Family law reforms roll out across Ontario today

The provincial government is rolling out family law reforms across Ontario today.

The changes involve an expansion of services already available at some Ontario courthouses up until now. They include the mandatory information program that began as a pilot project at the courts in Milton and Brampton, Ont. The idea is to offer more upfront information to families on their dispute-resolution options and provide essential details on how divorce affects children.

Attorney General Chris Bentley has been championing the changes for some time. They’re part of the so-called Four Pillars of family law reform that Bentley has touted as a cost-effective route to speeding up the justice system while making it less expensive for families.

Making mediation available at courts across the province is also key to the changes. The idea, according to Bentley, is to give families a greater chance of resolving their disputes without going through a drawn-out court process by removing some of the confrontation involved in separation and divorce. As a result, litigants will have free access to limited on-site mediation as well as off-site mediators working on a sliding scale based on income.

Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler, however, has thrown some cold water on Bentley’s reforms. Speaking at the Law Society of Upper Canada’s family law summit last month, Winkler said that while he welcomes the changes, they don’t go far enough to cure an ailing family justice system. In his view, mediation should be a mandatory component of the family law process with litigation reserved for those cases where there’s abuse, an imbalance of power or an unco-operative party.

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