Resolving Parenting Disputes: Different Forums, Different Results
Litigation: In the Ontario family courts provide a stepped process which is neither cost nor time effective. Mediation programs offer litigating parents an attempt to find common ground before a judge determines the parenting arrangement for them. Some mediation programs are geared to income making them accessible to all parents.
Other tools available to the judge may be to order the involvement of
a) a formal private assessor to study the children’s circumstances; or
b) the Office of the Children’s Lawyer to
i) investigate and report on the children’s situation first to the parents and to offer them an opportunity to agree with the investigator’s recommendations; or
ii) to act as a litigation guardian for the minor children.
Each parent may act in person or retain a family law lawyers to represent their interests.
If the child’s situation is dire, the local Children’s Aid Society may become involved.
A series of temporary orders may be granted gradually incorporating more and longer parenting times or reversing an earlier decision depending on the child’s best interests. The only way to adjust the parenting arrangement for a developing child is to return to court either to contest an ineffective parenting order or to consent to changes as needed.
There are no juries in family law litigation trials.
Traditional Negotiation: Each parent retains his or her own lawyer. A parent’s preliminary thoughts for a parenting plan capturing the best interests of the children may be offered to the other parent through counsel as a starting point for discussions. Negotiations by correspondence or through four way meetings will bring focus and clarity to the plan. The safety, predictability of care, and security of the children will be paramount. Once the decision making provisions and parenting schedules are agreed, they will become a part of the comprehensive separation agreement prepared by one lawyer for approval by the other. Each lawyer will separately provide independent legal advice to her client before a client’s signs the document.
Collaborative Approach: This advanced negotiation process invites parents who are able to work together to develop a custom plan for their family. They like the transparency of the process knowing that it caters to the needs of the children through the involvement of a neutral family professional. The professional’s fees are shared by the parents who work together considering different ideas to develop a tailor-made developmentally responsive plan. In the event of any disputes which may develop in the future, the parents may include using the parenting professional to assist them to resolve any issues. A separation agreement will be prepared by the lawyers for approval and execution by the parents.
Meditation: In this process, the neutral facilitator screens each parent separately to ensure that the process will be of benefit to them. The parents may work together in the same room or may be separated into different rooms with the mediator shuffling between the rooms. Each facet of a parenting plan from scheduling regular routine activities to educational matters to vacationing overseas with one parent will be methodically considered. The mediator will prepare a Memorandum of Understanding which when approved by the parents will be included as part of a separation agreement integrated with other provisions such as child support and property division.