation since 1986. The service was expanded to the areas served by the Supreme Court (Family Division) in 1999, and now covers Cape Breton Island and the entire Halifax Regional Municipality. Both court staff and private practitioners provide the service, which is paid for by the client according to a sliding scale. The province has not allocated federal funding to support the delivery of this service. However, from 1997 to 2000, the province did use federal funds to design a mediation program and coordinate delivery of a mentoring program. The mentoring program provided training and supervision by a certified mediator to help trainees gain the experience needed to become certified and be placed on a government roster of professional mediators.
Newfoundland. In 2000-2001, Newfoundland undertook the Family Dispute Pilot Project to provide mediation and support services in custody and access cases being dealt with by the Supreme Court or the provincial Family Court. Blomidon Place, a Corner Book community health organization, delivers the services. Initially the program is providing referral services and mediation. Support application social workers are the first point of contact with families and can negotiate some consent orders and make referrals. If referred for formal mediation, a family would meet with a mediator who would file a consent order if agreement is reached about support and child custody and access issues.
Northwest Territories. The Department of Justice is exploring the feasibility of developing a pilot mediation project in Yellowknife. An initial feasibility study has been prepared under contract. The next steps are to review implementation models and options for implementation as well as to look at training mediators to work in the program.
Yukon. The Yukon Department of Justice is exploring the feasibility of developing a pilot project providing “court-based, court-connected” mediation services to parents dealing with child support, custody and/or access issues. The Department retained a contractor to develop a framework dealing with issues such as the connection between the court and the mediation service, administrative arrangements, costs to users, the selection and assignment of mediators, the fee structure, and mediator qualifications. The report has been received and Yukon will undertake further internal discussions before a decision is made as to when and how a pilot project will be initiated.
Nunavut. The Nunavut Bench and Bar Committee is developing a mediation model that reflects the territory’s cultural, geographic and economic realities through the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Traditional Knowledge) Mediation Initiative. The first step in the development process was to bring together experienced mediators and Inuit well versed in traditional conflict resolution practices to develop a mediation protocol that will provide the foundation for expanded family law services in Nunavut. The immediate goal of the project is to train family law mediators who will be able to provide services to assist couples within their own communities.
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.
Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan has a provincial Family Law Line which is toll free and complements the line operated by the Department of Justice Canada. The line was established in April 1997 and continues to operate. In addition to accepting registrations for the parent education program, the operator answers general questions about the child support guidelines, provides information and distributes information packages about the guidelines and self-help child maintenance variation kits. The operator encourages callers to seek legal advice and can suggest options such as private lawyers, legal aid or the lawyer referral line. Callers may also be referred to other government offices or agencies such as the Maintenance Enforcement Office, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency or one of the Court Registrar’s offices. The operator tracks statistics, including the sex of the caller, where the caller
was referred to, the number of information and variation kits distributed and whether the caller was seeking information as an individual or on behalf of an organization.
Nunavut. In 2000-2001, Nunavut Justice planned to establish the first Family Support Office in Iqaluit that will provide maintenance support and counselling services. Through the office, a ‘family support counsellor’ will provide family justice information and mediation services in Inuktitut. Inuit comprise 85 percent of the population. In the future, the goal is to provide family justice information and mediation services in Inuktitut in all Nunavut communities.
Northwest Territories. The Court Services Division employs an investigation/action clerk (formerly called the information/intake clerk) to staff an information and public service office located in the Yellowknife courthouse. The clerk’s duties include accepting registrations for the maintenance enforcement program, processing applications for parent information sessions, preparing and disseminating information to staff, judges and the public, and assisting parents with child support forms, applications and procedures.
Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia has assigned court intake assistants in each judicial district to help process applications to vary support orders and agreements, handle the new requirements to track documents and assess the completeness of information according to filing requirements and court rules. The assistants also help litigants, particularly unrepresented litigants, and complete court forms and filing packages, track and follow-up on documents, request information from third parties, provide information on basic procedures, advise people where to go for legal and/or financial advice, and ensure that draft court orders conform with the child support guidelines.
Prince Edward Island. Since 1997-1998, Prince Edward Island has had child support information officers available to provide parents with information about the guidelines and to help them file applications for variations or new orders.
Ontario. Since 1999, Ontario has established Family Law Information Centres in court locations across the province. These centres help clients, particularly those who are not represented by a lawyer and are entering the court system for the first time. Clients are encouraged to consider resolution of disputes outside the court process, where appropriate. Court intake clerks working in the Family Law Information Centres provide information about court process and court forms, distribute resource material such as brochures, pamphlets and guides to procedure, and make referrals to community services outside the Court. Legal Aid Ontario participates in this program by assigning advice lawyers to assist Centre clients by providing summary legal advice.
Alberta. Since 1997-1998, Alberta has maintained Family Law Information Centres in Edmonton and Calgary. The Centres, operated by the Court Services Division and staffed by lawyers, judicial clerks and information officers, originally focussed on child support matters, but now provide services about any family law matter, including child support, custody, access, spousal support, access enforcement, ex parte restraining orders and emergency protection orders. The clerks respond to information requests, inform people about the availability and advantages of out-of-court settlements, help unrepresented individuals identify and assemble the information required for applications, and refer people to legal and mediation services.