AFCC-O awarded funding to Claire Houston, Rachel Birnbaum, and Nicholas Bala to study the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on family justice in Ontario, including its effects on both domestic and child welfare cases. The team studied the effects of the pandemic on parental separation and conflict, litigants (both those with and without lawyers), and its effects on access to justice, victims of domestic violence, children whose parents have separated, and children removed from parental care by child welfare agencies. Their findings were published in The Lawyer’s Daily:
There has been a significant increase in the number of self-represented family litigants, which causes concern for these individuals, their children and the family justice system. Data suggests that in over half of the family cases in Canada’s courts, one or both parties are without a lawyer. Inability to afford full representation by a lawyer is the single biggest factor, but other reasons include the rise of “do it yourself” social attitudes, increasing availability of self-help information from family justice institutions, and a perception among some self-represented litigants that having a lawyer may not result in a significantly better outcome. The AFCC-O is a partner in the Ontario Family Law Limited Scope Services Project which is an important initiative to help improve access to affordable family legal services. For more information see Ontario’s Family Law Limited Scope Services Project
On 22 May, 2018 the Liberal government introduced Bill C-78 to Parliament, which will, if enacted, amend the parenting provisions of the Divorce Act, the first significant change to this part of the legislation since it came into effect in 1986. Bill C-78 will affect the making of orders and agreements concerning children and parenting, including provisions that will:
There are likely to be Parliamentary hearings on Bill C-78 in the Fall 2018, with enactment likely by the Winter of 2019. However, there is never certainty about the process of enacting legislation. There are contentious issues, including proposals for the inclusion of a presumption of “equal parenting time,” which is not in the present Bill.
See AFCC-O Response to Bill C-78 to view AFCC-O’s submissions to Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, September 10, 2018.
See Bala Divorce Reform June 2018 for a discussion parenting provisions of Bill C-78, and an argument against a presumption of “equal parenting time”.
See John Boyd Overview of Bill C78 – Pt 1 – June 2018 – A summary of parenting provisions of Bill C-78.
See John Boyd Overview of Bill C78 – Pt 2 – June 2018 – A summary of other provisions of Bill C-78, including provisions relating to support issues, interjurisdictional agreements and treaties.
Representatives from the AFCC-O and other family law organizations met recently with the Attorney General of Ontario about access to justice initiatives being considered. One of the opportunities that is on the radar is consideration for the expansion of the Unified Family Courts (UFC). Supporting community services and other methods of enhancing family access to justice were also discussed. Please consider AFCC-O’s invitation to write to the Ministers of Finance and Justice, and alert your local MP in support of the Unified Family Court reforms.
From 2011 to present, the AFCC-O has supported the expansion of the Unified Family Court (UFC). Now is a crucial time to show support for this important initiative.
We are now facing an historic opportunity: UFC is included in the mandate letters of both the Federal Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Ontario. At the request of the Minister of Justice, the Attorney General of Ontario has submitted a proposal for a two-stage expansion of UFC which would see UFC sites across Ontario by 2025.
It is now critical that funding for UFC expansion in Ontario, and elsewhere across Canada, be included in the 2018 federal budget.
We invite you to write to the Ministers of Justice and Finance, your local MP and any other MP you may know personally to stress the critical need for UFCs and to ask that funding for them is included in the 2018 Federal Budget. We encourage you to use the below UFC draft letter as a template for your correspondence.
UFC draft letter November 2017
AFCC-O UFC letter to Prime Minister, Minister of Justice and Minister of Finance Nov. 22-17
Follow this members of parliament link to search for your local MP using your postal code
Follow this parliament link to view a list of Ontario members of parliament by Riding, along with their contact information.
In January 2017, the AFCC-O wrote the Honourable Chief Justice Heather Smith asking for her assistance in support of the expansion of the Unified Family Court (UFC) throughout Ontario.
AFCC-O letter to Heather Smith Jan 30-17
In early 2010, AFCC Ontario called a meeting of its membership to develop a policy statement for the Ideal Family Court in Ontario. Two meetings were held with over 15-20 members from different disciplines sharing and exchanging ideas.
In May 2017, AFCC-O provided a written submission in response to the release of the Family Legal Services Review. AFCC-O engaged a working group to draft the response on behalf of the organization and in consultation with our membership. In April 2016, AFCC-O submitted a detailed submission about the potential for an expanded role for non-lawyers in the delivery of services to families, following a survey of our members. In May 2016, AFCC-O attended a meeting with Justice Bonkalo, the author of the review, to discuss areas of consideration and concerns. Please click on the links below for AFCC-O’s 2017 response, and our initial response in April 2016. Also find below the Law Society of Upper Canada’s response dated December 1, 2107, to the Bonkalo Report on improving access to family justice and the use of paralegals.
APRIL 2016 SUBMISSION TO THE FAMILY LEGAL SERVICES REVIEW
MAY 2017 RESPONSE TO THE FAMILY LEGAL SERVICES REVIEW
LSUC Convocation Access to Justice Committee Report Dec 1-17
Not all AFCC-Ontario members agree with the AFCC-O’s response to the Bonkalo Report and that is, of course, just fine. It ensures there will be healthy debate and dialogue, which are good things. One AFCC-Ontario member who disagrees with the AFCC-Ontario’s position is Dr. Bernie Mayer. Dr. Mayer delivered one of the keynote addresses at the AFCC 2017 annual conference in Boston, in which he challenged AFCC members to engage fully and enthusiastically in the access to justice debate. Dr. Mayer’s comments on the AFCC-Ontario’s response to the Bonkalo Report can be found here:
Supervised Access as a Stepping Stone Rather than a Destination: A Qualitative Review of the Interventions Services and Programs that May Assist Families to Transition Away from Supervised Access.
Description of Project:
Supervised access is an important service for families involved in family disputes. Generally, supervised access may be necessary when there are concerns about domestic violence, poor parenting, alcohol and/or drug problems, and when a parent has little to no relationship with their child. Supervision of visitation can play a critical role in maintaining the relationship between children and their parents and helps to provide independent information that can be used for court purposes. However, without an assessment by a mental health professional (which is typically cost and/or time prohibitive), in addition to the supervision, it is difficult to assess parent-child relationships and/or parental behaviours. Consequently, parents may be left in supervised access longer than necessary.
Recent research identifies the reasons why supervised visitation is ordered. However, once supervision is court-ordered there are no clear guidelines for its reduction or elimination. The use of complementary services (i.e., parenting education, anger management, etc.) within the supervision setting to address the issues that led to a family’s difficulties needs to be better identified. Issues such as staff training, standardization of service delivery and decisions on how to transition out of supervised settings all need further investigation.
VIEW the “Supervised Access as a Stepping Stone Rather than a Destination” research paper by Nicholas Bala, Michael Saini and Sarah Spitz.
AFCC-O commissioned the following research papers:
Crossover Youth: Improving Ontario’s Responses, By Nicholas Bala , Rebecca De Filippis & Katie Hunter
Reforming the Family Justice System: An Evidence-Based Approach, By Noel Semple & Nicholas Bala
On November 25, 2016, the AFCC-O hosted a family justice symposium, entitled the “Intersection of Domestic Family Law Cases and the Child Welfare System”. The AFCC-O symposium was designed to build on the recent research conducted by Claire Houston and Professor Nick Bala (see “The Challenge of High Conflict Family Cases Involving a Child Protection Agency: A Review of Literature and an Analysis of Reported Ontario Cases“, and “Child Welfare and Family Justice Suggestions for Good Practices” research papers below) with the goals of developing strategies, better practices and next steps to improve how custody and access cases that intersect with child protection system are identified and managed. The full-day program also explored how Children’s Aid Societies across Ontario may improve on service delivery in cases involving high conflict custody disputes. Over forty-five professionals attended the symposium, including: legal and policy advisors from the Ontario government and Legal Aid Ontario, community and legal organizations, lawyers and child protection workers/supervisors from Children’s Aid Societies, judges, mediators, parents’ and children’s counsel, the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, mental health professionals, assessors and members of the AFCC-O Board of Directors. Please refer to the below documents available for download that provide details of what discussions took place at our symposium, and a summary article which includes recommendations for improvements:
AFCC-O commenced an environmental scan of Ontario government agencies and non-profit organizations to better understand their policy initiatives as well as the gaps identified in the family law system. As set out below, the AFCC-O utilized the data collected from this project to create the Ideal Family Court Initiative. See below our updated policy statement entitled the “AFCC-Ontario: The Ideal Family Court (November 2014)”, along with the letter of invitation to participate in our study, and a list of organizations that supported the initiatives for reform.
AFCC-O sent requests to participate in our environmental scan to the following Ontario Government agencies and non-profit organizations
AFCC O Policy Committee Letter
Responses provided by Ontario Government agencies and non-profit organizations
AFCC-O hosted a one day interdisciplinary colloquium to discuss Family Court Policy on November 15, 2013. This provided an opportunity for leaders in the family court arena to meet and discuss trends for family courts and possible future steps