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Full time family duty counsel now available through province’s dispute resolution program
Posted: Wednesday, September 3, 2014
A full time Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) family lawyer—also known as duty counsel— is now available to help unrepresented low-income clients change the support provisions in their final order or agreement through Ontario’s Dispute Resolution Officer Program.
This initiative, part of a 12-month LAO pilot in Toronto, Brampton, Milton, Newmarket, Barrie, Durham and Hamilton superior courts, will provide immediate legal assistance to family law clients who walk into these courts without a lawyer.
How this pilot helps clients
The first step in the court process for many people who want to change their support agreements is to bring a motion to change before a dispute resolution officer - a senior lawyer appointed to conduct case conferences. The purpose of this legal step is to try and resolve some or all of the clients’ family law issues before a neutral third party instead of a judge.
Until now, low-income clients who arrived at these courts without a lawyer had to represent themselves, and their matter was frequently adjourned. Court delays were common, adding time away from work, the potential for job loss, and child care challenges to the burden of families already suffering from separation.
Now LAO’s duty counsel will advise and represent such clients through this program, help negotiate the settlement and draft the appropriate consents, if and when the parties settle their issues.
In addition, where resources are available, duty counsel can provide advice on proposed settlement terms, help clients file their consent orders with the court, and help clients prepare for their next court appearance.
Benefits to clients and the justice system
The addition of duty counsel will help these courts resolve support matters more efficiently, reduce conflict between former partners, and provide improved outcomes for low-income families.
Money owed for diapers, food, childcare and other such expenses will arrive faster. People paying support whose income drops will be able to minimize their financial hardship by having their support orders changed more quickly.
Legal Aid Ontario’s family law strategy
This pilot is one of a number of family law projects that LAO is developing with the use of $30 million over four years in additional provincial funding.
It is also is part of LAO’s family law strategy, which aims to reduce the number of unrepresented family litigants, provide an avenue for consensual dispute resolution, expand the early resolution service sector and provide holistic and integrated services.
Each year, LAO allocates approximately $70 million to help more than 125,000 low-income Ontarians through a wide range of family law services, including summary legal advice, mediation, assistance from lawyers at family law information centres and family law service centres, representation by private practice lawyers, and settlement conferences.
- LAO expands services for families at Superior Courts of Justice
- Superior Courts of Justice family services