This stream of funding supports provincial and territorial family justice programs and services that assist parents dealing with child support, support enforcement, and parenting arrangement issues (e.g., parenting agreements and orders, contact orders, custody orders and access rights). Though not all activities supported under the Fund are listed, extensive samples of activities that have been funded through this component are described below.
A number of jurisdictions have used the Fund to support parent education/information programs. These programs are designed to bring awareness to parents who are separating or divorcing of the potential harm that can come to children if their needs are not sufficiently met. The adjustment period is often very stressful for the child, especially in high conflict cases, and these services bring to light actions and their consequences. By creating awareness among parents of the importance of focussing on their children and ways of resolving parenting issues, it is hoped that parents will be more responsive to their children's emotional and physical needs.
Evaluations have indicated positive outcomes associated with the program. For example, evaluations of the Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick programs found that outcomes include reduced parental conflict, improved relationships between former partners, easier adjustment to parenting from two homes as well as a significantly increased understanding of co-parenting issues, mediation and support services. Manitoba conducted evaluations of its parent information program which confirmed similar positive outcomes including increased satisfaction with child support, custody and access arrangements.
While Parent Education Programs are offered in every jurisdiction and are free of charge, some jurisdictions have gone a step further and made the program mandatory in some or all sites.
The Mandatory Information Program, offered by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General at the Superior Court of Justice (SCJ) in Toronto, requires all litigants in contested family law proceedings in the SCJ in Toronto to attend a family law information session before continuing with their court proceeding. The Court of Queen's Bench in Alberta has made attendance mandatory before a contested divorce action will be heard, unless a valid reason exists for the parties to be excused. Nova Scotia's Parent Information Program is mandatory in all Family Division sites whereas in Family Court, attendance is voluntary. British Columbia's Parenting After Separation is now mandatory in ten locations in addition to the seven voluntary locations. Manitoba's Family Conciliation Branch has made attendance at its For the Sake of the Children program mandatory for clients accessing mediation services.
Saskatchewan Justice has successfully operated a province-wide voluntary parent education program for parents who are separating or divorcing. To reach more individuals, attendance at a parent education session became mandatory in Yorkton, Saskatoon, Regina, and Prince Albert. Saskatchewan Justice has also continued to expand the locations where voluntary parent education sessions are offered. A recent evaluation assessing the differences in outcomes for voluntary and mandatory clients found that several aspects of the evaluation results supported mandatory attendance policies. This recommendation is due partially to the greater inclusiveness of the mandatory program in terms of the range of participants, the high ratings given by parents on exit questionnaires for both programs, and the finding that high conflict parents may experience the greatest change in parenting behaviours after attending the program. Considering the positive outcomes, it was found that it would be beneficial for most, if not all, parents going through a separation/divorce to attend such a program.
There have been other variations on the basic program. For example, British Columbia offers specialized programs in Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi and Hindi in the Greater Vancouver Area, and New Brunswick provides a program in French. Other jurisdictions have developed two-streams within their programs; one for low and another for high conflict parents. It is widely acknowledged that those parents who have relationships characterized by higher conflict require a more specialized course directed at those issues and are, moreover, a very important group to reach considering the impact of conflict on children. Dual-stream programs are currently available in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick.
Children's Education Programs
While parent education programs shift parents' focus to the needs and experience of the children affected by separation and divorce, it has been increasingly recognized that children also benefit from more direct services. To that end, some agencies (government and community-based) have developed education-information programs for children. The material generally covers information about the legal process as well as the emotional experiences and changes in relationships that follow divorce or separation.
Two jurisdictions, Saskatchewan and PEI, have used the Fund to support the creation of similar programs for children. An evaluation conducted by PEI concluded that it is important to provide the program to children at an earlier stage in the parents' separation process as it may be more beneficial than at a later stage, while ninety percent of parents surveyed reported improvements in children's emotional health after attending the program. Results support the continuation and expansion of PEI's "Parenting From Two Homes: For Kids!" program. Manitoba also offers a children's education program through the Family Conciliation Branch called Caught in the Middle.
Family Law Information Centers (FLICs)
These centers help people learn about the court process, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, the Child Support Guidelines and assist those that are making court applications without the aid of a lawyer. Centers have been expanding due to an increase in demand and are now operating in five jurisdictions, including Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Alberta. Alberta's FLICs, in particular, continue to see a consistent rise in inquiries each year.
Some FLICs offer specialized services that link clients with other community or court-connected services. In the Family court of the Superior Court of Justice (Ontario's "Unified Family Court"), contracted service providers have on-site an Information and Referral Coordinator (IRC) who provides information about mediation services as an alternative to court, provides specific community information and referral support, and registers members of the public for free parent information sessions.
The lawyers in the Alberta FLICs continue to provide important support to the judiciary, including a Dispute Resolution Officer and a Court Generated Orders and Child Support Resolution Officer.
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.
Québec continues to offer and promote its extensive mediation program. An information session on the program is mandatory for most clients and is available as a group session or privately for separating or divorcing couples. This session is followed by up to five mediation sessions of over an hour, which are offered at no charge to clients. The mediation program was evaluated in 2001 and results indicated that the program was favourably viewed by all parties. Drawing from the volume of agreements signed by participating parties, it was determined that the program had a minimum success rate of 75%.
Nunavut's Inuusirmut Aqqusiuqtiit (IA) program is being designed to increase access to family justice services in the territory by providing community-based family law information and dispute resolution services to assist parties in settling family matters (such as custody, access and support) arising from relationship breakdown. The IA program is an innovative dispute resolution, counselling and information program that combines southern-based mediation techniques with traditional Inuit approaches to problem solving in order to deliver culturally relevant dispute resolution services to Inuit people. As part of this initiative, the Nunavut Department of Justice will focus on expanding services to additional communities and developing a Violence Screening Protocol, an element deemed key to the success of the IA program.
The Comprehensive Co-Mediation Program in Manitoba focuses on providing parents with a cost-effective alternative to going to court and assistance in reducing the levels of conflict between parents. Comprehensive Co-Mediation involves a consideration of all the issues that arise from separation/divorce: parenting issues (parental responsibilities/time sharing), child support, spousal support and division of marital property. A family law specialist/lawyer and a family relations specialist/social worker work together with the family to assist in resolving their issues. Ninety-two percent of the mediated cases reported reaching a full or partial agreement with the majority of these (73%) being full agreements.
A Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) service is offered in the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto on a pilot program basis. The DRO service is provided by senior lawyers and involves the screening of family law variation cases with the goal of resolving cases without the need for a judicial hearing. The Mediation Roster was developed as part of the Mandatory Information Program in the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto in order to provide clients attending the information sessions with a list of private mediators they could contact should they wish to pursue mediation.
In addition, voluntary family mediation services are available at all 17 Ontario Family Court ("Unified Family Court") locations. Clients are encouraged to make use of these services as an alternative to the court process. These services included mediation of most issues arising due to family breakdown: custody, access, support and division of property. These services are available to all clients regardless of whether or not they have filed a court application. Off-site mediation services deals with complex issues and there is a user fee. On-site mediation services are available to deal with narrow issues for parties on that day's court list and are free of charge.
The Child Support Variation Service (CSVS) is a pilot program operating in one judicial district in New Brunswick. It is a mandatory conciliation service for all matters in which motions to vary child support orders have been filed with the Court.
In Nova Scotia, the Conciliator acts as a high level intake person, serving to assist negotiation between the parties and is guided by the responsibility to make appropriate referrals to services. The conciliator also screens for violence and abuse issues that may affect the appropriateness of certain referrals and the risk of bringing the parties together to discuss issues. Prince Edward Island offers up to eight hours of mediation services without charge province-wide. As a final note, British Columbia and Newfoundland include mediation services as part of their large multi-service programs, the Family Justice Registry Program (Rule 5)and Family Justice Services Western, respectively.
The services of the Maintenance Enforcement Programs (MEPs), available in all jurisdictions, aim to ensure compliance with family support obligations (child and spousal/common-law partner support orders) are complied with and more money flows to those who need it. Through the Fund, some provinces and territories have embarked on initiatives to continue, expand and improve their MEP. Others have used funding to assist with issues relating to interjurisdictional support establishment, variation and enforcement efforts. Activities in this area generally focus on the enhancement or extension of MEP services in the jurisdictions. These activities take on a variety of structures including specialized units in existing MEPs and participation at annual MEP Directors' meetings.
Examples of particular MEP enhancements that are federally supported through the Fund include the Section 7 Enforcement Officer in PEI. The PEI Maintenance Enforcement Program has been receiving many orders and agreements that contain clauses that are ambiguous and/or unenforceable. These clauses generally pertain to section 7 expenses (i.e., ordering that one party pay 40% of the section 7 expenses but not specifying what constitutes a section 7 expense). This results in either one of the parties or the MEP having to take the matter back before the Court for direction. Often, orders and agreements also do not indicate when the obligation to pay a section 7 expense terminates. An Enforcement Officer has been hired to deal specifically with these cases. Nova Scotia's Field Officer carries out investigations focused on payors who have never paid child support as ordered, are delinquent with payments and/or for whom MEP cannot find employment information.
Another example is the enhanced Trace and Locate Unit, which was formed within Ontario's Family Responsibility Office (FRO) to conduct intensive trace and locate actions on returned mail. On average, FRO receives 2,500 pieces of returned mail per month. In the past, this mail would accumulate and no action would be taken. This new unit has been extremely successful and has exceeded its targets by tracing and locating not only from current mail being returned but also from mail that was returned in the past. As of June 2005, almost 20,000 pieces of returned mail were traced and located as a result of this work, almost 53% of all returned mail now has an up to date address in FRO's system. This gives enforcement officers the opportunity to take enforcement action on these cases.
The Compliance Unit was established in Winnipeg's Maintenance Enforcement Program in 2002/2003 to establish consistent, aggressive enforcement practices for problem cases. MEP consolidated the handling of preparation for all cases involving court default hearings. As a result, the Unit has gained fuller compliance with some of the most difficult files.
Several jurisdictions have used the Fund to improve their technological capacity in their MEPs to make the client's experience easier and the system more efficient. These technological improvements include automated bank services; individual Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) for account information; Automated Voice Infolines and information management systems.
Interjurisdictional Support Orders
The provinces and territories have been implementing new Interjurisdictional Support Order (ISO) legislation (chart attached as appendix II). While each province and territory has enacted substantially similar legislation, there are some differences to meet the unique needs of each jurisdiction. This new ISO model replaced the former reciprocal enforcement of maintenance/support orders (REMO/RESO) two-stage provisional/confirmation procedure with a more streamlined application process to establish or vary a support order. As part of the application process, a series of situation-specific forms are completed and sent to the jurisdiction where the respondent resides. The court in the respondent's jurisdiction will then conduct a hearing and make the order. ISO legislation also provides for the recognition and enforcement of support obligations from jurisdictions with which a province/territory has reciprocal arrangements. It is anticipated that these changes will improve the timeliness in obtaining and varying family support, and recognizing support orders, leading to quicker flow of support payments and enforcement, as necessary. As part of the implementation process of these laws across Canada, each province or territory has established a designated authority for the purposes of transmitting and receiving ISO applications. The Fund helps support legislative and policy development in the jurisdictions around ISO legislative enactments and subsequent implementation.
The child support amounts set out in agreements and orders can be varied as the personal and financial circumstances of separated and divorced parents and their children change. Usually, the procedures followed to vary an order parallel those to determine the original arrangements—an application must be filed with the court and a judge makes a new order varying the current order.
Several jurisdictions have attempted to simplify the process for all concerned through revised procedures, special pilot projects or both. Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories offer programs to assist parents who are asking the court to vary a child support order.
Other jurisdictions have developed or are developing administrative recalculation services that will recalculate child support payments on a regular basis, based on the parents' updated income information. Section 25.1 of the Divorce Act allows the federal Minister of Justice to enter into an agreement with a province or territory that authorizes a designated child support service
"to recalculate, at regular intervals, in accordance with the applicable guidelines, the amount of the child support order on the basis of updated income information" in the case of orders under the Divorce Act. The recalculated child support amount comes into effect 31 days after the parties are notified of their recalculation amount, unless one of the parents makes an application to have the matter reviewed by the court in the interim. Comparable provisions in provincial/territorial legislation allow recalculation of orders under those acts.
Administrative recalculation services are now available or under development in the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island. Manitoba is currently piloting a recalculation program under the Pilot Projects' component of the Fund. The outcomes of these services will be of interest to other provinces and territories.
Family Justice Services Western (FJSWestern), which operates out of Corner Brook, Newfoundland, gives separating parents an alternative to the court system for the first time ever in the western region of Newfoundland and Labrador. Services included under the FJSWestern are information sessions for adults on family law and parenting issues; mediation on custody, access, child support and spousal support; counselling for adults and children on separation issues; workshops on communication skills and conflict resolution; support groups for children dealing with separation/divorce; and automatic recalculation of child support. The services are provided by two social workers, two mediator/lawyers, an assessment worker/counsellor and a recalculation clerk. Services operate out of a community mental health clinic and can therefore offer short-term crisis counselling, making this program particularly innovative. Participation is voluntary, unless ordered by the Court, and the services are free to the public and available in the western region of the province.
The Family Justice Registry Program (Rule 5 Project) requires all parties to a family court application in three locations in British Columbia to attend a "triage" session with a "triage" Family Justice Counsellor prior to a first appearance in family court. The range of services that constitute the program include the triage assessment, Parenting After Separation courses, family mediation services, limited legal advice, services of a Child Support Officer, enforcement outreach, family case conferences, trial preparation and hearing and judicial adjudication.
Family Law Information and Awareness
Most jurisdictions provide information to the public on family justice services and family law via brochures, family law guides, self-help kits, advertisements, handbooks and websites. One of the most innovative activities is British Columbia's website for children and (pre) teenagers (www.familieschange.ca), which has received international recognition. The website provides children and youth with practical, emotional and legal information on separation and divorce to better enable them to prepare for and cope with the conflict and changes their families are experiencing.
Manitoba's Family Law in Manitoba public information booklet has proven to be an invaluable resource to litigants. The booklet contains an overview of family law and the legal system in Manitoba and is intended to give a basic understanding of family law with an extensive list of family justice contacts.
In addition to the Family Law Information Centre services provided by several jurisdictions, toll-free lines are offered for enquiries regarding child support guidelines and basic information about a wider range of family justice topics and available services by New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia and Yukon.
Other Activities of Interest
To continue to offer and enhance the information and public support services, the Intake Assistant (IA) position in Nova Scotia was initiated to deal with the implementation and promotion of the Child Support Guidelines and custody and access services. Intake Assistants provide information to the public on child support, custody and access issues and are essentially the entry point to the Family Division. The IAs coordinate a triage type of service delivery by making appropriate referrals to the Parent Information Program, conciliation or mediation, by screening for potential violence and by identifying assistive services such as legal aid, income assistance and transition houses. The IAshelp determine client issues and frame court applications, outline disclosure requirements and open court and computer files.
The Ontario Family Law Rules are specialized rules of procedure for family law cases. Since 1999, they have applied to family law cases in the Family Court of the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice. Effective July 1, 2004, the application of the Rules was expanded to the Superior Court of Justice, resulting in a single set of court rules for all family trial courts.
The Rules incorporate a system of case management, a key feature of which includes a duty to manage cases expeditiously and fairly. The Rules emphasize the early resolution of cases, achieved in part through the use of conferences, including a mandatory case conference in every contested case. Cases with divorce or property claims, and all cases in the Superior Court of Justice (non-Family Court branch), are assigned to a standard track, under which cases do not come to court until one of the parties seeks a motion or a case conference. All other non-child protection cases are assigned to a fast track, under which cases are assigned a first court date when the application is filed. In these cases, on or before the first court date, court staff confirm that all necessary document have been served and filed, and refer parties to sources of information about the court process, alternatives to court, and community resources. Standard and fast track cases must be listed for trial within 200 days or parties must arrange a case conference with a judge to plan the next steps of the case. Child protection cases follow a more detailed timeline for each step in the case with a goal of 120 days to hearing.
The Brief Consultation Service Pilot Project in Manitoba has been operating since October 2001. As part of the Court of Queen's Bench Family Division Case Management process, the Brief Consultation Service provides families and their lawyers, as well as the court, with brief, timely consultation services regarding children's developmental issues; post-separation parenting; post-separation communication options; counselling needs; information sharing with children related to separation/divorce; scheduling issues and access options; and information/screening regarding other relevant services. The service also provides consultation and assessment of wishes and concerns of older children ages 11 to 16.
New Brunswick has a program that provides financial assistance to qualified individuals who have been ordered by the court to have a custody assessment. It is called the Court-Ordered Evaluations Support Program (C‑OESP). Parties may apply individually to the Court Services Division to have help with the costs of their court-ordered evaluation. Eligible parties are responsible for finding their own evaluator. They are issued a letter of acceptance detailing their coverage, and provided with instructions to ensure that the evaluator of their choice will know how the costs are to be paid and how to distribute the billing accordingly. The level of assistance is determined through the use of a sliding scale based on incomes, and caps are set on evaluators' hourly rates and the number of hours. Costs in excess of the coverage are the responsibility of each individual party. C‑OESP optimizes the use of available funding to assist the maximum number of parents at the lowest possible administrative expense.
Manitoba's Automated Family Court Order Project, or the "Auto Order" computer process, aims to eliminate traditional delays by enabling family court orders to be produced immediately after a court hearing. To date, the project has implemented standard wording for family court orders and trained court and Family Law Branch staff to enable an auto order courtroom to operate for the Court of Queen's Bench Master's Maintenance Enforcement Court. The Family Law Branch creates a Draft Order using the Auto Order computer system and electronically submits it into the Court Registry System. In the courtroom the clerk edits the Draft Order (reviewed by counsel) to reflect the Master's ruling, electronically files it in the Court Registry System and distributes it to all parties—all prior to anyone leaving the courtroom.
Research and Evaluation
This group of activities is undertaken by provinces and territories to plan and carry out evaluation, data collection and research activities. The objectives of this funding are to:
- improve the understanding of the short- and long-term impacts on families and the family justice system of the various family justice services;
- develop and support research capacity building within jurisdictions that can inform policy and program development;
- advance the knowledge of the state of Canadian families when parents separate; and,
- support the federal/provincial/territorial need for performance information.
Jurisdictions are obliged to spend a minimum amount of their allocation on research and evaluation activities but have discretion in what and how research and evaluation projects are carried out. The average amount over the life of the strategy is considered, rather than what is spent in each year. Major research undertakings seeking to take a longitudinal perspective can therefore be spread across a number of years or a jurisdiction can choose to concentrate on smaller "one-off" projects every year, or have several in one year. Collaborating with other provinces/territories and/or the federal Research Unit on research and evaluation activities is strongly encouraged and has led to several productive partnerships. This collaboration is facilitated by the federal/provincial/territorial Research Sub-committee of CCSO-FJ and their monthly discussions which share project planning and research results.
In addition to the previously referenced research and evaluation activities, activities undertaken by the provinces and territories include:
- Several provinces and territories have undertaken evaluation activities for programs or services that they offer to the public. A number of jurisdictions, including Nova Scotia and Yukon have undertaken evaluation projects of their Maintenance Enforcement Programs and the recent implementation of Interjurisdictional Support Order legislation. These evaluations seek to assess the degree of success that the MEPs are achieving in terms of getting money to those who need it quickly and without regard to their location. A Child Support Variation Service evaluation has been undertaken by New Brunswick to determine the effectiveness of the pilot program and what, if any, modifications should be made. Manitoba undertook to evaluate the Court of Queen's Bench Family Division Case Management Program in Winnipeg to determine the level of success in expanding from 20% to 100% case management of eligible new family law matters and the effectiveness of court processes and procedures. PEI has completed evaluations of its parent education program, Positive Parenting From Two Homes, as well as the children's program, Positive Parenting From Two Homes: "For Kids!," to determine the effectiveness of the programs and what, if any, modifications should be made.
- Feasibility studies:
- These studies are conducted by jurisdictions to assess the potential usefulness of a variety of things that range from full programs to changes in established processes. PEI conducted feasibility studies on a case tracking computer system for the Administrative Recalculation Office and an automated bank reconciliation system for the Maintenance Enforcement Program. Yukon is exploring the feasibility of providing a supervised access service for children of separating or divorcing parents. Nunavut completed a study on the feasibility of a voice-automated telephone system that would allow clients to access information from a toll-free number anytime they wanted, rather than have to wait for business hours and an available customer service representative.
- Client Surveys:
- This type of research method provides the service provider with a sense of how the services offered are being received and perceived by those groups being served. For example, British Columbia has conducted surveys of both payors and recipients enrolled in the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program. Saskatchewan recently conducted a survey of those who have used the facilitated Support Variation Service, and those who used the information and resource centre, at various points post-service. The survey collected information about client satisfaction, whether the client's knowledge of the family court system had improved and whether the client has been able to keep current with his/her maintenance obligations. Ontario uses client surveys to obtain feedback on the court-connected mediation and information services that are at Family Court ("Unified Family Court") locations.
- Building knowledge:
- The Survey of Selected Family Courts is a national research endeavour that amasses information on divorce and separation cases, as well as details regarding support and access agreements. Information from jurisdictions is imperative in building research capacity to monitor case characteristics, system processing and the impacts on parents and children. This is another activity that is often funded by the CCFJF through the Strategy.
The Court File Review is a multi-site study which exhaustively reviews file contents to determine how parents and families move through the family justice system. To be repeated again later in the Strategy, this study will enable analysis of the impacts of the Strategy in the experiences of clients in the system. Participating jurisdictions are the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
The Courts Statistics Program, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, is building a national family law information resource by developing an ongoing database of all family law cases in civil courts through a new Civil Courts Survey (CCS). The Courts Program is also continuing to collect data for the Maintenance Enforcement survey (MES) on enforcement activities in Canada, while at the same time implementing an improved survey entitled the Survey of Maintenance Enforcement Programs. At the national level, data on family court cases and outcomes will improve knowledge of custody and access arrangements, child support awards, and family court processes and outcomes including implications for children involved. Data on national maintenance enforcement programs will provide information on the extent to which families benefit from these programs as well as compliance with support orders.
In 2003/2004, Saskatchewan began researching the family law services required by Aboriginal communities and whether existing family law and related programs and services meet those needs. The research will consist of consultations and analysis of existing reports from other jurisdictions. The consultations will allow for the collection and analysis of information on barriers to access, including any potential culturally inappropriate content of programming. It is anticipated that consultations will be held in northern communities as well as urban centres.
The Ministry of Attorney General in British Columbia has started conducting a longitudinal study on the medium-term impacts of dispute resolution services. A literature review and research design has been completed. The research design calls for a series of three in-depth interviews with clients after they have received dispute resolution services, to be conducted at one year intervals. The research goes beyond the focus on process and administrative elements of service delivery, and sets the stage for longer-term research projects aimed at measuring program and service outcomes.
Results-based Management and Accountability Framework (RMAF) and performance reporting:
An important component of the Strategy is the RMAF, which sets out the Strategy's goals, objectives, as well as the performance indicators, that will be used to measure the federal government's success in meeting them. This cannot be done without the cooperation of our jurisdictional partners. As a result, all jurisdictions have developed frameworks that are tailored to their case, programs, services and clients. Logic Models and Performance Measurement and Evaluation Strategies are the tools used by jurisdictions to measure their success based on performance indicators. This information is then provided to the Department of Justice Canada to better enable us to measure the outcomes and effectiveness of the Strategy as a whole and ensure that we are achieving results for Canadians.
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