Recent Initiatives

OUR 2017-2018 RESEARCH PROJECT: 

Court-Based Mediation Services In Ontario: An Evaluation of Participation, Success and Best Practices, is underway.

The AFCC is an interdisciplinary and international association of professionals dedicated to the resolution of family conflict. AFCC members share a strong commitment to education, innovation and collaboration in order to benefit communities, empower families, and promote a healthy future for children.

Our vision is a justice system in which all professionals work collaboratively through education, support and access to services to achieve the best possible outcome for children and families.

AFCC-O continues to initiate and participate in important research, and hold symposiums to identify changes and new initiatives that will be beneficial to Ontario families.

AFCC-O’s 2017-2018 RESEARCH PROJECT

Exploring the Benefits and Challenges of Mediation Services in Ontario

Description of Project:

The AFCC-O is providing financial and other support to a research project on Court-based Family Mediation Services in Ontario, being undertaken by Dr. Denise Whitehead of the University of Waterloo and Dr. Rachel Birnbaum of King’s University College, Western University.  The project is intended to examine what works and what is not working with respect to court-based mediation services as well as private mediation in Ontario. The project is beginning in the Fall of 2017, and a final report will be completed and made available on the AFCC-O website by December 1, 2018.

This project will employ multiple methodologies, including:

(1)   A literature review on public and privately funded mediation to examine what has been done and what are the gaps in knowledge;

(2)   A survey of Ontario professionals about mediation services:  The survey will have questions related to both court-based and government subsidized mediation and private mediation. This survey will have some questions directed to professionals who refer individuals to mediation (i.e. lawyers and counsellors) as well as a section for mediators; it will distinguish between those doing publicly funded mediation, those doing private mediation and those doing both;

(3)   In-person interviews of professionals about their views and experiences with mediation at eight court sites (Sudbury, Guelph, Windsor, Newmarket, London, and in Toronto at 311 Jarvis, 47 Sheppard, and 393 University);

(4)   Subject to the approval of the Offices of the Chief Justice, interviews with both OCJ and SCJ judges at these eight sites;

(5)   Online survey of participants who have utilized court-based publicly funded mediation services and telephone/in-person follow-up interviews with some of them; and

(6)   Online survey and in-person interviews with litigants who are contemplating using public mediation services.

The researchers contact information is as follows:

Dr. Denise Whitehead denise.whitehead@uwaterloo.ca, and Dr. Rachel Birnbaum rbirnbau@uwo.ca

VIEW the “Supervised Access as a Stepping Stone Rather than a Destination” research paper by Nicholas Bala, Michael Saini and Sarah Spitz.

Bill C-78: Reforming the Divorce Act

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:

  • abandon the archaic “custody” and “access” terminology now in the Divorce Act, introducing more child focused concepts like “parenting time” and “parental responsibilities,” that are to be incorporated into “parenting plans;”
  • encourage parents and professionals to settle disagreements outside of the court process, using mediation or other collaborative processes.  However, they are not required by Bill C-78 to use such alternatives to the courts;
  • encourage recognition of the importance of one parent supporting their child’s relationships with the other parent;
  • specifically address issues of family violence, requiring courts to consider the effects of spousal abuse on both the immediate victims and the children;
  • provide that the views and preferences of children should be considered by decision-makers: children must have a voice, but not necessarily a choice; and
  • change the law governing cases where one parent wishes to relocate.

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.

Ontario’s Family Law Limited Scope Services Project

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

Results of Part I – Literature Review/Caselaw Review of the Intersection of Custody/Access Cases and the Child Welfare System

Part II – Qualitative Research into the Intersection of Custody/Access Cases and the Child Welfare System

Increasingly, custody/access cases are colliding with the child welfare system, with children being found in need of protection as a result of parental separation involving high-conflict, and accusations of child protection concerns about each parent, etc. Part I of this research project explored the social science and legal literature, including case law in the last five years detailing the intersection between these two systems. Part II of this research involved qualitative interviews with child welfare professionals including front line and managers, as well as justice professionals in the court system about how the courts respond to the intersection between family and child welfare.

Ms. Houston and Prof. Bala have completed phase II of this study which involved a series of interviews with key informants, and recommendations for best practices for these cases.

Child Welfare and Family Justice Suggestions for Good Practices-Houston & Bala May 2-16