BLOG: Family Dispute Resolution Brings Changing Needs in the Profession
The family dispute resolution (FDR) field has grown exponentially over the past ten years. This has been in response to the changes occurring in family law generally: more unrepresented people, backlogs in some courts, frustration with a non-specialist family law bench, lawyers becoming disenchanted with the traditional adversarial approaches, increased awareness of the prevalence of family violence, growth in communities where English is not a first language, cultural differences demanding different approaches, ever-growing access to information on the internet, and more.
As the world around us has changed, so too has the way FDR services are delivered.
The demand for free and subsidized family mediation and information services has grown with the government’s increased commitment to funding. Legal Aid has adapted its services to fund legal advice for those in mediation or negotiating agreements. The courts could not function without Information and Referral Coordinators in the Family Law Information Centres offering triage, providing referrals, assisting with forms and helping parties understand their FDR options. The Mandatory Information Programs receive high satisfaction ratings from those who attend them because the need for information and support has never been greater.
Collaborative practice is now the process of choice for most people seeking to work with family lawyers. The growth of private FDR services like mediation-arbitration and parenting coordination, processes that hardly existed ten years ago, demonstrates the demand for new ways to respond to new realities. Sadly, our family court support workers are in great demand, evidencing a real need to find dispute resolution processes that actually meet the needs of victims of abuse and violence and their children. In private practice, an entirely new area of expertise, screening for power imbalances and family violence, has grown up. FDR professionals are increasingly aware that they and their clients work in a danger zone, and that safety of clients and professionals must be a priority.
As the field has matured and become more diverse, the need for a single resource for all of us has become apparent.
FDR professionals no longer offer single services; most of us offer some combination of mediation, collaborative practice, arbitration, parenting coordination, counselling, coaching, consulting-triage and/ or screening services. Whether you are a lawyer or a mental health or other professional, you no longer assume that the client at your door is necessarily at the right place. We offer many services because our first job is to assess which process might be best for a particular family… and we all need to understand how all the other processes work in order to do that job well.
As these new processes have evolved, so too has the need for better and more transparent standards of training, practice, and certification. Many people do not understand the difference between med-arb, mediation and parenting coordination. There are no rules or Standards of Practice for many of these services.
Hence, the creation of the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO)
A not-for-profit, FDRIO was conceived by OBA members Tom Dart, Richard Shields Barb Landau and me over a year ago. We believed that FDR is entering a “golden age” and that the time was ripe for a new, multi-disciplinary professional organization that promoted and supported all forms of FDR. The idea attracted a strong, diverse group of FDR professionals and before long the idea took off.
We now have a growing membership consisting of family lawyers, mediators, arbitrators, collaborative professionals, coaches, financial professionals, child specialists, parenting coordinators, family violence specialists, among many others. Our board consists of mental health professionals, financial specialists, coaches, mediators, arbitrators and collaborative professionals.
Our mission is to provide a place for all FDR professionals to share expertise, establish harmonized standards of practice, and create compatible credentialing processes and certifications. We seek to provide a strong, progressive and credible voice for the FDR field along with transparent, quality standards of practice for every FDR process where ever possible. We are working with existing FDR organizations to find efficiencies and areas of collaboration. Informing the public of all FDR options and supporting the highest standards in FDR.
About the Author
Hilary Linton, of Riverdale Mediation, is a Toronto lawyer whose practice is restricted to providing mediation, arbitration, teaching and consulting services.