Family law disputes between separating spouses can be resolved in one of several ways, one of which involves going to court. However, mediation and arbitration are increasingly popular and cost-effective options.
Mediation essentially involves a voluntary, private negotiation between the spouses with the involvement of an independent, neutral third party known as a “mediator”. Experienced mediators can be hired from a court-affiliated or private roster, and can assist couples with reaching a resolution on matter such as division of property, support payments, and custody of and access to children.
Arbitration, which is one step closer to a formal court hearing, is the next option in the event that mediation fails. An arbitrator is appointed to serve as a neutral decision-maker, with the parties presenting evidence and making their respective arguments on the disputed issues. The arbitrator then renders a legally-binding written decision, called an “award,” which is enforceable by Ontario courts. He or she is also required by legislation to keep notes and records of all family law arbitrations conducted.
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In Ontario, both the Family Law Act and the Arbitration Act, 1991 govern the use of the mediation/arbitration process in individual family law cases. Among other things, a written mediation or arbitration agreement must be signed by the parties and witnessed, and must set out whether it is governed exclusively by Ontario law. The agreement sets out the agreed scope of the mediator or arbitrator’s mandate to resolve specific issues. (And note that it can be set aside if a court finds that one spouse has failed to make the required financial disclosure, or if he or she did not understand the nature or consequences of the agreement). Also, each party is required to have independent legal advice prior to embarking on the arbitration process.
Shulman Law Firm is a Toronto-area firm of experienced Family Lawyers who can provide practical advice and effective representation in the resolution of all kinds of family law disputes. Contact us to set up a consultation.