“…but he was still hungry.”
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Philomel, 1986)
I am always hungry. If I am not eating then it is likely that I am thinking about food – unless I am mediating.
It has become a problem. Allow me to explain:
Back in the day when I was a hardcore litigator, before I metamorphosed into settlement counsel and a mediator, getting enough to eat was never problem. Court normally starts at around 10:00 a.m. — leaving plenty of time for a hearty breakfast. During a day at court, one could always count on the judge calling a mid-morning break, an ample lunch recess, followed by an afternoon break and then typically wrapping up the day by 5:00 p.m. This allowed for regular snacks and meals outside the courtroom while I finalized my submissions or just re-read the material for the day’s motion, trial or appeal. I would often pack food to take with me or I would eat at an on-site coffee shop or a nearby restaurant.
I even began to associate court in downtown Toronto with Chinese food. If I went to court, chances were good that — at some point during the day — I would be dining at one of the many restaurants that line Dundas Street West near University Avenue, around the corner from the various courthouses.
In the meantime, going on examinations for discovery only got better as the years passed from a food perspective. The various reporting facilities around Toronto each began to outdo the other in terms of putting out a big spread for customers. Given that lawyers call their own breaks during examinations, no one goes hungry. I still attend mediations as a lawyer and many mediations are held at the same reporting facilities. Since mediations have a significant amount of downtime when the mediator is occupied with the other side in a caucus, there is always time for lawyer and client to grab a nice lunch or snack down the hall.
At my firm’s offices, where we regularly host mediations, we do not offer a smorgasbord (since we do not charge extra for the use of our space), but there is always something on which to nosh and, if anyone wants something more substantial to eat, there is a restaurant in the lobby of our building.
In short, the availability of food is important as litigating is hard work, and clients get hungry too during what can be a long and stressful day.
However, when I am the mediator I can forget all about food and eating. The reason is that the mediator is always on. His is an intense, all-consuming role with no pre-set break times or meal traditions — or even a general acceptance that one is permitted to eat.
In any event, there is just no time. As a mediator, I am greeting and meeting lawyers and parties in the morning, often before the scheduled start time, and then the race begins. At the beginning of the mediation, if there is a joint session, I am busy discussing the process and ground rules, asking questions, listening intently to the answers and keeping the peace. I believe that I cannot perform these activities credibly or effectively while eating. In any event, I am not even thinking about food after the joint session and the caucusing begins. I spend hours engaging in shuttle diplomacy, darting from room to room, trying to keep the negotiations moving steadily toward a settlement and putting out the occasional ‘fire’. If I have a moment alone then I am probably spending it by updating my notes or strategizing.
I am lucky if I have a chance to answer the inevitable afternoon text from my wife asking what I have planned for dinner that evening (I am the cook of our household. This should come as no surprise).
Then there are those special times when the mediation turns into a marathon as it goes into extra hours. By this time, there is probably no food left on site (or it is stale) even if one has time to eat.
Now I am not suggesting that mediating is harder work than lawyering. It is just different. I am also not complaining, as I love mediating. When I am mediating, I am ‘in the zone’ –just not in the dietary sense. So I forget about food temporarily. My stomach might growl, but I do not notice. Yet when I reach the end of the day and the participants have left – hopefully, with a settlement in hand – I finally note that I am hungry. It is then time to grab a quick snack and finally head home to cook and eat.
I can work on an empty stomach – provided I am mediating. Yet, I have been reading about how bad it is for you (not eating regularly, that is. I am convinced that mediation is good for you). It throws off your metabolism and can lead to health problems. It is not too late for me given that I am not yet mediating full-time and I am now prepared to listen to my stomach. I also recognize that wolfing down a donut on the run between caucus rooms is not really ‘eating’. So if I am ever your mediator, please bear with me while I eat lunch and regular snacks along with you. I promise that I can listen just as well with a full mouth.
On a serious note:
While it is all fun and games to kid about feeling like you have no time to eat, there are many people who simply cannot afford to eat. Therefore, when I completed this post, I made a donation to the ‘Lawyers Feed the Hungry’ program. If you enjoyed reading this — or even if you did not –please consider doing the same by clicking here. Thanks.
Mitchell Rose is a Chartered Mediator, Lawyer and Settlement Counsel with Stancer, Gossin, Rose LLP in Toronto.
TORONTO, ON – OCTOBER 16, 2018 – Many Ontarians are turning to family mediation, family arbitration, and the hybrid med-arb—all forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)—to settle their separations and divorces. Factors driving this are: clogged family courts across many parts of Ontario; the high cost of hiring family lawyers; and the perils of navigating family court as a self-represented litigant, with no lawyer.
Mediation is a well-known legal remedy for settling lawsuits in corporate-commercial law as well as personal injury claims. Corporations surveyed indicated that mediation saves them money (90%) and that it is better than litigation (81%).
The Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO) promotes all forms of family dispute resolution, including court in appropriate cases. The week of November 19, 2018, FDRIO will host these three events in Toronto and communities across Ontario:
- FDRIO is having its 4th annual conference November 19, 2018 in Toronto. This year’s theme is “Through the Lens of Change.” Keynotes will be given by Aruna Papp (“Honour, Shame and Love: what Ontario FDR professionals can learn from a survivor of the culture of honour”) and Katherine Hensel (“Indigenous Families –Approaches to Conflict Resolution”).
- Inaugural Parenting Coordination Institute, on November 20, 2018, in Toronto at the Law Society of Ontario. FDRIO is the Ontario organization offering professional standards and certification in Parenting Coordination (PC), which helps separating couples with ongoing parenting disputes. Certified Parenting Coordinators are required to take extensive training, as parenting coordination is highly specialised.
- Family Dispute Resolution Week (FDRweek), with events for both the general public to learn more about family mediation, family arbitration, med-arb, and parenting coordination as well as events for ADR professionals. Free, public and professional events are scheduled in Toronto, Ajax, Etobicoke, Mississauga, Oshawa, Port Credit, Ottawa, among others.
Brian Kilgore, Senior Counsel
The Legal A Team
Mobile (416) 879-5771
Jana Schilder, Co-Founder
The Legal A Team
Mobile (416) 831-9154
by Jana Schilder as appeared in The Lawyer’s Daily, September 18, 2018
It is a fact that many more women die by the hand of their intimate partner than by any other means. There were 18 women killed and two men killed in Canada from January to April 2018 by their intimate partners, making a mockery of the words “I love you” and “to love, honour and cherish.”
Separation and divorce escalate risk of harm, and involvement with lawyers and the legal system further aggravates risk of a party or child being harmed or killed.
In 2015, Winnipeg family lawyer Maria Mitousis was almost killed when she opened a mail bomb that was sent to her by her client’s ex-husband. In the U.S., stories of murdered family lawyers seem commonplace, most recently Antonio Mari, shot by his client’s ex this past June, and Sara Quirt Sann, murdered by her client’s ex-husband.
“Fortunately, intimate partner homicides — of men and women — are often predictable and also preventable,” said Hilary Linton, a family lawyer, family mediator, family arbitrator, international mediation instructor and a director of the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO). “The problem is most people in and out of the justice system have not learned to recognize the predictors of this kind of risk nor the safety planning that can be done to minimize it.”
Here’s what we know for sure about intimate partner homicide and how separation and divorce make an uneasy situation much more volatile. Separation is the most dangerous time for a victim of violence. Consulting with a family lawyer increases the risk of murder for victims of domestic violence. As a result, family mediation and other family dispute resolution (FDR) processes are high risk when domestic violence or intimate partner violence is present.
At this year’s FDRIO Conference in Toronto, Nov. 19, 2018, Aruna Papp will give a keynote titled “Honour, Shame and Love: what Ontario FDR professionals can learn from a survivor of the culture of honour,” followed by a panel discussion that will amplify domestic violence issues.
“Screening for domestic violence — not just physical violence but all forms of coercion and control — is critical for your safety and that of your clients,” added Linton.
By way of definition, the term “family violence” includes: physical abuse including confinement and deprivation of necessities of life; sexual abuse; attempts to physically or sexually abuse; intimidation, harassment, threats, including to pets, property or third persons; unreasonable restrictions on financial or personal autonomy; stalking; and intentional property damage.
According to an Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee Report (2015) for the years 2003 to 2015, 67 per cent of cases reviewed were homicides while 33 per cent were homicide-suicides. Actual or pending separation was present in 68 per cent of cases.
Importantly, a history of violence was present in 74 per cent of cases, with the top risk factors identified as: obsessive behaviour; a depressed perpetrator; escalation of violence; prior threats to commit suicide; prior threats to the kill victim; an unemployed perpetrator; and a victim who had intuitive sense of fear that something terrible would happen to her (him) soon. But equally importantly, there was no known physical violence in 26 per cent of those cases. Which means family law professionals should learn to recognize all the significant risk factors, said Linton.
There are four patterns of intimate partner violence that have been identified by researchers:
- Situational couple violence is the most common type and it is perpetrated equally by both men and women who have poor ability to manage conflicts or anger. Situations or arguments escalate on occasion into physical violence. Most often, situational couple violence involves minor forms of violence. Fear of the other partner is not present.
- Separation-instigated violence, seen equally in men and women, happens when the couple has no prior history of violence. Rather, the violence is triggered by the traumatic separation, public humiliation, allegations of abuse, or the discovery of a lover in bed. As a result, violent acts are uncharacteristic and unexpected. Because they are atypical and sporadic, they leave the victim of violence confused, afraid and uncertain.
- Coercive control is when violence is embedded in a pattern of power and control. Control is comprised of intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing and blaming, use of children, economic abuse and threats. Abusers use any combination of tactics that work. A primary characteristic of the victim is fear. Coercive control is perpetrated mainly by men (in heterosexual relationships). There is a high likelihood that the victim will be injured, severely injured or even killed.
- Violent resistance is the immediate, reflexive reaction to an assault intended to protect the victim, the couple’s children, or other family members. Violent resistance is often ineffective. Some research shows women who defend themselves are twice as likely to be severely injured as those who do not.
This is part one of a series.
Jana Schilder is co-founder of The Legal A Team, a marketing, public relations and social media agency for lawyers and law firms. She also wrote the book on public relations for lawyers, available at Lexis Practice
Advisor (LPA). Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
by FDRIO member, Kathryn d’Artois
When a relationship breaks down, clients have several choices about the process they use to discuss and settle the legal issues that flow from the separation, including parenting rights and responsibilities, child support, spousal support and the division of their property. They may decide to:
- negotiate on their own;
- consult with lawyers for advice;
- retain lawyers to negotiate on their behalf;
- participate in mediation either on their own or with their lawyers at the table;
- participate in a collaborative family law process;
- hire an arbitrator to hear their evidence and decide any issue(s) that they are
unable to resolve through negotiations;
- go to court; and / or
- engage the services of a parenting coordinator to work with them over an extended period of time to interpret and implement their parenting plan and resolve ongoing disputes about parenting issues.
Being screened for domestic violence, power imbalances and capacity to participate in process is an important component of mediation, arbitration and parenting coordination. Screening is crucial because it allows the professionals who facilitate discussions between separated parties in mediation or who make decisions about each party’s legal rights and obligations to ensure that clients who participate in private dispute resolution processes do so voluntarily and have the emotional and cognitive capacity to make informed decisions about how specific legal issues are resolved. Screening is also a mechanism that designed to ensure that clients are emotionally and physically safe before, during and after all dispute resolution processes. No formal screening is required for court proceedings to take place.
by Rebecca Bromwich as appeared in The Lawyer’s Daily on, September 11, 2018
Working as director of the graduate diploma in conflict resolution program at Carleton University’s Department of Law and Legal Studies, I am grateful to have received a $45,000 research grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Access to Justice Fund to take a closer look at access to justice and co-parenting issues. I have a mixed team of law and legal studies students who are finding out what people need and what’s going wrong.
In addition to conducting case law research, over the next year, I will be circulating surveys and asking questions of those of you who are experts in the field of family law to learn more about your experiences. I look forward to hearing from you.
As lawyers, we are all familiar with what retired Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, among other jurists, has drawn attention to as a “crisis” situation where Canadians cannot get effective access to justice. There is certainly a crisis in access to justice in the family law area.
Despite the attention that has been drawn to the issue of access to justice, in family law matters, which make up about one-third of the cases before the courts across Canada, most parties have no counsel. As statistics have revealed, as those of us who practise in the area have experienced, and as Nicholas Bala and other family law scholars have discovered, the majority of parties coming before family courts are self-represented litigants, and the percentage of self-reps in family courts keeps increasing.
Online technology is growing in its capacities and ubiquity. This may — or may not — be an optimal moment to use technology to support human solutions that shift custody and access disputes out of the formal court milieu. We are seeing a confluence of events where online technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), is making it possible for tech solutions to be proffered to a growing variety of legal problems.
We are seeing burgeoning use of online dispute resolution for small claims matters, and even AI being used in the U.K. to resolve parking tickets. At the same time that we are witnessing increasing numbers of people in family law who simply can’t afford lawyers, so are now unrepresented in court.
Parties are voluntarily using legal tech apps in relation to family law matters, and, sometimes the courts are turning to requiring parties to use apps to help them manage ongoing custody issues.
These apps can help parents communicate by facilitating their sharing of scheduling requests, as well as photographs, medical records, school records and other material. Over the past decade, judges dealing with matters in family law issues across Canada have started to order parties to use privately operated, for-profit U.S.-based apps to manage their conflicts concerning custody and access issues.
These apps raise legal and sociolegal questions about how social interactions between family members are being affected by the use of tech; how well people using the tech understand their family law rights and responsibilities; and whether and how those technologies can be manipulated in problematic ways.
We plan to collaborate with lawyer Jennifer Reynolds of the Ottawa family law firm Fresh Legal as well as the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario and Legal Aid Ontario in disseminating the survey for this research. Our findings will be made publicly available next year.
At the same time, we are working with software engineering students who are looking at the parameters of possible not-for-profit, Ontario-based technical solutions. This law and society research is linked to a collaboration with Carleton’s software engineers to develop a non-profit application that could benefit Ontarians.
I am excited that the Law Foundation of Ontario has provided me with this opportunity to investigate what apps are being used, to facilitate communication between co-parents, in what numbers, and how users are experiencing this practice. Ultimately, I want to learn how these apps are affecting levels of conflict between co-parents or impacting the best interests of children.
The results of my study will be made available next summer.
To participate in the survey, click here.
Rebecca Bromwich is director of the graduate diploma in conflict resolution program at Carleton University’s Department of Law and Legal Studies in Ottawa. You can e-mail her at RebeccaBromwich@cunet.carleton.ca
by Matthew Krofchick
In this last article on the series about joint retainers, we will be looking at how using a joint retainer can be used to narrow down issues to help resolve difficult financial situations.
A common misconception that is joint retainers can only be used by parties that are acting amicably. In fact, one of the benefits of a joint retainer is that it helps parties narrow their arguments down to fact-based scenarios.
Let’s take a look at a simple example where the parties’ respective fact scenarios lead to significant monetary differences:
A Little Background
- Jack and Diane were married in 1982 in a small town in the rural heartland.
- In 1991 Diane opened a widget business of which she is the sole owner.
- Although Jack was a football star in high school, life went on and throughout their marriage Jack stayed home and cared for their kids.
- In 2013 Jack and Diane separated.
- Diane received personal benefits from her ownership of the business in the amount of $30,000 per year
- All corporate profits should be attributed to Diane.
- All of these expenses are business-related and they and any associated income tax gross-up, should therefore not be included in her income for support purposes
- The corporate profits are needed for reinvestment into the business.
In this particular example since Jack was a stay-at-home father for so many years he has no income. Hence, each dollar added to Diane’s income significantly affects the support Jack is entitled to. By conducting a review of the disputed expenses, and any related receipts, invoices, and other pertinent information a valuator can often provide clarity on which expenses would qualify as legitimate business expenses and which should be included in Diane’s income for support purposes.
Valuators can also opine on the appropriate amount of corporate profits to be included in Diane’s income, taking into consideration what amounts the business would likely need to retain in order to meet their ongoing obligations. This could include reviewing historical bank statements, discussing any major capital purchases the business may need to make, reviewing debt covenants, and comparing the business’s operations to those of its peers to determine how much cash it would need to retain to sustain their current operations.
Where the parties continue to disagree on the facts, the valuator may be tasked with preparing multiple scenarios so that both sides have access to the conclusions they may be looking for. This provides them with the full scope of information and the impact of each of their respective fact scenarios before entering into negotiations.
In the normal course of litigation each party’s valuator would prepare their respective reports, each of which could be critiqued by the opposing valuator (perhaps numerous times) with each treating these disputed issues differently.
If, on the other hand, the parties had agreed to a joint retainer there would be no need for competing reports. When a single valuator is retained we eliminate any arguments about methodology and credibility; and as discussed in earlier articles in this series, the cost savings of doing so can be substantial as a result.
Consider, for example, what could happen when two parties choose to retain their own competing experts. They may each be provided with what appears to be two wildly different conclusions but it is often the case that appearances can be deceiving, because once taxes and equalization are considered the gap between their positions closes significantly. Moreover, once the cost of these competing reports and any potential litigation are factored in they may come out of the process having spent a small fortune with little or no benefit to show for it.
So, the question for your case becomes: is it worth each party retaining their own expert as opposed to a jointly retained one?
Although not every case can be done with a joint retainer, the notion should be explored before being written off as an unworkable solution since the potential benefits can be significant.
Dr. Rebecca Bromwich of Carleton’s Department of Law and Legal Studies and FDRIO Board member, has received a $45,000 research grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Access to Justice Fund to take a closer look at U.S. apps that help separating parents manage child custody and child access. Dr. Bromwich is also the Director of the Graduate Diploma in Conflict Resolution program at Ottawa’s Carleton University.
In Ontario, judges in Family Courts have started to order parties to use privately operated, for-profit, U.S.-based apps to manage their conflicts concerning custody and access. This raises a number of legal issues, says Rebecca, observing that child custody and access apps are an unregulated space affecting minors in Canada.
There a quite a few parenting apps available: parenting apps that assign household chores to children, to teach them responsibility; cloud-based baby monitors; family organizers, shared calendars, and task list; nursing trackers; apps that tell you the whereabouts of your children; and even apps that keep toddlers busy in waiting rooms when no other entertainment is available.
“How are these apps being used? Are they being used as intended, or are parents using them for other things, too? Are there features additional features that parents might find useful? Do these apps capture correct legal information for our Ontario courts? How do they affect conflict resolution between spouses, or partners? And, how are these parenting apps affecting the best interests of the children?” asks Dr. Bromwich.
She says she will take a multi-constituent approach to her research, meaning consultation with practitioners including family lawyers, family mediators, family therapists as well as judges (to the extent possible), consulting the apps developers themselves, and parents already using these apps.
A special area of focus for her research on parenting apps will be cyber security, specifically the collection, storage, and access of private information.
“Hacking and privacy breaches are in the media every day. So, cyber security is a huge issue for these parenting apps,” says Rebecca.
There is now documented evidence that Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home apps, both home assistants that use artificial intelligence (AI), can be used by spouses, and third parties, for surveillance as well as for malfeasance, particularly domestic violence. The New York Times published an article titled Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse on June 23, 2018.
For example, these apps work with shared calendars; supposing that the calendar containing pick-up and drop-off times gets hacked by a third party and who uses that information to compromise or harm a child? Or the apps can somehow be linked to cameras, to spy on vulnerable children. Or if the apps capture the child’s medical information (the child is epileptic, diabetic, or has severe allergies, etc.), that information could also be used to compromise or harm a child.
This law and society research is linked to a collaboration with Carleton’s software engineers to develop a non-profit application that could benefit Ontarians.
“We have a mixed team of Law and Legal studies students who are finding out what people need and what’s going wrong,” she explains.
“Our findings will be made publicly available. At the same time, we are working with software engineering students who are looking at the parameters of possible not-for-profit, Ontario-based technical solutions.”
Bromwich says the results of the study should be available by summer 2019.
by Jana Schilder as appeared in The Lawyer’s Daily on June 4th, 2018
“There has been a paradigm shift in family law, away from the traditional adversarial role of solving family law disputes,” Justice Gloria Epstein, a judge of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, said in her keynote address to more than 120 attendees of the second bi-annual Unconference, held May 3, 2018, at the Centre for Social Innovation and organized by the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO).
“In the last century, no one thought about ADR [Alternative Dispute Resolution]. Lawyers had but one tool; a hammer, and every problem they had resembled a nail. Separation and divorce were seen as issues that could only be resolved by the courts. Mercifully, that is no longer the case,” she said.
Justice Epstein explained that today, only about one per cent of divorce cases end up in court and about three per cent of all family law cases go to trial. Based on her more than 25 years of experience in family law, and her entire legal career of 40 years, she expressed the view that many of even that three percent may not need to go to trial.
“In a family law trial, often even the ‘winning’ party is worse off, financially and otherwise. The family is certainly worse off,” said Justice Epstein.
“It took us a while to realize that the way to solve the vast amount of matrimonial disputes is through ADR. FDRIO members have helped us move along that path,” she said.
Justice Epstein pointed out that the trend away from court-based adjudication is affecting other areas of law as well, not just family law. But in her view, ADR is particularly well suited to family law for a number of reasons.
“At its core, a family is not about law. A normal family is about relationships — emotional, physical, and financial. Family members focus on how they feel, what they’re going to do, where they are going to do it, and how they are going to pay for it,” she told the Unconference audience.
“Family members don’t normally engage in legal discussions, unless you are part of my family — two of my three children are lawyers,” she quipped.
“So, it follows that the solution to the problems of a family lies primarily in bringing a ‘new order’ to these relationships. Sure, there is a legal framework that informs this new order but the focus is on re-structuring interpersonal relationships of a family,” explained Justice Epstein.
Mediators, arbitrators, parenting coordinators, financial consultants, and divorce coaches are well-suited to helping a family re-define its new relationships, she noted.
Unlike commercial litigation, family law cases are not funded by a corporation. Every dollar spent on family litigation is after-tax money. Every day, as legal costs climb, the financial resources available to the family diminish.
“Think about it, by the time litigants get to me, they have already spent a fortune, sometimes a large fortune,” she told the audience.
“I personally cringe at the idea that the people in front of me must write a cheque for any of the amounts I order for costs at the conclusion of family cases. But legal costs are only part of the financial impact,” said Justice Epstein. Other costs include time off work, travel costs to and from court, babysitting costs. And, of course, at the end of the separation and divorce process, having to finance two households instead of one.
Then there is another type of cost — a longer term cost — to the family’s relationships.
“In a family law hearing, much ‘dirty laundry’ is aired. Nasty things are said in open court by people about whom they claim they have once loved,” she explained.
And then a judge, who only has a superficial understanding of the dynamic of the particular family, has to make orders about such important things as which parent the children will reside with, who will make the major decisions affecting their lives, whether the matrimonial home will be sold, and how the financial resources will be shared.
And frequently the most contentious part of any separation agreement is something seemingly simple such as pick-up and drop-off of the children. It is contentious because the person burdened with the most demanding transportation obligations frequently feels taken advantage of.
“All these issues are important to the parties and they need people like you, mediators, arbitrators, and parenting coordinators, to help them settle their matter,” she said.
While you are able to legally sever your physical and financial relationships with your spouse, you will be a parent to your children, forever. Down the road, there will be graduations, weddings, and grandchildren. People need to make a choice: those events can be stressful or joyful. The determining factor in this may well be how the separation is handled. This is why mediation is so well-suited to family law because it helps preserve those important family relationships.
Justice Epstein told a story of how she was judicially mediating an acrimonious and long-standing dispute between a husband and wife. While the couple’s children were now adults, the parents still argued over the finances. While with the parties in the courthouse hallway, Justice Epstein had a chance encounter with her ex-husband, who was counsel in another matter. It was clear he had a terrible cold. Justice Epstein dashed to her office for cold medication and a glass of water and they chatted amiably about her ex’s upcoming trip with his spouse.
When she returned to the couple, she explained what had just happened.
“And I told them, ‘When I get through with you, you’ll be on hugging terms with your ex, too’,” she said. The case settled.
Jana Schilder is co-founder of The Legal A Team, a marketing, public relations and social media agency for lawyers and law firms. She also wrote the book on public relations for lawyers, available at Lexis Practice Advisor (LPA).
Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO) and Family Mediation Canada (FMC) ink “Associate Agreement”
TORONTO, ONTARIO – May 22, 2018 – Family Mediation Canada (FMC) and the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO) have signed an agreement to promote jointly family mediation and other forms of family dispute resolution. Each organization will be an “associate” of the other.
Family Mediation Canada has about 450 members from all across Canada. FDRIO has about 200 members in Ontario.
“FMC and FDRIO are a great fit. We complement each other and we advocate for the same things. Since we both promote family mediation rather than the court-based divorce process, it made sense to join efforts to promote benefits of mediation,” says Lorne Wolfson, chair of FDRIO and a family law lawyer at Torkin Manes LLP.
“FMC and FDRIO both share the same goals: to support those in alternate dispute resolution fields to assist their clients in settling family law disputes outside of traditional litigation. This saves time, money and emotional resources, but most importantly, reduces conflict between parents which puts the emotional well-being of children first,” says Tamara Bodnaruk-Wide, president of FMC and director of AXIS Family Mediation, which is the court connected mediation service at 7 family courts in Ontario.
Highlights of the associate agreement include:
- Each organization will have a member on the other’s Board of Directors.
- FMC and FDRIO will co-sponsor lobbying efforts regarding legislation and the expansion and funding of mediation and other forms of family dispute resolution.
- Co-sponsoring of seminars and training programs, where feasible
- Coordination of communication and cross-promotion of relevant initiatives and programs.
There are many synergies between the two organizations. In addition to traditional certification in both Family Relations and Comprehensive family mediation, FMC offers its members training in four other highly specialized areas including: Elder Mediation; International Custody Mediation; Aboriginal Community Mediation; and Child Protection. FDRIO offers its members Ontario’s only professional certification in the growing field of Parenting Coordination as well as professional family mediation and arbitration designations.
When a couple divorces, going to court is rarely the best option. Alternative dispute resolution methods include mediation, arbitration, and collaborative practice. While the Canadian divorce rate has remained constant at about 38% for decades, 80% of those in Family Court are self-represented, according to Lorne Sossin, Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School.
There is a dire need for Ontarians to know about mediation, arbitration and med-arb, and to know where to find these services. For example, mediation is free in every family court, offering litigants the chance to settle limited issues before the court; here is a list, by city, of mediators made available by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. And the Ontario government funds and regulates subsidized mediation across the province for everyone who is not in court.
About Family Mediation Canada
Established in 1985, Family Mediation Canada is the national voice for family mediation, offering varying levels and types of internationally recognized certification. Setting standard for professional conduct and ethics, FMC helps mediators help families.
FMC helps to shape public policy through ongoing research on issues impacting family mediation. FMC consults and collaborates with Federal and Provincial Governments on mediation-related issues as well as other like-minded organizations and agencies.
FMC offers its members professional development through conferences, webinars and other continuing education, networking opportunities, peer support, newsletters, discounted brochure and professional publications and other resources. http://www.fmc.ca [website is under renovation].
About Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO)
FDRIO is a not-for-profit designed to bring all Ontario professionals in the family dispute resolution field together for more powerful advocacy about the many benefits of resolving cases out of court.
FDRIO aims to help educate the public about the costs and benefits of each dispute resolution process available in family law cases. It seeks to help the public identify when going to court is the best option, and to provide information that will help unrepresented parties better navigate the legal system.
FDRIO offers its members: harmonized training and certification standards; progressive standards of practice for FDR Professionals; discounted entry to its conference; networking, volunteer, and marketing opportunities; free webinars; opportunity to participate in sections, committees, and the Board of directors. www.fdrio.ca
by, Triena McGuirk as appeared in The Lawyer’s Daily on April 16th, 2018
Separation and divorce, herein referred to as separation, is a human experience in a legal world. The dissolution of a union is a legal and emotional process for our clients, as they dismantle their old lives and embark upon building a new life for themselves and their child or children. Emotional harm to children through separation is an insidious form of maltreatment. It is subtle and slow, but with time and consistency the presence of adult conflict through separation can eat away at the fabric of children’s mental health, parental bonds and the healthy functioning of families as a whole.
I am of the opinion, as helping professionals we not only have the responsibility to ensure our clients are informed about the law in separation, we are also accountable to inform our clients about the longitudinal implications of adversarial conflict.
Conflict is inevitable in separation; however, it doesn’t have to be adversarial. The act of separation doesn’t cause risk of emotional harm to children and youth, it is the manner by which conflict is manifested and addressed. The emotional roller coaster that accompanies separation is a shared human experience, which impacts all persons regardless of demographics.
By acknowledging that this is an emotional (and legal) journey at the onset of separation we can create awareness for our clients about how to minimize risk of emotional harm and open pathways for our clients to separate well and access support to manage emotions, without shame or stigma.
What does emotional harm look like? Some signs of conflict that place children at risk of emotional harm:
- Speaking negatively about the other parent, other parent’s family/friends;
- Blaming the other parent for the separation;
- Arguing in the presence of the child (i.e. in person, telephone, e-mail or text. Children will seek out information);
- Sending messages through the child;
- Treating children like adults (even teenagers);
- Ignoring the other parent during the child’s events (i.e., school concerts, sporting events, extracurriculars, etc.);
- Not permitting the child to move between households with their belongings;
- Interrupting time with the other parent (i.e., calling often, planning activities of interest on the other parent’s time);
- Not permitting the child to attend family functions with the other parent (i.e., family reunions, weddings, etc.) outside the regular access schedule;
- Speaking about adult content to, or in proximity to, children (i.e., details of divorce, finances, court, conflict);
- Asking the child to keep secrets from the other parent;
- Making the child feel bad about enjoying time with the other parent, deterring child from talking about the other parent;
- Using guilt or pressure for children to choose between parents or have the same relationship with each parent;
- Child refusing to see one parent, with no clear reason as to why they do not want to; Questioning children about the other parent, or the other parent’s household. Asking children to spy;
- Asking children where they want to live.
Possible mental health and/or behavioural concerns for children and youth who have been exposed to ongoing adult conflict, and are at risk of emotional harm:
- Regression behaviours (i.e., return to co-sleeping, thumb sucking, incontinence, baby talk);
- Difficulty with transitions (this can be a challenge in separation without conflict);
- Parental alignment;
- Depression, generalized anxiety and separation anxiety;
- Increased aggression, defiance and displaced anger; Withdrawal from activities of interest;
- Quick to tear or cry;
- Disengagement from academics or reduced performance;
- Disengagement from extracurricular activities; Engagement in high risk behaviours;
- Poor problem-solving skills;
- Poor social skills/peer relationships;
- Non-suicidal self-injurious behaviours;
- Suicidal ideation;
- Drug/alcohol use/misuse;
- Eating disorders;
Considerations for parenting plans to help minimize risk of emotional harm:
- Access community or private services about co-parenting through separation;
- Mutually agreed upon codes of conduct such as, not to speak disparagingly about the other parent or allow others to do so in the presence or proximity to the child, not to send messages through the child, etc;
- Access exchanges are neither the time nor the place to discuss parenting issues;
- Determine response time for all non-urgent matters (i.e., 24 hours);
- Limits to length and frequency of non-urgent correspondence. Filter correspondence for tone (i.e., emotional vs. logical statements;
- Use of communication tools such as text, e-mail, Our Family Wizard;
- Awareness of statements that are indicative of conflict (i.e., “you always,” “my child,” “you never” insults);
- Encourage “I” statements;
- Mutual agreement regarding where access exchanges take place (i.e., police station, school, house to house);
- Communication log about the child’s care, particularly if the child is younger or has extenuating needs;
- Identify mutually agreed upon third parties for access exchanges, if needed;
- Utilize the support of a clinician versed in custody and access every few years, if unable to do so independently or as needed to review parenting plans;
- Utilize joint calendars regarding through tools such as Our Family Wizard or Google Calendars; Guidelines for parental attendance at extracurricular events, parent teacher conference, etc. (i.e., staggered entry, sit with each other, in proximity, picture with child after);
- Ensure family/friends/new partners attending child’s events can refrain from behaviours indicative of conflict;
- Children can move between homes with their belongings;
- Idiosyncrasies for exchange of the child’s items to be determined by the parents;
- Consistency in rules and discipline between households;
- Parental agreement regarding vacation, extracurricular registration, etc., prior to informing the child;
- Determine guidelines for changes to the access schedule and make up of time;
- Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with the associated parent.
Conflict is inevitable in separation; however we can create a culture of awareness that by withdrawing from adversarial exchanges, between separating parties, we can nurture the new co- parenting relationship, complement the legal process and reduce risk for emotional harm to children and youth.
Triena McGuirk is a social worker in private practice with a unique triangulation of knowledge working with children and families through CAS, the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, and education.
Visit Family Fundamental or e-mail email@example.com.
by FDRIO Board Member and Certified Business Valuator Matthew Krofchick
This is a continuation of the discussion we started in a previous article about using joint retainers for family law cases. In that article, I introduced the concept of a joint retainer and discussed some of its benefits and shortcomings. In this installment I’d like to discuss what we need to do to get family law professionals to adopt joint retainers as their new norm.
When confronted with any change we have a tendency to stick with what we know and have relied on in the past and joint retainers are no exception. Many family law practitioners have spent their careers litigating family law matters instead of looking into other alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) techniques. In fact I recently spoke with a seasoned family lawyer who told me they were afraid of losing the tactical advantage of hiring their own CBV if they started entering into joint retainers.
So as we contemplate the shift to ADR we need to look at the entire process including the use of other professionals. In Collaborative Practice this is call the, ‘interdisciplinary model’ and it can produce fantastic results for clients.
So, the first step in turning a No into a Yes is to identify the key points of contention that either side (separating party/family law client/lawyer) may have with using a joint retainer. I will discuss the top reasons below and how to address each of them;
- I have never had any involvement with the business and I don’t trust my spouse to provide the CBV all the information.
This actually turns out to be an excellent reason to use a joint retainer. If there’s a fear that in the normal course of litigation disclosure will not be provided without a significant investment of time, energy, and cost then using a joint retainer allows full access to information provided by both sides.Although the thinking is counterintuitive, since the clients have a sense of ownership over the matter they tend to be more forthcoming in providing information as opposed to it being sought through a motion and a joint retainer this expedites the process.
2) My spouse does not believe a business valuation is needed. They say they know the value of their business or my spouse thinks the business is worth a fraction of what I think it’s worth.
It is essential to explain the importance of having an impartial expert opine on the value and the benefits it may have. Specifically, that as a neutral party the expert is there to provide an unbiased opinion so the value they provide is not in favour of either spouse. Secondly, a brief education on how business are valued provides the client with an understanding of why the value that they “know” it is worth is unlikely to be the same as what a CBV will come up with.
Lastly, it is just as important to explain to both spouses that without going through this exercise how does one really know the value of their business? I tend to use the example of a business with a fair market value of $100,000 where one spouse believes it’s worth $150,000 and the others spouse believes it’s worth $50,000. Clearly, both spouses cannot be right and if they are wrong (depending on the circumstances of the case) it will cost them $50,000 on the net family property statement. So the question is are they $50,000 sure they are making the right decision?
3) We can’t agree on anything. How are we going to decide on a CBV?
The lawyers of each party should recommend a CBV and provide them each with the same information about the case. Each CBV should be allowed to have questions answered and quote on the assignment. Both lawyers may want to speak to the valuators to assess their understanding of the case and see if it is a fit for their clients. Ultimately and with consent from their clients, the lawyers will select the valuator.
4) Who pays?
I actually touched on this point in my previous article but it’s certainly worth repeating. Who ends up paying what will change depending on the particular circumstances of the case. Any allocation of costs is possible from a 50-50 split to one side assuming all the costs, but how the costs of any specific matter end up being divided will depend on the product of each spouse’s ability to pay and their desire for the disclosure and confidence in the process that a valuation provides.
5) The spouses aren’t speaking to each other and can’t even be in the same room.
One of the advantages of a joint retainer is that it doesn’t require spouses to be in the same room or even on the same email chain. Flexibility is key to addressing the specific needs of the clients. Figuring out their relationship dynamic and accommodating it is key to allowing them to benefit from a joint retainer without putting them in a position that adds more tension to their separation proceedings.
From a valuator’s perspective a joint retainer may mean more time spent managing the client relationship but it also provides the CBV with the tools to potentially access more information than they could have had they only been retained by one party, and benefits both spouses usually by way of lower fees, less fighting, and a quicker turnaround time.
In the next and final part of this series I’ll discuss how a joint retainer can reduce conflict in matrimonial disputes where the parties disagree on basic fact scenarios.
by FDRIO Board Member and Certified Business Valuator Matthew Krofchick
With FDRIO’s bi-annual Unconference taking place on May 3rd, 2018, I thought I’d write an article about a different way of looking at the use of Chartered Business Valuators (“CBV”) in a family law situation in the context of FDRe-think the Future.
All too often CBVs are called in late in the process and told to base their report on a set of assumptions given to them by one of the separating parties. The CBV will then do their due diligence and ultimately write a report based on the assumptions provided to them (within reason). What often happens next is that the other party will hire a different CBV to critique the first CBV’s report, which can often lead to the first CBV being retained to provide a critique of that critique, and so on.
Needless to say, this back-and-forth could go on for quite some time and as it does it becomes very costly and hugely time-consuming, with clients often feeling as if this matter could go on indefinitely. While there may be very specific situations where this process is both necessary and unavoidable it is often an unnecessary use of both time and money.
One solution we often suggest to clients is the use of joint retainers, which are used in the Collaborative Practice model and in some mediations.
A joint retainer as the name implies is an arrangement whereby both parties in a marriage breakdown retain the same expert together, thus eliminating the need for competing reports from numerous experts. So why isn’t this the industry standard instead of the exception?
Although jointly retained, there is no obligation for the expert’s fees to be shared equally (or at all) by the parties retaining them. This is an important feature of a joint retainer because it provides a sense of ownership to both spouses where only one has the resources to pay for the valuation assignment. Regardless of how costs are shared both spouses have access to the CBV, can ask for clarification on any part of their report, and are included in all communications.
Both parties also have the opportunity to review all documents used in the preparation of the CBV’s report. This can be particularly significant to the non-owner spouse because it provides them with timely disclosure of information relevant to the valuation assignment, which although required by law can be a difficult and costly exercise in certain situations.
Will this arrangement work for everyone? The answer is unfortunately, ‘no’. In order for a joint retainer to be effective there has to be a minimum level of trust between the parties, thus ensuring that both abide by the results of the CBV’s findings. If one party has a significant power imbalance and this has not been recognized and addressed with the CBV it can sometimes lead to the perception that this individual has co-opted the CBV to view things through their lens and as a result, the other spouse may not view the CBV’s report as independent and free from bias.
On your next file where a CBV is required to complete a business valuation, income determination, or tracing analysis, consider whether both parties might be able to retain the CBV together. If the answer is no, ask what you can do to change this answer into a yes.
In Part 2 of this article we will explore how to turn a “No, this will not work into – Yes it will.”
by Michael McKiernan, as appeared in The Lawyer’s Daily on Feb. 26th, 2018.
A new professional designation for parenting co-ordinators will help bring certainty to the growing field for both consumers and practitioners, says a senior member of the group that created it.
“It was in many ways a bit of a Wild West in Ontario before,” says Hilary Linton, vice president of the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario, which began offering its new certified specialist program in parenting co-ordination in 2017.
The technique is generally used to deal with disagreements between the parties after a final parenting agreement has been reached or a court order is already in place. Even after settling some of the big-picture issues in litigation, Linton explains, disputes over smaller details such as school choices, vacation plans, after-school activities and many others can drag on for years.
Parenting co-ordinators trace their roots to certain states south of the border in the early 1990s, according to Linton, who adds that Ontario lawyers and judges began embracing the concept more than a decade ago.
Although FDRIO’s voluntary program is not a prerequisite for the acceptance of retainers in Ontario, Linton says it boosts the options for parenting co-ordinators in the province who want extra training.
“There was a lot of existing material out there, but nothing was specific to Ontario. This sets a pretty solid standard and has a community of supportive professionals behind it,” she explains.
“This is very challenging work, and it didn’t seem right to me that professionals out there doing some of the most difficult jobs in family law had the least amount of guidance to support them.”
Linton says the need for specific guidance was enhanced because the evolution of parenting co-ordination in Ontario has followed an idiosyncratic route compared with other jurisdictions.
While many U.S. states reference the process specifically in their family law legislation, Ontario law makes no mention of it.
Instead, private contracts between parents and parenting co-ordinators dictate the terms of the process.
Parenting co-ordinators in Ontario will generally try to mediate a settlement over the issues before making a binding decision via arbitration if one is required, which is in turn recognized as a form of secondary arbitration under the Family Law Act.
“The other thing we noticed was a growing amount of case law evidencing the need for education,” Linton says.
In some cases, she says, disputed decisions indicated the parenting co-ordinator had an inadequate grasp of the arbitration process, while others suggested the parents lacked understanding of the agreements they were getting into.
In the recent case of Jerova v. Benincasa, the father of a four-year-old child appealed a parenting co-ordinator’s decision to side with the mother on the issue of which elementary school their young boy should attend.
The appellant argued, among other things, that the parenting co-ordinator was biased against him and ignored evidence.
“I get the clear impression that the appellant and his counsel, during the arbitration portion of the PC process, insisted on a very strict adherence to the rules of procedure and evidence that one would expect in a court proceeding.
Unfortunately for the appellant, that is not the dispute resolution process that he agreed to engage in,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Julie Audet wrote in her decision dismissing the appeal.
“The role of this Court, in the context of this appeal, was to ensure that he was treated equally and fairly, and that he had an opportunity to present his case and to respond to the respondent’s case within the procedural framework clearly set out in the PC Agreement. I find that he did,” she wrote.
Elizabeth Hyde, a former chairwoman of the Ontario Bar Association’s ADR section and an instructor of the FDRIO program, says the legal intricacies of Ontario’s particular brand of parenting co-ordination may have contributed to the growth in demand for practitioners who are also qualified as a lawyer. Historically, she says, parenting co-ordination was conducted predominantly by social workers.
“We tend to spend a bit less time on the mediation and consensus-building phase. The last people who came to me told me they wanted a lawyer who could interpret the law and make a quick decision so that they could move on with their lives,” Hyde says.
“That’s easier for lawyers because of the greater level of comfort we have with the arbitration process.”
Linton says the individual needs of the parents in dispute will inform their choice between a parenting co-ordinator with a legal or social work background.
“Every case is different, and some people respond better to a therapeutic approach,” she says.
“When you have greater clinical issues at play, it’s going to be more valuable to have a person with experience in that area.
“The most important thing is that everyone understands what they’re getting into right from the very start,” Linton adds.
Marianne Cuhaci, a non-lawyer parenting co-ordinator with more than a decade of experience and a master’s degree in social work, warns her colleagues not to underestimate the legal knowledge required for the job.
“I don’t think one background is better than the other, but you can’t go in thinking ‘I have a lot of mental health experience, therefore, I can do it,’” she says.
“Ideally, you’ll have a multi-disciplinary approach, and there are situations where lawyers and mental health professionals work together.”
The FDRIO course devotes 30 hours of its content to training on family law issues, although lawyers seeking the designation are exempted from that portion of the program. No matter which route they take to the profession, Hyde says, parenting co-ordinators need to have built up a foundation of experience dealing with high-conflict family cases.
“I tell people they need at least five years before even thinking about parenting co-ordination. That takes people by surprise, because they think it looks easier than mediation,” she says.
“But this is not regular mediation.”
Although many of the disputes that come before parenting co-ordinators appear minor to outside observers, Hyde says the stakes frequently could not feel higher to the parties involved, who have often been fighting consistently for years.
“These are literally the most challenging situations in terms of the level of conflict,” she says.
According to Cuhaci, the emotional nature of the subject matter exposes parenting co-ordinators to an elevated level of professional and personal risk from angry parties on the wrong end of a ruling.
“The number of complaints to law societies and other regulatory bodies is becoming a big problem because of the way it interferes with our ability to work,” says Cuhaci.
She would like Ontario follow the lead of some U.S. jurisdictions, where legislation grants parenting co-ordinators some measure of immunity from actions relating to their decisions.
“We’re making decisions in a quasi-judicial role, but we don’t have any protection,” she adds.
Linton says she’s also campaigning for further recognition of the role of parenting co-ordinators in Ontario law.
“There’s a lot more that could be done in Ontario at the legislative level to support parenting co-ordinators and improve the standard for family arbitration as well,” she says, adding that Prince Edward Island and British Columbia are setting an example to other Canadian jurisdictions.
“Both have not only established standards but also oversight of some kind from government or regulatory bodies on those standards.”
Jonathan Richardson, a partner at Augustine Bater Binks LLP in Ottawa, says parenting co-ordination can be “a godsend in a high-conflict file.”
“One of the primary problems is the lack of available parenting co-ordinators or the delay when they are needed,” he says.
“An increase in specialized parenting co-ordinators can only be a good thing and will hopefully help remove some of the high-conflict family cases which remain in the court system.”
Richardson encourages family lawyers to contemplate using parenting co-ordination at an early stage in a case.
“Most files [that] will be high conflict with respect to custody and access issues will be apparent early in the proceeding,” he says.
“It would be preferable to get those cases into a system where the parties can get the assistance and adjudication they need quickly before their resources are exhausted and co-ordination is a last alternative or no longer an alternative as funds which could have been spent on co-ordination have instead been spent on lawyers in court.”
by Vinita Puri
My name is Vinita Puri. I am a proud Social Worker and Family Mediator who has been working in the social service field for nearly 20 years. I have always been passionate about social change and restorative justice processes. Growing up in a South Asian home, I revered the concept of “ahimsa” or nonviolence. Violence is any type of harm done; intentional or no intentional to Self or Others. My personal values therefore align with Social Work and ADR principles and processes.
Social Workers add great value to the field of ADR (especially FDR). The training and skills I have acquired in the areas of bio-psychosocial assessment; interpersonal communication; psycho-educational treatment and therapeutic alliance building have helped me to foster healthier communication and dispute resolution between parties. The goal of any ADR process is to prevent or reduce further harm to self and others. This requires each party to reflect and evaluate on the nature of the conflict and the psychological manifestation of beliefs and thoughts which evoke emotional reactions and influence the way in which conflict arises. Education is fundamental to any Social Work practice. As the parties develop these skills, they gain confidence and motivation to apply them. Hence, these individuals will likely have productive and effective mediation if they developed conflict resolution skills beforehand.
Social Work practice provides a wide range of psychotherapy and psycho-education techniques to challenge cognitive distortions and wrongful appraisals of reality. Overtime, these individuals may be able to gain insight and awareness into their emotional responses and behavioural patterns. Social work within the mediation process can motivate clients to increase their awareness of how they may contribute to their relationship problems. This involves utilizing a strengths based, anti-oppressive approach to counseling which involves non-judgmental, neutral and empathetic support. Social workers see themselves as “helpers” not “experts”. In fact, a core value of Social Work is self-determination. In other words, individuals are the “experts” of their own lives and we are here to provide unconditional positive regard to empower individuals to creatively problem solve and develop resources to resolve their own problems.
In my clinical experience, I have found that victims and perpetrators of violence (physical, emotional, spiritual, social, economic, etc.) often get stuck in cognitive distortions and unhelpful thought patterns. It is the narratives that they have captured through emotional memory and the processing of their past traumas which influence the ways in which they appraise situations and ultimately how they behave. As a result, they continue to experience similar conflict and relationship discord and get “stuck”. Successfully addressing complex psycho-social problems can involve evidence based treatment protocols such as Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) to facilitate the processing of unresolved emotional traumas. Healing needs to occur within individuals so that they can relate to others in healthier ways. Individuals who do not take the time to reflect on their past and heal from old wounds get stuck in cognitive distortion patterns and continue to use infective coping strategies (e.g. substance use, self-harm, etc.) which can only serve to exacerbate problems.
In sum, I feel honoured and privileged to be a Social Worker who is also an ADR professional. I truly believe conflict is inevitable and that most people want to prevent harm to themselves and others. Despite this, many individuals find themselves chronically engaging in high conflict relationships. There are a range of biological, psychological and sociological risk factors as well as protective factors that can influence the ways in which individuals appraise the problems the face and the solutions that they are able to generate. As a Social Worker, I use comprehensive clinical bio-psychosocial assessment to explore and identify the root causes of conflict and distress that are causing harm to the individual and his/her relationships. With this awareness, I can work towards motivating clients to learn skills for effective communication and self-regulation. Developing these skills is essential to assuring the mediation process is successful.
As the Clinical Director of Relationship Boutique Inc., I have the opportunity to develop programs and services that integrate these values. The values of Social Work and ADR align with my personal and spiritual values of “ahimsa” or non-violence. For more information, please visit relationshipboutique.com
by, Abi Ajibolade RP
Executive Director, The Redwood…For Women and Children Fleeing Abuse
The Redwood provides programs and services to support women and children to live and thrive without abuse, homelessness and poverty. We work for social change through learning, collaboration and advocacy, and envision a socially just world where systems of oppression are eliminated and women and children are free from all forms of violence.
As advocates working with women to end GBV, we hold deeply our values of putting women and children at the centre of all that we are and do. We must continually examine power as it impacts decision-making within the organization and ensure that we embody our opposition to oppression and marginalization that women may encounter in a complex and often punitive system. We are first and foremost dedicated to our commitment to women-centered and trauma informed practice which will work toward reducing harm and supporting healing and self-determination.
One tool that we use to ensure that we work in partnership with the woman while optimizing her safety, is our SARM (Safety Assessment and Risk Management) planning tool. We are constantly introducing new ways that we can implement our SARM procedures to enable empowerment of the client while addressing her particular safety needs and hurdles while interacting with the greater system.
According to Statistic Canada, only 38% of women experiencing abuse connect with social services, such as crisis lines, shelter, community centres, counsellors, women’s centres and support groups. Less than one-third of women report their experiences of intimate partner violence to the police. Based on the latest statistics from the MCSS, last year approximately 51,700 crisis calls were received on crisis lines for women, in Ontario alone.
In reflection of the presenting concerns that lead many women to limit their interaction with the criminal justice and child protective services, we have recently been in a stage of re-assessing our SARM and focus on advocacy to incorporate alternative approaches to women’s involvement with these systems. A major factor that has propelled us to change our strategy is hearing women’s wariness over the years, to disclose their abuse experiences to shelters, the legal system, law enforcement or other institutions and organizations. And these statistics reflect this. There is an underlying sentiment of having little confidence and trust in the system, particularly from racialized and indigenous women. Women hesitate to involve the police and are reluctant to go through the traditional court process because it would reinforce negative stereotypes, and only add to existing high incarceration rates. Distrust in the legal process is also contributed to by a history of unjust apprehension of children by child protective services. These fears are very often the reasons why some women feel like they have no other choice but to remain in an abusive relationship.
One of the discussions we have had over the recent years has been the favoring of alternative routes to the court system such as mediation. There are a multitude of reasons why a survivor of GBV may choose to access such an alternative in cases of abuse and child protection including the great stress placed on both parties that may exacerbate the abuser’s risk for re-victimization of the woman.
However, there appears to be a consensus within the Violence Against Women sector that mediation is not suited for domestic violence situations. The reasons which make mediation contentious are important issues. However, we need to also consider the larger context by asking ourselves, “do traditional court procedures provide any greater protection?” The answer is no.
Mediation may actually be better, or no worse than the alternatives. When we take a look at the main critiques of mediation in terms of where it falls short in protecting the interest of the vulnerable, it becomes apparent that many of these reasons also stand true for the courts system; firstly, the lack of understanding regarding the dynamics of intimate partner violence and secondly, the power imbalances between the parties allowing the abuser to continue to go on to intimidate and manipulate. In fact, it can be argued that professionals that choose to mediate cases involving domestic violence have extensive education in the dynamics and intricacies present when working with survivors of GBV and their abusers, which is not expected of professionals in the court system. Furthermore, there is less likelihood that the abuser can exercise power imbalance apparent in many cases including where the abuser can employ high-level attorneys that are inaccessible to the woman and are used to intimidate the survivor or orchestrate a scene where she is discredited as unstable, unfit or deceitful. This can be wholly avoided when the route of mediation is available to the woman.
At the heart of the matter is the importance of practicing from a trauma informed client-centred approach; one, which acknowledges a woman’s life experiences, and respects and supports their right to choose the direction of their own lives. Automatically excluding victims of violence from mediation falsely assumes that all victims are not capable of promoting their interests and those of their children. Such an assumption can be disempowering in and of itself. Ultimately, this stands at the centre of the issue, so we need to ask ourselves, “who should be making such decisions when we rule out mediation?”