For several years, the Ontario Superior Court, Family Division in our County and through the province have faced administrative challenges in dealing with ever increasing numbers of files.  The challenge has been further exacerbated by an increasing incidents of self represented parties who are, understandably, not familiar with the court procedural rules and necessary pleadings and required filings.

Part of the recent government initiatives in addressing this issue has been the institution in the County of the appointment of dispute resolution officers ( “ DROs”).

DROs are, in essence, court sanctioned lay mediators who work within the court process at an early procedural phase in an attempt to assist litigating parties to resolve their legal issues.

A number of experienced family law practitioners have recently been appointed as DROs for the City of Barrie. Commencing January 5th, 2011, all parties involved in Motions to Change (i.e.: varying child/spousal support/custody/access) must have an initial appearance in front of a DRO, whether the parties are represented by lawyers or not.

The DRO conferences are to be held every Wednesday morning and afternoon and Friday morning and afternoon in a DRO conference room at the Barrie Courthouse. The DRO is, at that time, to provide an early, neutral valuation of the case. The DRO can assist the parties in settling the case, narrowing the outstanding issues or ensuring that the parties, moving forward, complete any outstanding pleadings and supporting documentation relating to the Motion to Change.

In the event that the parties are able to reach a settlement ,or partial settlement, at the DRO conference, the parties are to prepare Minutes of Settlement or partial Minutes of Settlement and a duty family Judge will be present to sign an Order that day.

The DROs are not authorized to make Orders, nor are they to be involved in the preparation of Minutes of Settlement.

It is hoped that the DRO conference will affect a timely settlement of Motions to Change.

In the event that the Motion to Change does not settle at the DRO conference, the DRO will complete a screening sheet which will set out the DRO’s recommendations on the file in a neutral matter. A copy of the screening sheet will be provided to the parties and a copy will be placed in the endorsement record for reference by Judges on the file.

There is no cost to the parties for a DRO conference. The conference is a service provided by the Family Law Bar.

Doug Manning and Barrie Hayes of Barriston LLP have been appointed DROs. Tom Dart of Barriston is the DRO Co-ordinator.