Mediation allows parties to create tailor-made solutions
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
At Ottawa’s district office, Marie-France Thériault draws upon her experience as both a lawyer and a mediator to help mediation clients develop workable and durable agreements that work for them.
Marie-France credits her experience as a criminal lawyer with helping her to quickly assess people’s credibility. In practicing litigation and family law, she developed effective negotiation skills; as a city solicitor she frequently had to determine the interests that sometimes hide behind parties’ positions. On top of all that, she is specifically trained in dealing with power imbalances and domestic violence situations – which is important given the nature of some of her cases.
Marie-France notes that the Ottawa office has a program that allows them to offer mediation in domestic violence cases in a safe and productive manner. The Domestic Violence Protocol includes space in opposite ends of the building for the mediator to shuttle between. The office also arranges for separate arrival and departure times as well as different access points and different washroom facilities.
“Mediation allows people to maintain a certain level of control over their family law issues because they create the agreement themselves and are held accountable for it,” she says. “They have ownership of it — and that goes a long way.”
She muses that, sometimes, even when people are speaking the same language, there can be an element of misunderstanding where having a mediator to “translate” can help. Marie-France loves being the person who can make sense of the breakdown in communication and then providing her clients with the tools for managing future conflicts.
During a recent mediation session, she remembers seeing the relief in both clients when their matter was resolved. “They could move on with their separate lives while both continuing to play an essential part in their children’s upbringing.”
Marie-France notes that there are many aspects of parental relationships that courts don’t typically consider such as bedtime routines or details of how decisions will be made about summer camp.
“Understanding each other creates a more positive relationship,” she says. “And when parenting from two homes, a positive relationship contributes to happier, healthier children.”
She says that, having walked in the shoes of many of her clients, she understands the particular struggles that affect them.
“Understanding each other creates a more positive relationship. And when parenting from two homes, a positive relationship contributes to happier, healthier children.”
Born and raised in Ottawa in a single-parent home, Marie-France recalls her mother receiving support from the University of Ottawa Community Legal Clinic in the aftermath of her separation.
She recalls how her mother often talked about how wonderful the students at the legal clinic were, and this inspired Marie-France to pursue law school and join the clinic as soon as she could.
From the moment she volunteered at the legal clinic, Marie-France was hooked on social justice work. While she has worn many hats throughout her legal career, she says that some of the most rewarding work she’s done in her career involved working with legal aid in both Prince Edward Island and in her hometown, Ottawa, with Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).
When she joined LAO in 2012 in the Criminal Duty Counsel Office, she had a lot of experience as a mediator and as a family lawyer but she hadn’t done both together. In January 2013, she moved into her current role as a family mediator.
While she hadn’t initially considered being a lawyer mediator as part of her career path, she realized that the position was one that matched her skills and interests.
“I love where I am now. I am definitely in the right place,” she says.
If you’re interested in family mediation and live in the Ottawa area, please contact Marie-France at 613-238-7931 ext. 32 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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