Purpose of the Project
Many people seek the help of the Ontario legal system when trying to resolve their family disputes. Despite recent reforms and many studies and proposals for remedying problems, the family system remains complex and difficult to navigate. Increasingly, people are required or choose to represent themselves, primarily because of the cost of legal services.
Many different bodies and organizations, including government, provide information to assist people, particularly online, with the result that people face an information overload without being able to distinguish the most useful information. Characteristics such as low literacy, cognitive disabilities and living in a remote location result in difficulties in understanding and applying this information. Other factors may also influence how helpful the information is. People with certain kinds of family disputes or with certain characteristics may particularly have the need for personal representation, but are unable to afford it.
And in many cases, family legal problems are only part of the problems facing families, for whom debt, employment problems and other issues complicate the legal issues. In the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO)’s view, it is crucial to address how different characteristics affect the effectiveness of common approaches, such as the provision to information, that are believed to make the family law system more accessible and the importance of a holistic approach to designing access or entry points to the system.
How We Carried out the Family Law Project
The LCO’s final report is the result of an extensive process of research and consultation, including the following:
- Holding of a roundtable of a wide range of representatives of government and service providers, academics and lawyers to help the LCO determine the most appropriate project in the family law area: we asked them to identify what they thought was most important to address.
- Release of an options paper outlining two possible projects in the area, for feedback.
- The formation of an ad hoc project advisory group to provide advice throughout the project made up of academics, legal and other service providers, government representatives, advocates and community organizations.
- Release of a consultation paper discussing issues related to entry points to the system.
- Consultations of both workers in and users of the system.
- Release of the results of the consultations.
- Funding of two research papers from experts in the field on issues related to the project, as well as carrying out considerable internal research.
- Release of an interim report with draft recommendations for feedback.
- The Final Report in the LCO family law project, Increasing Access to Family Justice through Comprehensive Entry Points and Inclusivity.
What do We Recommend?
- The creation or enhancement of multidisciplinary, multifunction centres or networks that respond to diversity in Ontario’s population, address the links between family legal problems and other kinds of problems and connect with trusted intermediaries such as cultural centres or support centres for persons with disabilities.
- We also make suggestions:
– About the use of “benchmarks” to assess the effectiveness and responsiveness of entry points to the family law system;
– about changes to the provision of information and self-help tools that will respond to the needs of persons with low literacy levels or other characteristics that make reading, understanding or applying the information difficult without assistance; and
– ways of providing in-person help to those who require it because of their personal characteristics or the nature of their family law problem.
Family Law Reform Project Publications
- Final Report – February 2013
- Interim Report – February 2012
- Consultation Results – September 2010
- Process Consultation Paper – September 2009
- Family Law Project Selection Update – April 2009
- Family Law Options Consultation Paper – January 2009