With nearly four in 10 marriages expected to end in divorce, a trip down the
aisle is a bit of a gamble. A game of chance.
And in keeping with that theme, Ontario’s largest lawyers’ organization is
suggesting a novel way to pay for changes to the expensive and
time-consuming family justice system.
A provincial lottery.
In a report presented to Attorney General Chris Bentley on Monday night, the
Ontario Bar Association — along with two mediators’ associations — is also
proposing a “user charge” be added to the cost of marriage licences issued
in the province.
The report, entitled “Home Court Advantage,” suggests the money could help
finance its recommendations for reducing the cost and acrimony associated
with family law proceedings.
The recommendations call for more up-front information for separating
spouses about what to expect from the legal process, an expansion of
mediation services and the introduction of case workers to “triage” families
according to the intensity of their conflict.
Mediation would become the preferred option with only the most difficult
cases going to court.
“The current system for our clients is very frustrating,” said lawyer Tom
Dart, president of the Ontario Association for Family Mediation and a
co-author of the report.
“Cases are being delayed and a lot of conflict has developed and solidified
before people really know what their options are.”
Earlier this month, Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler called for
mandatory mediation in all family law cases.
The recommendations from the bar association and mediators’ groups grew out
of a two-day summit in Toronto last fall, which was attended by senior
judges, family law lawyers and some clients.
Bentley came to the first session, Dart recalled, and was “pretty blunt”
there wouldn’t be much government funding available, so summit participants
would have to come up with “creative” ideas for financing reforms.
Channelling a portion of marriage licence fees to fund divorce services may
not conjure up the happiest of images, but similar schemes have been
implemented in Indiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Connecticut, where
marriage licence surcharges have been used to fund rape prevention and
victim assistance programs.
The surcharges have ranged from $3 to $38.
In Ontario, the cost of a marriage licence varies by location. It’s $130 in
Toronto, $120 in the Town of Halton Hills and $135 in Guelph.
Nauman Khan, a spokesman for Bentley, said licence surcharges and a lottery
aren’t options for the government at the moment.
In an interview earlier Monday, Bentley told the Star that
while “there isn’t a lot of extra government money around,” his ministry has
already implemented some of the report’s recommendations.
Mandatory family law information sessions are already in place in
Brampton and Milton, and will be running in 20 locations around the province
by early next year.
Bentley added he is “delighted” with the report generally and that it
dovetails with the government’s objective of “encouraging and supporting
people in resolving (family law) issues in the least combative way possible,
as quickly as possible.”
The report also suggests that when a spouse defaults on support payments the
federal government step in and make the payment, then go after the deadbeat
payor for reimbursement, along with a tax penalty.