One of the ‘four pillars’ of court reform announced by Ontario’s Attorney General, Chris Bentley, last year (2010) was to provide up front information for people who were suffering from marriage breakdown. The way in which Minister Bentley’s strives to provide this information is the “MIP”. Many separating couples simply do not know the range of options open to them and do not have enough knowledge about the law or the resources in their community which are there to assist them when their intimate relationships fail.

The Mandatory Information Program has been in place in Toronto Ontario for several years. It has now been expanded to the 17 ‘family court sites’ in Ontario and is about to be expanded further to all 40 Ontario Court sites.  These programs are conducted by the mediation groups which have been granted individual contracts with the Ministry of the Attorney General to provide the MIP as part of their overall services to the family courts in Ontario.

Couples who head off to family court to resolve their issues will now have to attend a MIP session. If they do not, then they won’t be able to proceed through the court. For reasons of safety and decorum at the sessions, separate sessions are arranged for each of the parties in a case so that both are not in attendance at the same time. So “the Applicant” in a case does not show up at the same time as “the Respondent” in the same case.

The sessions are ‘generic’ in that they do not discriminate between the type of case confronting the parties. The information is vast and informative, but people who have no children must attend sessions designed for those who do have children. Those who have little or no property must attend sessions designed to educate those who do have property. This is unfortunate but is a result of the limited resources presently available to the government of the day.

The script for the program is quite detailed and covers all issues likely to be faced in the family court from the law to the processes required by The Family Court Rules. It takes about 1.5 to 2.0 hours to complete attendance at the program. Those who go learn a lot about family law, the effect of relationship breakdowns on children and the various methods such as mediation, collaborative law and arbitration as ways in which to resolve their disputes outside the court process.

One of the main goals of the program was to actually promote mediation and other dispute resolution processes as an alternative to the court based model. Mediators are very excited about the opportunities created for them by the information spread to the public through the MIP. The hope is that many cases which currently would naturally head to court can be diverted early on to mediation and, as a result, a speedier and much less costly resolution of the issues facing the separating couples.

If the MIP is to be of any long term benefit, there needs to be quality resources within each of the 40 communities to lend credibility to the promises made at the information sessions. In each community, there must be many good competent mediators, mental health professionals and lawyers willing to provide these other good methods of dispute resolution at affordable rates. As we have emphasized on our blog many times, the adversarial system of family law dispute resolution must lose its lustre as the first choice for families and children caught up in the trauma of separation and divorce. Hopefully, the MIP will begin to spread the word and everyone will be better off for it.

If you want to learn more about Barriston Dispute Resolution Services, please visit our website and follow the link.