Family Law Mediation
Family mediation is a process where you and your spouse get together with a trained and qualified mediator to resolve your differences. The goal is to reach a settlement that deals with the issues stemming from the breakdown of your relationship. A mediator can also assist in marriage contract negotiation (prenup) and cohabitation agreements. A family mediator in Ontario is a neutral third-party who will assist both spouses in communicating effectively to reach an agreement or resolve a dispute. Family mediation is a voluntary process and can address a whole host of family law concerns, such as:
- Child custody and access arrangements
- Child support and spousal support payments
- Division of family property
During this process, the mediator will meet with both spouses and ultimately try to reach an agreement both parties can accept. Since mediation is not bound by the limited jurisdiction of the Court, parties can choose to deal with issues that may not be within the court’s jurisdiction or simply impractical to deal with in a litigation setting such as:
- Making arrangements for a family pet
- Creating a detailed parenting plan
- Carving out details related to the day to day care of your children
- Settling clear boundaries around communication with your spouse
Mediators do not take sides, make decisions, or provide legal advice. Consider obtaining legal advice about your situation either before or during the mediation process from one of our knowledgeable Toronto family law lawyers. This step will ensure that you have a clear understanding of your rights, obligations, and the legal ramifications you might face during the course of your case. Family Mediation is voluntary. At any time, either spouse can decide to terminate the process.
How We Can Help Your Family
Not only are we skilled family mediators, but we are also knowledgeable family lawyers. As experienced litigators, we bring our knowledge of Ontario family law and keen insight into our mediation practice.
We have the training and experience to handle all types of family legal disputes, including:
- Property division
We work closely with our clients to identify issues that need resolution, and we assist with communicating more effectively between you and your spouse to reach an acceptable agreement.
While our family law lawyers cannot provide legal advice during your mediation, we can offer general legal information. You can also expect brainstorming sessions where we consider different settlement options together with the goal of solving your particular legal issue.
During the process, we often hold caucus sessions with each of the parties separately, which are private and provide a safe space to navigate any underlying issues that may be impeding a decision.
Why Toronto Couples Choose to Mediate their Family Law Issues
There are many advantages associated with family law mediation that are worth consideration.
Couples who decide to try and negotiate a fair settlement find this is often the more affordable option when separating or divorcing in Toronto. This is especially true when comparing the expense of traditional negotiation or litigation services that involve individual lawyers representing each party. If the matter goes to a 3-day trial, for example, costs could easily surpass $60,000 in legal fees.
Additionally, although it may not be appropriate for every case, most people can benefit from attempting family mediation as it can often help parties narrow the issues.
Many times, couples agree on the majority of issues but may have one concern holding them back from reaching a global settlement. At mediation, they can settle agreed-upon matters and then choose a different process, such as going to court or arbitration, to resolve the remaining issue(s). By taking this route and “narrowing” their disagreements, couples will save time and money.
Mediation is often quicker than going to court. Subject to your family mediator’s schedule, you and your spouse could schedule three negotiation sessions in a single month and ideally resolve all the issues stemming from the breakdown of your relationship.
The waitlist for a court date at an Ontario courthouse can range from 2-4 months. It is no surprise that the average family court case can take over two years to resolve.
Mediation can sometimes help reaching a temporary agreements. This option makes it possible to deal with urgent issues involving child support, spousal support and temporary parenting arrangement so that one person can leave the home without creating a status quo in favour of the other spouse.
By choosing to mediate and settle your family law case out of the courtroom, you gain control over the separation process. You and your spouse will retain the ability to make all decisions affecting your lives. This is an important factor when children are involved, since, as a couple, you both know what is best for them and your unique family.
Mediation also allows you to build a solution that complements your family compared to decisions imposed by a judge. Court orders are generally less specific than the agreements reached at mediation, particularly concerning parenting issues.
Closed mediation is confidential, which typically allows participants to be honest and truthful during negotiations without fear of things said being used against them in the courtroom. The court process, on the other hand, is a public forum for all to see.
Family Mediation encourages communication, fosters understanding, can reduce conflict between the parties, and helps to preserve family relationships. It can assist in fostering a positive, long-term resolution between you and your spouse, as well as promote communication between both parties.
Mediation tends to reduce conflict between spouses, which results in an easier transition that benefits all parties involved, particularly the children. This process also provides an opportunity to lay down a foundation for improved relations in the future.
How Does Family Mediation in Toronto Work?
1. You and your spouse must agree to mediate.
For a family mediation process to be effective, all parties must voluntarily participate with a shared willingness to compromise to reach a final resolution.
2. You and your spouse must attend an individual intake meeting with the mediator.
During this confidential meeting, the mediator will meet with you to understand your concerns and goals for the process. The first mediation session gets scheduled if both parties agree to proceed. Sometimes, this can take place immediately after both intakes, and other times, it gets set for a later date.
3. You, your spouse, and the mediator identify what issues need mediation.
While this may seem somewhat self-explanatory, it is a critical part of the family mediation process. With the information received from both parties, a mediator will discuss what appears to be the heart of the issues requiring negotiation.
4. Start the mediation process.
During your first session, your family mediator will outline what to expect during this process and lay down the ground rules to follow and ultimate goals. Throughout your mediation experience, you and your spouse will receive the necessary assistance to reach a settlement and have facilitated discussions between you both. Negotiations can occur with both spouses present or individually with the mediator going back and forth between each party.
The number of sessions required to gather and examine the information will depend on the situation, circumstances, and the number of issues needing resolution. There is no set amount or duration for subsequent mediations. Some meetings are as short as one hour, whereas others may last half to a full day. The length of a session depends upon how productive your negotiations are and if all required information is available to proceed.
5. Your mediator or your lawyer prepares a separation agreement.
A family mediator can put the settlement terms relating to issues of custody, access, support, and property division into a separation agreement. Then both parties may sign it after having an opportunity to obtain independent legal advice from their chosen Toronto family law lawyer.
6. Both parties have the agreement reviewed by a lawyer.
After negotiating a settlement, it is imperative each party seeks and obtains legal advice. A lawyer will be able to analyze the agreement and ensure that it is fair for both parties. They will also advise you of your rights and whether the proposed settlement complies with the Family Law Act and other legislation governing family law in Ontario.
7. Sign the Agreement.
Once the agreement is signed, it is legal and “enforceable” or “binding.” Signing a binding agreement means that if either you or your spouse fail to comply with the terms set out in the agreement, a court can order that person to do what the agreement says.
A separation agreement can be filed with the court and registered with the Family Responsibility Office for enforcement.
Shuttle mediation is useful when both parties want to mediate but are unable to be present in the same room. During shuttle mediation, rather than having you and your spouse sit in the same space, you are put in separate rooms and the mediator then “shuttles” between your locations to facilitate settlement discussions. The parties communicate directly through this mediator, eliminating the need to be in each other’s presence.
This method is useful when there is a history of domestic violence, or if one party is fearful or feeling uncomfortable about being in the same room as their spouse. Other times, a mediator may decide that this structure is best to deescalate conflict.
If you are already working with a Toronto family lawyer, a mediator may still assist you, especially if you and your partner have reached an impasse. These professional negotiators can work with your lawyer to help find a resolution.
Mediation is always an option, even if your matter has already gone to court. If you and your spouse decide to try negotiating your differences, you can agree to adjourn the next court date to work on resolving your disputes with a mediator. If you are successful at settling your case this way, your mediator can assist you in preparing the final minutes of a settlement that you can incorporate into a court order. Alternatively, you could have a separation agreement created instead, and then you and your spouse can withdraw your court application.
The court order and separation agreement are both enforceable legal documents. Although there are differences, neither is superior to the other.