Children Come First: A Report to Parliament Reviewing the Provisions and Operation of the Federal Child Support Guidelines - Volume 2
6. FEDERAL FUNDING OF PROVINCIAL AND TERRITORIAL CHILD SUPPORT, SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT, AND CHILD CUSTODY AND ACCESS PROJECTS, 1997–2001
Established in 1996 by the federal Department of Justice, the Child Support Initiative implemented child support guidelines and new and enhanced support enforcement measures. For example, from April 1996 to March 2000, the Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund helped provincial and territorial governments finance some of the costs of enacting child support guidelines and new enforcement measures.
In April 2000, this fund was replaced by the Child-Centred Family Justice Fund. The new fund moved from funding child support reforms to developing and improving more integrated family law programs and services to deal with child custody and access, child support, and support enforcement issues.
This section reviews the provincial and territorial projects supported by the two funds in fiscal years 1997-98 through 2000-01. The information comes from the provincial and territorial funding proposals and narrative reports submitted to the federal Department of Justice. As it identifies only federally funded activities, it is not a complete picture of any given province's or territory's work to effect child support guidelines, to enhance enforcement programs, or to improve family law services generally.
It does, however, account for federal funding and provides some insight into the services available to divorced and separated parents. Because of the number of projects and activities covered, descriptions have been kept as concise as possible. Readers wanting more detailed information should consult evaluation reports and other cited reference documents, or contact the federal, provincial, or territorial offices responsible for developing family law services.
The Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund
The Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund made up to $50 million available for activities that helped governments implement the child support guidelines. This money allowed the provinces and territories to work with the Government of Canada on innovative, cost-effective programs, services, and procedures that help parties get child support orders and variations to existing orders.
The rest of the fund--$13.6 million--was set aside for innovative, cost-effective enforcement measures and processes, including national and international reciprocal enforcement of support orders.
The federal Department of Justice and the provincial and territorial governments established an annual population-based allocation target for each province and territory.
As part of the framework for managing the financial assistance program, federal-provincial-territorial collaboration established primary areas of activity (PAAs) for each component of the funding program. The PAAs help the Department ensure that funded activities support federal objectives, while offering the provinces and territories the benefit of predictability in their year-to-year planning.
The PAAs for the fund's implementation component were as follows:
- coordinating activities to implement the Federal Child Support Guidelines;
- enhancing existing client and court services to meet workload increases;
- adopting provincial and territorial guidelines that parallel the Federal Child Support Guidelines;
- supporting public awareness and understanding of the Federal Child Support Guidelines;
- working on innovative ways to meet the demand for variations to existing support agreements and orders, and for new agreements and orders; and
- monitoring the effects of the legislative changes.
The PAAs under the enforcement component were as follows:
- developing and enhancing computer systems and applications used to access services under the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act;
- monitoring the effects of changes to enforcement mechanisms;
- supporting changes to information systems so they could feed data to the national Maintenance Enforcement Survey managed by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics;
- testing innovative approaches to improving enforcement mechanisms;
- delivering public legal education and information; and
- upgrading administrative systems, adding staff, and improving services to meet anticipated demands for variations and new child support orders.
CHILD-CENTRED FAMILY JUSTICE FUND
Once the Guidelines were in place, provincial and territorial governments modified existing programs and services, and tested and implemented new approaches. Many of these services can address child custody and access issues, as well as child support and maintenance enforcement. For example, many jurisdictions have created parent education programs or broadened existing programs to include child support information and to stress front-end solutions such as consent orders.
Similarly, mediation services and other alternative program delivery strategies increase the involvement of both parents in their children's lives. These services and strategies help parties resolve both child custody issues and child support cases. The Government of Canada modified the terms of reference and PAAs to include custody and access, as well as support and maintenance enforcement services.
The Child-Centred Family Justice Fund, introduced in 2000-01, has three components.
- Family Justice Initiatives: Activities in this component support family justice programs and services dealing with private family law matters in cases of separation and divorce. Such programs and services cover child support, support enforcement, reciprocal enforcement, and custody and access activities that promote the best interests of children.
- Incentive for Special Projects: This component develops alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, particularly processes to determine, vary, or recalculate the amount of child support.
- Public Legal Education and Information, and Professional Training: This component enhances knowledge, develops materials, and informs Canadians (including the legal community) about child support guidelines, support enforcement measures, custody and access services, and related family law matters. It also helps community organizations, professional associations, and other non-governmental groups promote public awareness and train family law professionals
The federal Department of Justice has identified 11 principles for all levels of government to follow as they decide what projects to propose and approve under the Family Justice Initiatives and the Incentive for Special Projects components.
- The needs and well-being of children are paramount.
- No one model of post-separation parenting will be ideal for all children.
- Programs and services must be sensitive to the fact that children and youth experience separation and divorce at different stages of development. The programs and services must protect them from violence, conflict, abuse, and economic hardship.
- An integrated approach to planning and delivering child support, support enforcement, and custody and access programs and services is encouraged to respond to the long-term service needs of children and families.
- Opportunities for early non-adversarial dispute resolution mechanisms should be encouraged.
- Activities should address the need for evaluation, project monitoring and performance measures.
- Research should have the goal to advance the family law community's knowledge on specific issues, inform policy and program discussions, assist in the development or refinement of policy or programs and aim to enhance legislative clarity.
- Participants in the family justice system (families, judiciary, bar, court staff, enforcement staff, mediators, and others) should be well informed about family justice reforms.
- A coordinated national, inter-jurisdictional and/or international approach to innovative family justice services and information sharing should be promoted.
- Alternatives or modifications to the present court dispute resolution system are needed to reduce cost and delays for parents.
- Programs and services should be efficient and cost effective for the justice system.
The Family Justice Initiatives component is structured and managed the same way as the earlier Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund was. In other words, each jurisdiction gets part of the available funds based on its population. It must submit and obtain approval of the projects it proposes to implement or maintain in that year, and the projects must fall within one of the eight priority areas normally eligible for funding, as follows.
- Coordination: The coordination of child support, support enforcement and custody and access activities.
- Consultations: Joint Federal-Provincial-Territorial consultations on family law.
- Service enhancements and innovations: The enhancement of existing or the development, testing, implementation and monitoring/evaluation of innovative child support, support enforcement and custody and access activities under an integrated services model.
- Alternative for determining support amounts: The enhancement of existing or the piloting and establishment of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to determine, vary or recalculate the amount of child support.
- Enforcement: The enhancement of existing or the development, testing, implementation, and monitoring/evaluation of innovative support enforcement activities.
- Reciprocal enforcement: Provincial/territorial efforts as they relate to reciprocal enforcement.
- Policy and research: Legislative and policy development, research, monitoring and evaluation activities on child support, support enforcement and custody and access.
- Public awareness and training: Activities that promote public awareness and understanding of the child support, support enforcement and custody and access issues, procedures and services.
The Incentive for Special Projects component encourages innovation among provincial and territorial services through a competitive process. This component develops alternative mechanisms for resolving disputes at the provincial and territorial levels, including processes for determining, varying, or recalculating child support. Recalculation models must be timely, affordable for parents, and accessible to parents. They should also make it easier for parents to agree on the amount of child support.
In 1996-97, before Bill C-41 came into effect, the federal Department of Justice and the provincial and territorial governments established an annual allocation target for each province and territory based on its population. The original allocations have been adjusted to accommodate changes in provincial and territorial planning assumptions and experience. The Department identified small surpluses in some jurisdictions that were then made available to other jurisdictions that needed more money because of greater demand. The following table identifies the actual allocations by jurisdiction for the period ending in 1999-2000, as well as projected transfers for 2000-01 through 2002-03.
The following section reviews the programs, services, and projects funded under both the Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund and the Child-Centred Family Justice Fund.
Federal, provincial, and territorial governments have long recognized the importance of working together on family law reforms. In 1996, deputy ministers of justice and deputy attorneys general established the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Task Force on the Implementation of Child Support (FPT Task Force). This task force did national planning; coordinated policy, public awareness, research, and evaluation activities; and provided a forum for sharing information. In the same spirit, the Government of Canada has funded planning and coordination in each province and territory, as well as provincial and territorial participation in national planning and consultations.
The provinces and territories adopted a variety of committee and project management structures to meet their planning needs. British Columbia, for example, established a planning process that involved six Ministry of Attorney General branches, other ministries and agencies, and the Legal Services Society.
Manitoba's Department of Justice had two committees to oversee family law reforms. An interdepartmental committee, which was disbanded in 1999-2000, brought together provincial departments and agencies dealing with family law and child support issues. The second committee comprised representatives of the bench, the Manitoba and Canadian bar associations, and provincial departments. This committee still serves as a consultative forum for exploring policy and procedural matters affecting family law in the province.
In Saskatchewan, the Department of Justice's Policy, Planning and Evaluation Branch and an inter-departmental committee oversee child support activities and reforms.
Nine provinces and territories used fund resources to hire project coordinators or managers. Typically, these individuals consult and plan. They also participate in the FPT Task Force and its subcommittees. They often handle federal funding issues. In some cases, the project coordinators also develop and manage direct programs. For example, New Brunswick's project coordinator managed training, public information, and research activities, while in Newfoundland and Labrador, the coordinator led the review of court rules.
With the Guidelines largely in place, the provinces and territories began in 1999-2000 to set new goals. In New Brunswick, the provincial Department of Justice had the project manager expand the Domestic Legal Aid project. In Ontario, the Family Initiatives Project Unit is not being phased out, but has been assigned new responsibilities for planning and developing family law projects and services. The Unit is also managing Family Law Mediation Services, Family Law Information Services, and public legal information activities.
The 1997 amendments to the Divorce Act required a comprehensive review of the child support reforms and a report to Parliament on this review by May 1, 2002. From the outset, the federal Department of Justice planned a national consultation as part of the review process.
The federal, provincial, and territorial governments worked on consultations, as provincial and territorial governments were interested in ensuring that parents, family law professionals, and others could register their views on child-centred family law matters. Accordingly, the FPT Task Force and the Family Law Committee planned for the national consultation. In addition, a portion of the Child-Centred Family Justice Fund resources available to each jurisdiction was dedicated to supporting provincial and territorial consultations.
In 2000-01, the provincial and territorial departments responsible for family law policy and services used the federal resources to develop consultation plans appropriate to their demographic and geographic circumstances. Most assigned project teams or committees to develop these plans. And many retained consultants or assigned staff to provide strategic and logistical support to these planning bodies.
Consultation sessions were held in every province and territory and in more than 35 communities across the country. These events and the "paper-based" consultations occurred in fiscal year 2001-02.
SERVICE ENHANCEMENTS AND INNOVATIONS
Over the past four to five years, provincial and territorial governments, with federal financial support, have tested and implemented new services. They have also modified existing programs to offer divorced and separated parents ways to cooperatively and positively redefine their parenting relationships, responsibilities, and arrangements. They have also worked to reduce the stress, delays, and costs involved in arriving at child support, custody and access agreements, and orders. These efforts have ranged from making court proceedings more predictable and timely to establishing mediation services and parent education programs.
Most jurisdictions created parent education programs during the earliest pilot programs in the mid-1990s. Participating parents are generally satisfied with their experience and tend to feel that the sessions should be mandatory. The research has also found some early, but tenuous, evidence of improved parenting. The sessions offered through these programs provide separated and divorcing parents opportunities to learn about:
- the impact of separation on children and adults;
- ways parents can best help their children through this difficult time;
- the legal process and the range of dispute resolution options available in the justice system, including mediation and the court process; and
- how the child support guidelines work and how to find out more about them.
Typically, trained facilitators lead the sessions using a provincially developed curriculum or facilitator's guide, along with videos and handouts. In most jurisdictions offering this service, the program is readily available in larger communities, but not necessarily in smaller communities. Beyond these basics, the programs vary, as shown in the following brief profiles.
- British Columbia:
The Family Justice Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General delivers both voluntary and mandatory sessions under its Parenting After Separation (PAS) program. The three-hour sessions are co-facilitated by a man and a woman from agencies under contract. Sessions are also offered in Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi, and Hindi. The voluntary sessions are available throughout the province but are being reduced as the mandatory program expands. Mandatory participation was introduced in 1998-99 as a pilot project in the Burnaby and New Westminster provincial courts and is now delivered in eight locales, with more being added as planning and resources permit. Under the mandatory program, parents must attend one PAS session before their first court appearance can be scheduled.
The Court Services Division of Alberta Justice delivers a parenting education program in 9 communities throughout the province with plans to expand to four additional centres. It features a 6-hour seminar that helps parents understand the impact of family break-up on their children. It also suggests ways to minimize these impacts and provides information about alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, child support issues, and the Guidelines. Through the use of a practice note, the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has made attendance mandatory, with limited exceptions.
The province's parent education program recognizes that cooperative problem solving and decision-making are integral to the well-being of the children affected. Normally, parents attend three two-hour sessions on separate evenings, but in some centres there is a single six-hour session. The sessions are co-facilitated by a social worker from Family Law Support Services and by a mediator from Mediation Services. As attendance is voluntary, the province promotes the program by distributing posters and other materials through Department of Social Services offices, churches, libraries, the courts, law offices, and other locations. While the program has not been evaluated, participants fill out questionnaires after sessions. Generally, participants have been positive, especially about the modules dealing with children's reactions to family break-up, separation, and divorce.
Staff of the Family Conciliation Branch of the Department of Family Services deliver the province's parent education program, For the Sake of the Children, which consists of two three-hour sessions. The introductory session, designed for all participants, covers general information about the needs of children of different ages, parenting plans, economic and legal issues, and alternatives to formal litigation. At the end of this session, participants are streamed into either a "low-conflict" or "high-conflict" second session. The high-conflict session helps parents with especially difficult relationships who will have little post-separation contact. The courts do not require that litigants attend parent education sessions. However, the Family Conciliation Branch and the Co-Mediation Project require that parents seeking mediation services first attend parent education sessions. The program has been evaluated.
Parent information sessions are offered by unified Family Court sites and through some local and community-based programs. Federal programs only support two local programs. One is a series of evening information sessions for parents and family law clients. Delivered through the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto, the sessions were established with help from Osgoode Hall Law School and a Donner Foundation grant. The other federally supported local program is a mandatory information program from the Superior Court of Justice, Toronto. The Superior Court requires that all litigants in contested cases attend a family law information session before continuing the court proceedings. The sessions, offered by lawyers and mediators, provide information about separation and divorce, legal procedures, options for dispute resolution, and community resources. The video Separate Ways is used as a presentation aid in the sessions. Both programs are being evaluated.
The provincial government has not implemented a parent education program, but there are some community-based programs. For example, Les Centres Jeunesse de Montreal offers its family mediation and assessment clients a program entitled Co-Parenting After a Separation. None of these services is supported by federal funds.
- New Brunswick:
The province has adopted Manitoba's parenting program, For the Sake of the Children, revising the session scripts, print documents, and video materials to accommodate differences in the two family law systems. The program, delivered by trained contract facilitators, is available in both official languages. Participation in the program is voluntary, but it is strongly encouraged by court social workers, who have contact with most of the parents during the court intake process.
- Prince Edward Island:
The Office of the Attorney General recruits and trains volunteers to deliver two three-hour sessions. Participation is voluntary, but those who do wish to attend are screened. Couples and individuals with histories of domestic violence are excluded. The federal Department of Justice is helping to evaluate this program.
- Nova Scotia:
Co-facilitators, a lawyer and a mental health worker, deliver the parent education program, which involves two two-hour sessions, using the Children in the Middle video series. One session deals with support guidelines, non-adversarial methods of resolving family law matters, and court procedures. The other session deals with relationship and parenting issues. The program incorporates some skills building to help parents avoid conflict, especially conflict that implicates children. Participation is mandatory in three Supreme Court (Family Division) districts, but voluntary elsewhere. Nova Scotia also has a mandatory education program for parties dealing with family law matters other than child maintenance in the Supreme Court (Family Division). The sessions, delivered by court staff and volunteer mental health professionals, will provide basic information on court procedures and interpersonal issues in separation and divorce.
- Newfoundland and Labrador:
The Parents Are Forever program involves four three-hour sessions offered in successive weeks. The first session looks at the separation experience from both the parents' and children's perspectives; the second deals with relationship and communication skills; the third and part of the fourth session teaches conflict management skills; and the last 90 minutes looks at legal issues, procedures, and alternatives. The sessions are facilitated by social workers, assisted by a lawyer who deals with the legal issues.
- Northwest Territories:
The Department of Justice, in cooperation with the Legal Services Board, developed a parenting-after-separation program modelled on the Alberta and British Columbia programs, modified to meet the legal and socio-economic realities of the North. The program, was delivered by contract staff, and ran as a pilot project in 1999-2000. The sessions help parents move from a self-centred to a child-centred framework, helping them improve parenting skills. The pilot project will continue in 2002.
The Department of Justice, in partnership with the Women's Directorate and the departments of Health and Social Services and Education, developed its program using the Manitoba model. It now contracts with Partners for Children, a local service organization, to organize and run the sessions and to train additional facilitators from other organizations to deliver the program outside of Whitehorse. The program is facilitated by a social worker and a lawyer and has been presented six to eight times a year. Separate information sessions have been held for judges, lawyers and community service providers.
While parent education programs focus on the needs and experience of the children affected by separation and divorce, children might also benefit from more direct services. To that end, some government and community-based agencies have developed education-information programs for children.
One such endeavour was supported through the Department of Justice Implementation and Enforcement Fund. Saskatchewan's Department of Justice developed a curriculum, facilitator's guides, and three videos for education sessions designed for three age groups (6-9; 9-12; and 12-16). The material covers information about the legal process as well as the emotional experiences and changes in relationships that follow divorce or separation. The province has made the curriculum, facilitator's guides, and supporting materials available to community groups that organize and deliver sessions for children. It has also distributed the videos to government agencies, regional library branches, district health boards, and interested community agencies.
Mediation and other alternatives to formal litigation are important features of Canada's evolving family law system. All provincial and territorial governments either have or soon will have programs and procedures to ensure that parents can use the dispute resolution procedure most appropriate to their needs and circumstances. The following section highlights provincial and territorial programs and services. Unless otherwise noted, these initiatives were supported by the federal Department of Justice Implementation and Enforcement Fund and the Child-Centred Family Justice Fund.
- British Columbia:
The province's 31 Family Justice Centres provide mediation and other dispute resolution services for people of modest income in cases of custody, access, guardianship, child support, and spousal support. Centre employees, trained and certified as family mediators, provide the services. The province has not allocated federal funding to this program.
The Court Services Division of Alberta Justice manages Family Mediation Services, to which parents are referred by other programs, the courts, and family law practitioners. When the parties have a child under 18 and the gross income of one of the parties is less than $40,000, the Government of Alberta provides mediation at no cost. In Edmonton and Calgary, division staff members serve as mediators, while fee-for-service professionals provide the service in other communities. Participation in mediation is always voluntary. The province estimates that approximately 1,200 couples take advantage of mediation services each year, and only a small proportion are screened out when mediation is deemed to be inappropriate. During the 2000-2001 year, full agreements were achieved in 61 percent of the 1,033 cases that proceeded to joint mediation and partial agreements were the result in 20 percent.
When ordered by the courts, Mediation Saskatchewan provides comprehensive mediation on supervised access or on a custody and access evaluation report. To others seeking mediation services, it gives pamphlets on the mediation process and on choosing a mediator, along with a Mediation Saskatchewan directory that lists all mediators in Saskatchewan.
Beginning in 1997-98, Manitoba used federal funds to develop the Comprehensive Co-Mediation and Mediation Internship Pilot Project, which offered mediation services to separated and divorcing parents with children under 18. The project also recruits and trains mediators accredited through Family Mediation Canada. In 1998-99, the project recruited 24 interns to train and work as co-mediators (in each case a lawyer and a family relations specialist) in cases referred by the Family Conciliation Branch, courts, parent education programs, lawyers, and others. In 2000-01, Manitoba Justice integrated the project into its Family Conciliation Branch, which had previously only mediated in custody and access cases. The Branch will maintain a diminished internship component and offer co-mediation services in separation and divorce cases.
The Ministry of the Attorney General provides for voluntary family mediation through all 17 Unified Family Court locations. Private practitioners contracted by the Ministry deliver the actual mediation services and clients are charged a user fee on a sliding scale. While the province has not allocated federal resources to this program, it has used the federal funds to support two mediation programs.
- The Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto maintains a roster of family mediators who are available to all court clients. The clients pay the mediators $300 per party for the first four hours of mediation (including preparation and screening), after which the mediators may charge their usual fee. Mediators also provide a minimum of 12 hours of pro bono mediation per year.
- In Kingston, a pilot project tested whether litigants in support variation cases should be required to attend sessions to learn about mediation and to see whether mediation would be appropriate in their circumstances. A government-funded family mediation service provided these sessions at the Kingston Family Court. The project was completed in September 1999.
Quebec's legislation requires that married and unmarried parents attend an information session on mediation before the courts will hear their applications in disputes over child custody, access, support, or other matrimonial rights. The session informs them about the mediation process and the role of the mediator. The program allows the parties to satisfy this requirement in one of three ways: the parties can meet with a mediator of their choosing, attend a group session together, or attend separate group sessions. At the end of the session, the couple must choose between mediation and court proceedings. If they proceed with mediation, the services are provided by accredited private practitioners or by mediators employed by youth centres who deal only with cases involving children. The provincial government covers the costs of up to six sessions except in the case of an application for review of an existing order in which a maximum of three sessions is covered. Parties requiring additional sessions must pay the fees themselves. In some circumstances the courts may make mediation mandatory.
- New Brunswick:
The New Brunswick Family Support Service has long provided mediation, one-to-one counseling, and information services for family support clients. In 1997-98, the province expanded this service by adding six court social workers, providing them with advanced on-site mediation training. The province's priority is to keep improving its mediation services through various means, such as by developing screening tools to help parties determine whether mediation is appropriate, by producing mediation manuals, and by training court social workers.
- Nova Scotia:
Since 1986, mediation has been available to parents appearing in the Halifax-Dartmouth courts on applications dealing with custody, access, and support issues. As of April 6, 1999, the service expanded to the areas served by the Supreme Court (Family Division), so it now covers Cape Breton and the entire Halifax Regional Municipality. Both court staff and private practitioners provide the services, for which the client pays according to a sliding scale. The province has not used federal funds to deliver the service, but from 1997 to 2000, it did use federal funds to design a mediation program and to coordinate delivery of a mentoring program. Under the mentoring program, a certified mediator trained and supervised trainees to help them become certified and earn a place on a government roster of professional mediators.
- Newfoundland and Labrador:
In 2000-01, the Family Dispute Pilot Project expanded mediation and support services in custody and access cases before the Supreme Court or Family Court to western Newfoundland. Blomidon Place, a Corner Brook community health organization, delivers the services. Initially the program is providing referral services and mediation. Support application social workers are the first point of contact with families and can negotiate some consent orders and make referrals. If referred for formal mediation, a family would meet with a mediator, who can file a consent order if the parties agree on support and child custody and access issues.
- Northwest Territories:
The Department of Justice is exploring a pilot mediation project in Yellowknife. An initial feasibility study has been prepared.
The Yukon Department of Justice is considering a pilot project to provide
"court-based, court-connected"mediation services to parents dealing with child support, custody, and access issues. The Department retained a contractor to develop a framework dealing with issues such as: the connection between the court and the mediation service; administrative arrangements; costs to users; the selection and assignment of mediators, the fee structure; and mediator qualifications. Yukon will undertake internal discussions before initiating a pilot.
The Nunavut Bench and Bar Committee is developing a mediation model that reflects the territory's cultural, geographic, and economic realities through the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Traditional Knowledge) Mediation Initiative. First, it brought together experienced mediators and Inuit well versed in traditional conflict resolution practices. They developed a "mediation protocol" as the foundation for expanded family law services in Nunavut. The immediate goal of the project is to train family law mediators, who will be able to provide services to help couples within their own communities.
INFORMATION AND INTAKE SERVICES
Provincial and territorial governments have a variety of programs and services to promote early resolution of child support, custody, and access issues while reducing administrative and procedural complexities. The following examples, each supported by federal funds, illustrate the ways in which the jurisdictions deliver, or plan to deliver, information and intake services to separated and divorced parents who want to establish or revise child support, custody, or access agreements and orders.
Saskatchewan established a provincial toll-free Family law line in 1997. In addition to accepting registrations for the Parent Education Program, the operator answers general questions about the Child Support Guidelines, provides information and distributes information packages and self-help child maintenance variation kits, and can suggest options such as private lawyers, legal aid, the lawyer referral line or other government agencies.
In 2000-01, Nunavut Justice planned to establish Iqaluit's first Family Support Office to provide maintenance, support, and counselling services. Through the Office, a "family support counsellor" will provide family justice information and mediation services in Inuktitut. Eventually, family justice information and mediation services will be available in all Nunavut communities.
- Northwest Territories:
There is a clerk at the information and public service office in the Yellowknife courthouse who accepts registrations for the maintenance enforcement office; processes applications for parent information sessions; prepares and sends information to staff, judges, and the public; and helps parents with child support forms, applications, and procedures.
- Nova Scotia:
Nova Scotia has assigned "court intake assistants" in each judicial district to help process applications to vary support orders and agreements; to track documents; and to assess whether the applicant has all the information needed under filing requirements and court rules. They also help litigants, particularly unrepresented litigants; complete court forms and filing packages; track and follow up on documents; request information from third parties; provide information on basic procedures; suggest places where people can get legal and financial advice; and ensure that draft court orders conform to the child support guidelines.
- Prince Edward Island:
Since 1997-98, Prince Edward Island parents have been able to ask child support information officers for information about the Guidelines and for help applying for variations or new orders.
The province has taken steps to provide family court clients with a "single window" for information about the family justice system and family courts. At Family Law Information Centres in 53 court sites across Ontario, court intake clerks provide information; direct clients to appropriate court-based services, such as mediation programs and parenting education sessions; and refer clients to community services outside the court, such as those related to supervised access, family counseling, and domestic violence. These services help self-represented clients and resolve disputes outside the court process. Legal Aid Ontario participates in this service program, assigning advice lawyers to provide clients with summary legal advice needs.
Since 1997-98, Alberta has maintained Family Law Information Centres in Edmonton and Calgary. The centres are operated by the Court Services Division and staffed by lawyers, judicial clerks, and information officers. The centres originally focused on child support matters, but now they help clients with any family law application, including those for child support, custody or access, spousal support, access enforcement, ex parte restraining orders, and emergency protection. The clerks respond to information requests, inform people about the availability and advantages of out-of-court settlements, help unrepresented individuals identify and assemble the information required for applications, and refer clients to legal and mediation services.
ADMINISTRATIVE CASE MANAGEMENT PROCEDURES
Some family justice systems have improved the way they handle cases by introducing procedures similar to case management. Quebec, for example, has a program for special court clerks (called greffiers spéciaux), who ensure that proposed child custody and support agreements filed with the court are processed as quickly as possible. After reviewing proposed agreements involving separation or divorce matters, the clerk may ratify the agreement. However, if there is a concern that the agreement is not safeguarding the child's best interests, the clerk may ask for more information from the parents. Finally, the clerk refers the application to the court.
In Ontario, under family law rules, family case management clerks in the Ontario Court of Justice and Unified Family Court ensure that all clients are made aware of family court services, including alternatives to litigation. The 65 clerks also make sure that clients get help with court forms and proceedings; vet cases to confirm that parties have filed the appropriate documents; refer clients to community resources; and schedule hearings or case management conferences for cases that are ready to go forward.
The case management clerks offer these services immediately after a case is filed and before a judge is involved, so the parties can reconsider their dispute resolution and settlement options before litigation begins. This timing distinguishes the case management clerk's work from that of Family Law Information Centre staff members (see above). The latter give clients options for resolving their disputes and organizing their case before they enter the court process.
British Columbia is testing innovative triage sessions under new provincial Family Court Rules. The Family Justice Registry project requires all parties to attend a session with a "triage" family justice counsellor before their first court appearance, unless matters are so urgent that a court must hear the case as soon as possible. During the triage session, the counsellor assesses the circumstances, discusses different options to resolve disputes, and refers clients to mediation services.
JUDICIAL CASE MANAGEMENT
In addition to "administrative case management" programs, described above, some provinces and territories have introduced what might be termed "judicial case management" procedures.
These measures, authorized under the jurisdictions' court rules, speed along family law cases going to trial. In Alberta, either party in a separation or divorce may request case management when she or he feels that the other party is slowing the process down or that there is an impasse. If the presiding judge rules that the case needs case management, a second judge is assigned as case manager. The case manager can set court dates and speeds the case through settlement conferences or pre-trial hearings. An evaluation of the program is planned.
Manitoba has taken a somewhat different approach. Under its program, randomly selected new separation and divorce cases go through a process designed to reduce delay and expense by promoting early and fair settlements. A Family Division judge is assigned to a case, presides at the initial case conference session with the parties and their counsel, and remains available to help manage the case until it is resolved. In one evaluation, 93 percent of lawyers surveyed said the program had a positive effect on the legal proceedings and had reduced the number of contested hearings. The province plans to make the procedure, first introduced in 1995, generally available in 2001.
Judicial case management conferences are also used in the Northwest Territories, at the discretion of parties or the court. They resolve disputes without trial if possible. If a trial is required, they simplify issues to make the process more efficient and less expensive. The process is available in all civil cases, including those involving custody and access.
Ontario recently implemented new rules for Unified Family Courts and for the Ontario Court of Justice. Specially designed for family cases, these rules incorporate case management principles and emphasize early judicial intervention and early resolution of cases. Child protection cases have specific timelines.
In other domestic cases, the rules fix dates for events before trial. In two Superior Court locations outside the unified family court system, case management rules prescribe a timetable for events in the case. The case management judge has considerable power, including the power to enforce compliance with the timetable.
Early in these other domestic cases, a conference is used to schedule events, explore ways to resolve issues in disputes, and organize the disclosure of information. These case conferences will replace much pre-trial litigation.
The provinces and territories have not used federal resources for judicial case management.
In order to help individuals who wish to obtain or vary a support order without legal representation, Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Ontario have used federal resources to produce and distribute self-help support variation kits. In 2000-01, Nova Scotia also set up self-help workstations in three Supreme Court (Family Division) sites. There, clients can use computers and formatted forms to prepare child support applications and the requisite forms.
SUPERVISED ACCESS SERVICES
Supervised access services provide a safe setting for children to spend time with non-custodial parents or other persons, such as a grandparent, in cases where there are concerns for the safety of the child or the custodial parent. Typically, community groups provide the service; some get government funding or other forms of assistance. In 2000, supervised access was available in some cities in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.
Ontario uses federal funds for this service, which it is expanding from 36 sites in 2000 to all 54 court districts by 2003. The services are delivered by community-based agencies such as children's mental health centres, neighborhood support centres, the YMCA, and local children's aid societies that operate with a mix of paid staff and volunteers. The agencies get financial support from the Ministry of the Attorney General. Most referrals to supervised access programs come from the courts and lawyers for the parents. Between April 1, 1999, and March 31, 2000, approximately 29,000 visits and exchanges involving 12,100 families took place at 36 centres and satellite locations.
In 2000-01, Nova Scotia used federal funding to prepare a "best practices" manual and to work with community organizations to develop options for supervised access services. These organizations would deliver the supervised access program in areas served by the Supreme Court (Family Division).
The courts may order social and psychological assessments, which give the court and the parties the independent, written information they need to decide custody and access in the child's best interests. Commonly, the assessor interviews and observes the children with each parent. The assessor then submits a report and, in many cases, recommendations on the parenting arrangement. The report becomes part of the evidence before the court and its author may be called to testify.
In 2000-01, New Brunswick was the only jurisdiction to use federal funding to support assessment services for families in financial need. The Court Services Division, which runs the service, keeps a list of qualified assessors who can help eligible clients. Other provinces also help parents gain access to assessments in custody cases. The services may be provided by social workers or mental health professionals employed by government agencies, or by private practitioners.
In October 1999, Ontario began a two-year pilot project to test a new approach to resolving the access-based disputes that occur in approximately a fifth of separations and divorces. The study examined the effectiveness of two types of intervention:
- a focused social work intervention, which identifies the conflict underlying the dispute and helps parents form a parenting plan in the child's interests, and
- a focused legal representation, which targets the legal issues before the court and provides a legal resolution in the child's interests.
Saskatchewan introduced special custody and access assessments in 2000-2001, which focus upon the child's perspective in separation and divorce. The Children's Voices reports are completed more quickly than the full custody and access reports because the assessor only interviews the child. Development of the Children's Voices reports was in response to a recurring theme in both national provincial public consultations held recently in Saskatchewan to hear the perspectives and opinions of the children who are the subjects of custody and access issues. The Children's Voices reports are only available by court order. Once ordered, a social worker interviews the child and prepares a written report for the court expressing the child's views. These assessments are designed for families whose children are of an age and maturity level that their opinions can be accurately expressed. The speed with which the reports are available benefits both the families involved and the courts.
The project was the subject of research using a randomized, future-oriented, quasi-experimental design to examine the effectiveness of the two types of focused interventions, as compared with traditional assessments. The preliminary research findings are positive.
COURT FORMS AND RULES
With child support guidelines in place, most jurisdictions had to review and modify court rules and associated forms. Federal resources supported such projects in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and the Atlantic provinces.
These projects not only accommodated the Divorce Act; but also cut red tape to introduce administrative efficiencies and, more importantly, reforms that allowed and encouraged alternatives, such as mediation, that support the broad objectives of child-centred family law services. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, for example, make it easier for parents to reach agreements and to have them processed. British Columbia, which adopted an entirely new set of rules for provincial courts, allowed for such special procedures as family law triage counsellors. Ontario, after a similarly comprehensive review, provided for case management in all family cases and, in particular, made the forms easier for everyone to understand and use, especially self-represented litigants.
Provincial and territorial governments trained judges, court staff, and members of the family law bar. They also published public legal information materials for family law clients and the public. In addition, many changes triggered improvements of court information management systems, as was the case with Manitoba's auto-order project.
PROVINCIAL CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES
British Columbia, New Brunswick, Yukon, and Newfoundland and Labrador used the Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund when setting up their guidelines, a task that included doing policy work and consultations beforehand, training court personnel and family law professionals, publishing public information materials, and introducing procedural and administrative changes.
In 2000, Manitoba implemented its automated orders (auto-orders) system, beginning in Winnipeg's Masters Maintenance Enforcement Court and, subsequently, throughout the Court of Queen's Bench, Family Division. The system ensures that the language of orders is clear and consistent. It also makes the procedure quicker and more efficient.
The first phase of this project, begun in 1997-98, developed standard order clauses to eliminate ambiguities. The clauses can also feed into a system to capture data needed for the Maintenance Enforcement Program. Orders must use the standard clauses, unless a court expressly approves an exception.
The second phase, in 1998-99, introduced electronic filing and the production of automated orders in the courtroom. Following this phase, the province prepared for automation generally. The auto-orders system was supported by communications and training activities directed to internal users (court staff) and external users (law firms), by external testing, and by refinements to court rules.
Ontario also used federal resources to study auto-orders. In 1998-99, it tested the automated preparation of child support orders in family law proceedings. The pilot found that, to succeed in the province's family court system, a system would have to automate all family orders. The Ministry of the Attorney General decided to defer such a project.
In 2000-01, Nunavut's Family Law Working Group used federal resources to plan an auto-order system based on Manitoba's. The project produced draft orders that courts have to review and approve before a pilot project begins.
Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador used federal funds to add capacity to their administrative information management systems to respond to the new child support guidelines. In addition to installing more equipment, the Quebec Department of Justice developed a database of all family-related child support and mediation cases, while Newfoundland and Labrador developed a new case management computer system to automate manual reporting procedures and make them more efficient.
STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH WORKLOAD INCREASES
When the Federal Child Support Guidelines came into force, provincial and territorial governments faced a resulting increase in applications to vary child support orders and agreements. Ontario and British Columbia addressed the resulting demand for information by creating new positions: intake clerks in Ontario and child support clerks in British Columbia. In both provinces, the clerks helped clients by distributing information kits, by responding to enquiries, and by helping prepare court documents, among other activities. In 2000-01, the intake clerks in Ontario were phased out, as Family Law Information Centres and case management clerks were brought on-stream. British Columbia phased out some of the child support clerk positions the previous year.
Saskatchewan, rather then creating new positions with specialized functions, hired more court clerks to deal with increased workloads. It also modified the existing court clerk position as needed to deal with the new guidelines.
The Yukon Department of Justice established the Child Support Guidelines Information Office in the Whitehorse courthouse and by setting up a dedicated phone line. It provided information on the guidelines, on tax changes, and on settlement options. It also helped applicants complete applications and get financial information, and it referred clients to other services. The position was discontinued due to limited demand; information is currently available from the project officer and the Maintenance Enforcement Program office in the Whitehorse courthouse.
Since 1993, Newfoundland and Labrador has helped social assistance recipients apply for and get support orders by assigning them social workers from the Department of Human Resources and Employment.
The service was expanded in 1997-98. The social workers began accepting original and variation applications, helping applicants collect and collate financial disclosure documentation, and preparing agreement documents. In addition, the workers now meet with parents, individually or jointly, to try to mediate or negotiate an agreement. If such an agreement is reached, a worker drafts a consent order for the courts to confirm.
The province is keeping these services for now. However, after it has finished evaluating the program, it will explore options for integrated services, such as the Corner Brook project involving the community mental health program, Blomidon Place. That project is described in the mediation section of this document.
In Alberta, the Department of Justice used federal funding to deal with workload increases related to policy and program planning activities. The department's Family Law Branch assigned a lawyer to develop proposals for policy and procedural changes, to act as a resource to litigation counsel, and to continue educating legal and other personnel. It also assigned two lawyers to work part time with the courts, with the Maintenance Enforcement Program, and with Alberta Children's Services to develop new policies, protocols, and forms.
To respond to the increased demand from parents waiting to get an appointment with court-based alternative dispute resolution services, New Brunswick redesigned the court social worker service. It transferred the responsibility for paralegal work from the social worker to dedicated paralegal staff working directly for Legal Aid New Brunswick, thus freeing the social worker to focus on screening, mediation, and settlement services.
LAWYER REFERRAL LINE
In 1997-2000, the Law Society of Saskatchewan maintained a toll-free line that gave callers a list of local family lawyers who offered half-hour consultations for a nominal fee (usually $25 or so). The service helped low- and middle-income people to get variations, even if they were not eligible for legal aid services. The Law Society responded to an average of 16 calls per month from April 1997 to January 1998. Subsequently, the demand for service dropped to an average of one to five calls per month. As a result, in 1998-99, the special line was discontinued and the service has since been managed through the society's general enquiry line.
FINANCIAL INFORMATION SERVICES
In 1997, New Brunswick established a child support information centre in Moncton, where a roster of duty counsel and a local tax specialist held clinics every Thursday evening. The demand for services, especially of the tax specialist, was very low and the program was redesigned so that legal services were delivered only on referral from Family Support Services and the tax specialist was available only on the referral of a duty counsel. In 1998-99, the revised service was made available in eight communities.
In 1997-98, Prince Edward Island first retained an accountant as a financial counsellor to help the court and court staff determine incomes, particularly in complex cases, per the Rules of Court. While the Guidelines were being introduced, the accountant also trained staff.
ALTERNATIVE MECHANISMS FOR DETERMINING OR VARYING CHILD SUPPORT AMOUNTS
The child support amounts set out in agreements and orders can be modified as the personal and financial circumstances of separated and divorced parents and their children change. Normally, the procedures followed to vary an order parallel those used to determine the original arrangements. One applies to the court and a judge modifies the arrangement. Several jurisdictions have tried to simplify the process for all concerned by revising procedures, by trying pilot projects, or by doing both. Some of these innovations have been based on a "recalculation" procedure made possible by section 25.1 of the Divorce Act. For more information, please refer to the section later in this document called
"Pilot Administrative Mechanisms to Recalculate Child Support and an Overview of Experiences or Models in Other Jurisdictions."
Under section 25.1 the federal Minister of Justice can designate a provincial or territorial 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." The recalculated child support amount comes into effect within 31 days, unless one of the parents applies to have the matter reviewed by the court.
CHILD SUPPORT VARIATION PROCEDURES
Three provinces have projects to handle child support variation applications using procedures of the kind envisioned by section 25.1 of the Divorce Act.
- Manitoba's Family Law Branch is considering a pilot project in which a team of legal and administrative officers will provide for the administrative recalculation of support amounts.
- British Columbia's Ministry of the Attorney General has a pilot project in Kelowna that offers a comprehensive child support recalculation service. The service will be offered to parents to get or vary an original child support order. An important element of this extra service will be formal links with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, Parenting After Separation, Debtor's Assistance, legal advice lawyers and the courts.
- Newfoundland and Labrador has established Family Justice Services Western, a partnership with a local community health organization, to deliver education, mediation, and counseling services to children and families with issues related to custody, child support, access, or spousal support.
Four jurisdictions have used federal resources to create quicker and less onerous child support variation and recalculation procedures.
- Nunavut Justice has standardized forms, improved information services, and individualized assistance with document preparation, all to make variations less burdensome.
- In Nova Scotia, intake assistants assess each case to find candidates for mediation and conciliation services that help parents agree on recalculation. Any resulting agreement is formalized as a consent order under court rules.
- New Brunswick is exploring to develop an administrative hearing mechanism to deal with child support variations. Under the proposed procedure, a hearing officer would be able to compel parties to appear at the hearing and to disclose information.
- Saskatchewan plans to develop a dispute resolution service to help low-income clients of the Maintenance Enforcement Office vary or recalculate their child support orders.
CHILD SUPPORT CALCULATION SOFTWARE
Commercial software has been developed to calculate support payments under child support guidelines. Most jurisdictions use this software to help the judiciary, court staff, and others make quick and accurate calculations. Several jurisdictions (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick) have used a portion of their federal funds to buy a site license for the software, to train users, and, in some cases, to lease computers.
Provincial and territorial governments established maintenance enforcement programs (MEP) in the mid-1980s to provide an intermediary service for those paying and receiving support. In most provinces, MEPs get the payment from the debtor and forward it to the creditor once it has been cleared through a trust account. Sometimes, the debtor doesn't pay regularly, on time, or at all, in which case the MEP tries to trace and locate the debtor to get the money. To this end, legislatures have given MEPs the authority to recover the support owing from assets by letting them garnishee income and restrict access to privileges such as motor vehicle licences.
In 1997, the Government of Canada amended the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act (FOAEA) and other statutes to introduce measures such as licence suspension procedures. In addition, the federal Department of Justice helped the provinces and territories study ways to strengthen enforcement measures through legislation and programs. This collaboration has made enforcement more effective. In Quebec, the MEP (administered by the Ministère du Revenu du Québec) allows, in certain cases, advance payments to be made in order to insure a regular flow of money to recipients. These payments are done in the name of the payor.
The federal Department of Justice administers the FOAEA through the FOAEA Unit in Ottawa. The MEPs use three of the unit's services: tracing, interception, and licence denial.
- The tracing service uses designated federal databases to find debtors' residential addresses and their employers.
- The interception service allows for the garnishment of designated federal payments, including income tax refunds, employment insurance benefits, old age security, Canada Pension Plan benefits, interest on regular Canada savings bonds, and money from selected Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada programs.
- The licence denial service, implemented in 1997, processes MEP applications to suspend and deny Canadian passports and federally issued licences, such as aviation and navigation certificates. A debtor must owe at least $3,000 or be three payments in arrears.
To make the services more efficient, the FOAEA program uses an information management system and has procedures that let MEP staff ask for and get FOAEA services over the Internet. For this to work, MEPs had to adapt their own information management and communications systems to automate file and data exchange with the FOAEA system. Typically, this meant changes in service delivery procedures, in system development and design, in acquisition of equipment and of information management and security software, and in staff training. All of the jurisdictions, except Manitoba and Nunavut, used federal funds to do this.
MAINTENANCE ENFORCEMENT SURVEY
As part of the Child Support Initiative, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics launched the national Maintenance Enforcement Survey, which collects and publishes national information about support compliance and enforcement. In addition to developing a centralized data processing and reporting system, the Centre contracted with the provinces and territories to find ways to extract maintenance enforcement data from their databases.
Governments will use these data for policy and program development, research, and evaluation. The academic community, non-governmental organizations, and the general public will also use the data. This aggregate survey collects this information about MEP cases:
- the compliance and arrears status of payers, according to the amount due;
- the amounts of money and proportions received;
- for cases in arrears, the percentage of dollars due received and the time since the last payment;
- the number of cases in which the recipient has payments assigned to social assistance;
- the types of enforcement activities used, by volume;
- information about default hearings;
- descriptive information about the people involved (such as median age, number of children, and gender);
- the proportion of cases involving reciprocal maintenance enforcement; and
- the authority (Divorce Act or provincial or territorial statute) under which the support order was made.
Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Alberta each used federal Department of Justice funds to design and implement system changes to meet the Centre's requirements.
MAINTENANCE ENFORCEMENT SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT
Provincial and territorial MEPs handle thousands of transactions daily. To do so, the MEPs depend on effective automated information and financial management systems. As laws, procedures, and service standards change, they must update, upgrade, or even replace some systems. Since 1997, the Government of Canada, using federal Department of Justice funds, has supported this critical work in all jurisdictions.
The following samples show how jurisdictions are developing information systems to make their MEPs more effective and efficient.
Justice Alberta retained systems consultants to assess its needs and do a business analysis that improved its 15-year-old tracking system.
- New Brunswick:
The province modified its existing system to ensure year 2000 compliance and improved table maintenance capabilities. As well it consolidated the eight regional databases to improve service to clients.
- British Columbia:
The Family Maintenance Enforcement Program made changes to the program's system to implement electronic commerce, a new systems methodology, a review of the system architecture and production of auto-generated letters.
- Newfoundland and Labrador:
The province is replacing the program's mainframe system with a distributed-server system that Department of Human Resources and Employment staff will use.
- Northwest Territories:
The territorial government bought computers and applications to process data and manage the program. Its in-house technical support is also adapting existing applications so the maintenance enforcement system can deliver the required data.
Nunavut Justice began linking its MEP to court files and related computer records.
The Family Responsibility Office developed a way to use its case management system on Windows, so that users can scan case documents and attach them to users' screens. Other new tools reduce delays and let users generate letters and reports. The Office wanted to ensure that the private lawyers it retains for maintenance enforcement proceedings have timely case management information, so they can now dial into the agency's mainframe. This remote access system required software and telecommunications safeguards to protect personal data.
- Prince Edward Island:
The province updated its accounting software to track arrears information more accurately.
The province is implementing a service improvement plan, beginning with a review of the performance and capacity of its maintenance enforcement computer system to reduce delays, improve collections and attain a more consistent level of payments. The program's financial system was reengineered to ensure accurate reports and acceptable financial controls.
The Maintenance Enforcement Office ensured Y2K compliance, improved its table maintenance capabilities, and performed the new functions required by legislative changes.
The territory's Department of Justice looked into adapting another jurisdiction's system to replace its outdated maintenance enforcement computer system, hoping this would save time and money. However, doing so turned out to be more expensive than building an entirely new system, which the territorial government is now contracting to have done.
Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan have new electronic banking procedures and applications that, typically, can pre-authorize payment arrangements for debtors and can reduce collection costs and delays by directly depositing funds into creditors' accounts.
British Columbia's experience illustrates the many stages in developing and implementing electronic banking procedures. In 1997-99 the province retained consultants to study ways to automate Treasury Branch transactions. This would allow for automatic withdrawals from paying parents' bank accounts, coded invoices for paying parents through selected institutions, direct deposit to recipients' accounts, electronic fund transfers from attachees, and direct payment of maintenance through key-account services. The province continued to pursue electronic banking in 2000-01, a process that included setting up direct deposit arrangements for payments to recipients and online and telephone banking systems to benefit payers.
IMPROVED COLLECTION MECHANISMS
Several jurisdictions have used federal funds to help MEPs find debtors and collect arrears.
The Department of Justice, on a trial basis, hired a tracking investigative officer to reduce the collection problems associated with the seasonal nature of the Yukon workforce. The officer used government databases and field investigations to locate defaulters.
- New Brunswick:
The New Brunswick Department of Justice negotiated access to databases maintained by other provincial departments to help it find debtors.
- British Columbia:
The Family Justice Programs Division improved its information systems to get the information needed to attach provincial funds owing to defaulting payers, to automate tracing procedures, and to support provincial enforcement legislation, which covered driver's licence non-renewal or denial, as well as credit bureau reporting.
As a result of program reviews in 1997 and 1998, Alberta introduced a special investigations unit that screens and refers delinquent accounts to contracted collection services. The unit also seeks and executes third-party judgments and audits collections for the program.
Alberta has improved collections by using default hearings. The province's Maintenance Enforcement Act allows the MEP to serve a summons on a defaulting debtor requiring him or her to appear before the court to:
- show the court why the maintenance order should not be enforced;
- be examined under oath about her or his finances; and
- show why he or she should not be jailed for wilfully defaulting on payments.
Default hearings are held before a master of the Court of Queen's Bench, who can issue court orders when other collection efforts have failed and when program authorities believe the debtor can pay but will not. Where possible, a senior collection officer meets with the debtor before the hearing to negotiate a reasonable payment plan, so that the full hearing will not be necessary. If there is a hearing, the MEP is represented by its legal counsel who, along with the master, can examine the debtor under oath.
The Family Responsibility Office negotiated with provincial government agencies, such as the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council and CORPAY, Government of Ontario Pay and Benefits to get information to help it trace defaulters. In each case, the Office and the other agency have negotiated freedom of information responsibilities and memoranda of understanding.The Family Responsibility Office also tested the use of private collection agencies. The results were good and it will expand the project. Now, companies selected through a bidding process will collect arrears in cases that have been delinquent for six or more months.
In 1999-2000, the province's MEP considered tracking debtors by negotiating agreements among the provinces and territories that would provide inter-jurisdictional access to motor vehicle licensing databases. Doing so would allow MEPs to process enforcement applications more quickly, to improve staff productivity, to increase the number of cases processed, and to improve client service.
NEW ENFORCEMENT MEASURES
As a result of the 1997 amendments, MEPs can now apply to have passports and certain federal licences withdrawn or denied if the holder or applicant is three months or more or at least $3,000 in arrears on support payments. This is expected to motivate the defaulter to comply. For the same reason, provincial and territorial authorities have similar enforcement measures affecting licences and privileges under provincial laws. Sometimes, provinces have used federal resources for these strategies.
Provincial legislation lets the Maintenance Enforcement Office report defaulters to the credit bureau. Legislation also improved the way the province withholds its licences, by assigning a licence withholding clerk to monitor case files and identify defaulting debtors who meet the criteria for licence withholding. This clerk can also prepare notices and start withholding action.
- New Brunswick:
Both provinces (Saskatchewan and New Brunswick) have used federal funds to study such new enforcement tools as licence denial and credit bureau reporting.
The Family Responsibility Office began planning for major changes to its information management system by making it easier to withhold driver's licences.
- British Columbia:
The province implemented six new enforcement provisions in 1998-99: credit bureau reporting, driver's licence withholding, payment conferencing (meaning meetings to get paying parents to comply voluntarily), personal property registry liens, data matches with possible income sources, and enforcement against corporations. These measures will help the program pursue delinquent debtors who cannot be located, who "hide behind a corporate veil," or who do not have regular incomes.
MEETING SERVICE DEMANDS
Alberta, Quebec, and New Brunswick each used federal resources to deal with the increased number of child support variations under child support guidelines.
RESPONDING TO CLIENT ENQUIRIES
MEPs deal with many calls from paying and receiving parents asking about the status of their accounts.
To cope, several MEPs have introduced automated telephone systems, frequently referred to as interactive voice response (IVR) systems. The IVR services operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to give clients access to case information and to payment information, as well as to information about enforcement legislation and other topics. Typically, clients register for the service and get a personal information number (PIN), which keeps personal information secure. During office hours, clients who cannot get what they want from IVR systems can speak to enforcement staff or leave a detailed message asking for help.
Prince Edward Island, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, the Northwest Territories, Alberta, and British Columbia used federal resources for their IVR systems, covering anything from installing hardware to preparing scripts for the IVR systems. New Brunswick is planning on using federal funds to design, install and/or maintain their IVR system and targeting implementation for April 1, 2002.
Some jurisdictions are also looking at providing information to clients over the Internet. The first such program, Alberta's MEP Accounts Online project, started in September 2000 with federal funding. It lets creditors and debtors find out about the last four payments, ask for a statement, report a change of address, and e-mail inquiries or comments. The system complements the IVR system and the existing services provided by collection officers. Prince Edward Island is designing a similar system.
IMPROVING CLIENT SERVICES
Provincial and territorial support enforcement bodies used federal resources to evaluate and enhance client services.
In 1998-99 and 1999-2000, the province's MEP hired 12 recent graduates, eight specializing in family law and four in accounting, to do outreach work with its staff and clients through face-to-face meetings, telephone calls, and other means. They provided information on the MEP, addressed concerns, and gathered suggestions for program improvements. The MEP also studied a range of measures to help it better meet client needs.
In 2000-01, the Maintenance Enforcement Office hired two client service representatives to answer questions and complaints and to routinely contact new registrants, making sure that registrants are familiar with the office's services and procedures.
- British Columbia:
The Family Justice Programs Division surveyed receiving and paying parents to identify systemic client relation problems and to track client satisfaction. Surveyed paying parents included those who were exemplary and those who had never complied. The survey uncovered ways to improve the program, to decrease debtor resistance, and to improve client knowledge of federal and provincial enforcement initiatives.
In 2000-01, British Columbia's Family Maintenance Enforcement Program established an outreach project to evaluate ways to further enhance client services. Under the project, the MEP assigned enforcement officers to work with Family Law Centres in the Lower Mainland and to serve centre clients. The enforcement officers will participate in case conferences, meet with individual clients, and conduct payment conferences.
In 2000-2001, the Family Responsibility Office conducted outreach sessions and workshops targeted to specific clients or client service provider groups. FRO staff provided legal outreach sessions to Family Law Association, the CBAO, the Family Bench and Bar and new panel lawyers.
TRAINING AND SUPPORT STAFF
British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec used federal resources for staff training and related activities. British Columbia, for example, developed guidelines to help staff who negotiate voluntary payments. Alberta published a biweekly newsletter on procedural and policy changes. In 1999-2000, Alberta also hired a senior program advisor to improve the training of enforcement personnel. Quebec developed an intranet to better deliver information to staff and management. This intranet offered employees ready access to up-to-date user guides, procedures manuals, forms, and other material to help them perform their duties. In 2000-2001 Ontario conducted a number of orientation sessions for new staff, and planned and prepared an upcoming "Dealing with Difficult Clients" course for all FRO staff.
For the most part, MEPs work best when the receiving and paying parents reside in the same province. When a parent moves away, as is happening more often, the MEP may use another program to collect support payments or to make disbursements. The provincial and territorial governments have passed legislation and developed bilateral arrangements for the reciprocal enforcement of support orders in these cases. Several jurisdictions used federal funds to do so.
The Saskatchewan Maintenance Enforcement Office helped draft the Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders Act.
The MEP reduced delays by reviewing reciprocal enforcement files and procedures to find short-term and long-term improvements in work processes and information systems support.
- Prince Edward Island:
The province studied the requirements for conducting business among the MEPs in Atlantic Canada. The work focused on possible technical solutions to the problems associated with exchanging case and client information across jurisdictions. It hoped to address current regional needs in the Atlantic area and to contribute ideas to a national study.
The Family Responsibility Office developed a new case management system to better handle an estimated 12,500 active reciprocal enforcement cases. About 5,000 of these are requests from other jurisdictions and the rest are requests Ontario has made. A second project produced a policies and procedures manual for the Reciprocity Unit, based on current and best practices. With help from other jurisdictions, the Office also updated the database of Ontario residents paying support to people in other provinces.
The Office has also studied procedures that would allow smaller jurisdictions (with fewer than 200 payments) to submit RESO payments electronically using E-CLIPS, which was introduced in 1999 to let people and companies remit support payments over a secure Internet-based program developed with the Royal Bank.
- Newfoundland and Labrador:
In 1997-98, the province's MEP hired a second reciprocal enforcement officer to provide or collect up-to-date information for effective enforcement.
- British Columbia:
The province has developed information systems, done studies, and changed service delivery, all to improve its services in reciprocal enforcement cases. For example, it set up query access to the Family Search Program case management system, designed new screens for reciprocal case transmittal forms, and upgraded equipment. It also developed policy and procedures, provided training, oriented lawyers, and studied using IVR systems for reciprocal jurisdiction clients.
In addition to the work on its own system, British Columbia led the development of standard forms for reciprocal arrangements. In September 1999, the forms were approved by Canadian MEPs, by the Family Law Committee, and by US federal officials.
POLICY AND RESEARCH
Governments and government agencies are expected to continually monitor the programs and services they deliver to ensure that they are meeting their objectives and that they offer the best possible solutions. The Government of Canada has allocated funds to support the cycle of research, program development, and implementation, and evaluation that fosters pragmatic improvements to family law services.
EVALUATION AND RESEARCH
Many jurisdictions have invested federal funds to monitor and evaluate family justice reforms and special projects, to gather data, and to carry out similar work to improve policies and programs.
In 1999-2001, the Nunavut Department of Justice did a survey to gather information about current and traditional responses to family breakdown, about the extent to which family law court procedures are used and the factors influencing use, and about the community's knowledge and perceptions of the existing family law system.
The survey was designed to gather Nunavut-relevant data that would be comparable to statistics in other jurisdictions. To this end, the project used a survey instrument adapted from Statistics Canada's General Social Survey on Families. It collected data from more than 400 respondents in five representative communities. In addition, the project gathered information about the formal and informal services available in each community to address family breakdown.
In a related effort, the Nunavut Department of Justice met with family law stakeholders to identify community concerns, to assess general knowledge about the system, and to explore opportunities for legal and program changes. Stakeholders were concerned about the parental and spousal rights and obligations of common-law couples, about the appropriateness of child support obligations, and about the role of extended families. The consultations also found that the underlying principles of the family law system are largely consistent with community norms and values. But families don't take full advantage of family justice services because the services are not widely available or because the families don't know about them.
- Northwest Territories:
In 2000-01, the Northwest Territories' Court Services Division proposed amending legislation to allow for the administrative recalculation of child support orders. In addition, the Division planned to examine whether the Northwest Territories could implement an accredited mediation service.
The province developed internal review and evaluation processes in 1997-98. It also established a five-year framework to monitor and evaluate new and enhanced activities. The planning identified two broad categories of evaluation issues: the impact of child support guidelines and of the new tax treatment, and the impact of the provincial implementation strategy. In 1998-99 and 1999-2000, the province surveyed clients to, in part, assess their awareness of and opinions about child support guidelines. It has also published a review of its mediation services.
In 1998-99, Quebec created one committee to evaluate the family mediation program and another to look at the way the province determined child support. The committees are expected to assess whether the province's legislative objectives have been met, as well as to evaluate how the guidelines and related services have been introduced. In 1998-2000, the province used federal resources to pay research officers to provide technical support, such as data collection tools. It also spent federal funds on an international survey of child support and support enforcement programs to get an informed portrait of recent developments and to look for new ways of improving its services.
- Prince Edward Island:
Prince Edward Island monitors court and alternative dispute resolution approaches. It has designed a framework to evaluate such pilot projects as the information officer project and the parent education program. Ontario: As other jurisdictions have done, Ontario developed an evaluation framework and captured data on the impact of the Guidelines. In addition, it evaluated the "auto-order" pilot project, the focused assessment project, and other family justice initiatives, while continuing to contribute to national research planning and development. The FRO reviewed other jurisdictions' client satisfaction surveys, and completed work for a future survey of its clients.
- Newfoundland and Labrador:
The province has been evaluating and monitoring its parent education program and its support application social worker services.
Manitoba Justice has evaluated the parent education program and is evaluating the co-mediation project and other initiatives.
- British Columbia:
The province used federal resources to develop policy, to develop new family court rules, and to collect information to support evaluation and research. It is also planning to evaluate a series of special projects and initiatives, including the child support clerk function, the Rule 5 Pilot (Triage) Project, and the mandatory parenting education project. Finally, the province has commissioned research to assess how payor income and other factors influenced child support amounts established by orders before the guidelines were introduced.
Alberta has evaluated the Parenting After Separation seminars through the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family and another set of seminars at the Child Support Centres (now called Family Law Information Centres). The province has been conducting a general review of family law. In the course of consultations on family law reform, Albertans will have an opportunity to comment on the province's proposal to formally legislate the use of the child support guidelines.
SURVEY OF CHILD SUPPORT AWARDS
Since the child support guidelines changed the way courts determine order amounts, federal and provincial officials agreed that any national research strategy would focus on finding out about support orders and variation orders made on or after May 1, 1997. Since there had been no way to generate statistics on this, the Survey of Child Support Awards collected early indications about how the Guidelines were working. This survey also started collecting data from court staff at about 16 court locations in 11 jurisdictions, which used federal funds to cover the cost of gathering and reporting this original data.
TRAINING AND PUBLIC AWARENESS
GUIDELINES FOR CHILD SUPPORT
In implementing child support guidelines, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments worked to ensure that those affected by the changes would have every opportunity to get enough information to assess the implications of the changes in their individual cases. Federal funds were used for the following communications and public information strategies.
- Brochures and printed materials:
All jurisdictions distributed printed materials, such as brochures, booklets, and fact sheets, to inform separated and divorced parents, the general public, and family law professionals about the Guidelines. The materials, some published by the federal Department of Justice and some by the province or territory, were placed in court facilities, family service agencies, government offices, law offices, community agencies, and other locations. Further, notices in the print media or on the radio directed interested people to telephone numbers and other sources where they could request copies. Quebec and Saskatchewan also mailed notices and brochures directly to all MEP clients, while Ontario mailed information to those enforcement clients receiving social assistance.
- Self-help variation kits:
Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories produced and distributed self-help kits that helped parents seeking a variation to an existing child support order.
- Telephone inquiry lines:
Many jurisdictions, including the Government of Canada, set up telephone information lines that parents could call for direct access to general information and for answers to specific questions. For example, Saskatchewan operated a toll-free line that provided general information about the Guidelines and that directed callers to the lawyer referral line, to education sessions, and to self-help kits. Many jurisdictions still have the telephone information services, but the resources devoted to them have decreased as demand has fallen. The other jurisdictions that spent federal funding on telephone information lines were Yukon, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories.
- Web sites:
Some jurisdictions have Web sites where people can get general information about Guidelines, forms, reports, legislation, and other topics. British Columbia, Quebec and the Northwest Territories used federal resources to help pay for such sites.
Several jurisdictions produced videos. For example, in 1997 Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General produced a 55-minute, broadcast-quality video on court processes and alternative dispute resolution in both child support and custody and access cases. The video, entitled Separate Ways is accompanied by a booklet and brochure. The package was designed as a self-study tool and an aid in public information presentations made by family law professionals. The package is now available in nine languages, as well as in sign language, and there are open-captioned French and English versions.
- Information sessions:
Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador used public meetings to disseminate information to the general public or to specific groups. Saskatchewan ran eight sessions around the province for community groups and services, while Ontario and New Brunswick developed public information sessions that members of the family law bar delivered.
- Partnerships with PLEI organizations:
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial public legal education and information (PLEI) organization worked with the provincial Department of Justice to organize a series of public presentations. Yukon, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia also worked with PLEI groups as part of their communications and public information strategies.
Several provincial and territorial MEPs used federal funds to support communications and public information activities that promote awareness of their activities and that improve client satisfaction. In addition to producing print materials and maintaining Web sites and interactive telephone services, they have used some more proactive strategies.
The program has assigned staff to prepare individual responses to correspondence sent to the program or to members of the Legislative Assembly.
Revenu Québec gave presentations at workshops, conferences, and similar events, which reached lawyers, judges, notaries, mediators, counsellors, community organizations, and the general public. Staff prepared inventories of concerned professional and community organizations in each judicial region of the province.
In 1997-98, the Maintenance Enforcement Office delivered two-hour information sessions in eight centres, after which clients could meet privately with a maintenance enforcement officer. The individual sessions proved very successful, and the officers dealt with specific cases as well as general issues. The group and individual sessions were advertised in newspapers and cheque mail-outs.
In 2000-01, the Family Responsibility Office improved its outreach and client information services. Among other things, the plan called for a "plain language" review of all print and electronic materials, the provision of letters, forms, and public information materials in eight languages. The Office also planned public information sessions outreach similar to those offered by Saskatchewan.
- Nova Scotia:
In 1998-99, the province produced a video describing how the MEP handles enrolment, payment processing, and enforcement. The video was distributed to courts, transition houses, non-custodial parents' groups, professional associations, public legal education and information sources, and others.
- Northwest Territories:
In 2000-01, the territorial program planned to develop public awareness activities that would reinforce positive behaviour and serve as incentives to parents who have been "consistent payers."
- British Columbia:
In addition to its other activities, the province's enforcement program produced a style guide, and it developed principles and business rules for its communications staff, who were trained accordingly.
All jurisdictions trained those working with the new child support guidelines, namely court and departmental staff, judges, family lawyers, and others who deliver family justice services. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Yukon each developed training projects or strategies supported by federal Department of Justice funds.
In British Columbia, for example, a team of trainers conducted a series of two-day workshops covering the Guidelines, their application, and the resulting operational changes.
Nova Scotia, on the other hand, combined direct and "train-the-trainer" approaches for its court, maintenance enforcement, social services, and public legal information staff. Continuing legal education groups and bar associations often trained lawyers, using substantive funding from both levels of government. In addition to general training and orientation, the province organized a variety of specialized training events. The Atlantic provinces, for example, jointly sponsored a symposium on the Guidelines for lawyers, judges, mediators, and accountants in September 1999.
The earlier training (1997-99) focused on Divorce Act reforms and tax changes. More recently, efforts have tended to focus on informing court and departmental staff about court rules changes, provincial legislative reforms, and information system enhancements. There are, however, ongoing efforts to support other professionals. For example, the Yukon Department of Justice issues periodic information bulletins for family law professionals and service providers about new procedures and developments. It also trains its Court Services staff.
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