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How court mediators are helping litigants (and courts) during COVID-19

Thursday, April 22, 2021 @ 12:44 PM | By Hilary Linton, Hayley Glaholt and Jennifer Stiver-Balla


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Jennifer Stiver-Balla
One year into this pandemic, family court litigants are feeling increased anxiety and distress.

The good news is that there are free, government-funded resources available to help. The bad news is that many lawyers do not know about them and they remain underused as a result.

Even though family courts have evolved their procedures to adapt to a new online world of doing legal business, access to justice has become more complex for litigants. And because most people using the family law system are not represented, client needs are high, stressing overburdened judges, duty counsel and court staff to their limits.

Even with positive universal changes to how parties access and use the courts, including enhancements to the File Family Court Documents Online webpage and the introduction of CaseLines in the Superior Court of Justice for document sharing, the reality for clients is that they will need to learn the unique processes of each court to navigate the system.

Yet parties often cannot speak with a real person given demands on court staff, combined with stay-at-home orders.

Court-connected information and mediation services are a valuable point of contact at this time.

Mediators are on-call, online, every day, at no cost to meet with and screen parties for suitability for mediation. This is one way that parties in court can satisfy their obligation to try to resolve matters where appropriate. This is a free service, offering three to four hours of mediation including screening for power imbalance and domestic violence and referrals to supportive family services.

Many cases may not be ready or appropriate for mediation, but the confidential intake meeting with a mediator can at least result in each party connecting with a person who can provide procedural and resource support for their family.

Mediators connect the parties with resources and work with them to develop more productive patterns of communication as parents. They help with preliminary financial disclosure, basic child support, spousal support and s. 7 calculations and parenting plans.

Parties may be referred by a judge, counsel or themselves. Mediators are available at first appearance, conferences and motions.

Information and referral co-ordinators (IRCs) are also available by phone or e-mail every day. They help distressed parties with everything from court forms, locating their file, understanding what mediation is, how to file for divorce, how to communicate with the other parent, process for seeking contact as a grandparent, how to access supervised access and much more.

With shutdowns continuing, schools closing and families being strained in every way, Ontario’s court-connected mediators and IRCs are an invaluable resource for family lawyers who are seeking better ways to support their clients during these challenging times.

To find your local service provider visit the Ministry of the Attorney General website.

Hilary Linton, Hayley Glaholt and Jennifer Stiver-Balla provide court-connected family information and mediation services with Toronto Family Mediation Services. Log onto the website at www.mediate393.ca or contact them at (416) 593-5393.

Photo credit / Thitiphat Khuankaew ISTOCKPHOTO.COM


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