Canada: The Mandatory Information Program For Family Law Disputes: What Does It Mean For You?

Last Updated: December 20 2011
Article by Fhara Pottinger

The legal system in Canada is designed to deal with property and not people. As a result, family disputes are a poor fit, because even when they appear to be about property, they are mainly about people. In spite of various no fault reforms, emotions tend to run high in family break ups. The courts have struggled for years with finding a way to respond.

The relationship breakdown is hard on the entire family. When parties go to court to fight it out, it is even harder - mentally, emotionally and financially. Negotiation, mediation and collaborative family law are all efforts to cope with this problem. However, to work, all of these require that people be well informed about their rights, and the options. If they have a lawyer, there is a good chance this will happen, but even then, many disputes end up in court without a serious effort to resolve them. The emotional conflict leads to legal conflict.

The situation becomes more extreme with self-represented parties. The financial cost of using a lawyer has caused more people to go to court on their own. The holes in the patchwork of family law become even more apparent. Cases become bogged down, created more frustration and increased cost for the person with a lawyer.

The Province of Ontario has designed a new program to better inform people who are proceeding with a court action on a family matter. As of September 1, 2011, if you go to court with respect to most family matters, you and your spouse must also attend a Mandatory Information Program (MIP).

This is a program designed to help families understand the effects of separation on children and adults and to discuss the options that are available to help the parties resolve their disputes. It is particularly designed to help self-represented people, which should reduce the cost delay and conflict which affects the entire family.

The MIP sessions will be conducted by a lawyer and a mental health professional, who will provide information about alternatives to litigation, legal issues, the court process and available community resources. The lawyer will not be permitted to provide legal advice to the participants. For specific legal advice, you will need to meet with your own lawyer. The mental health worker will address the impacts of the process on families, and resources available to assist.

Even people with a lawyer may find the information helpful, especially if there are children involved.

By the time people get to the MIP session, unfortunately, some alternatives to litigation may no longer be available. In particular, Collaborative Family Law is no longer an option if the parties have commenced a court action. This should be discussed with your lawyer prior to starting a court proceeding.

The MIP sessions are at no-cost to you and the lawyer and mental health professional will be volunteers. If you already have a lawyer, he or she will not be required to attend the MIP session.

At this time, in Thunder Bay the sessions for both the Superior Court and the Ontario Court (provincial court) will be held at the Superior Court of Justice on Camelot Street. Similar locations are being established around the province.

If you successful negotiate an agreement such as a separation agreement with the other party, you will not need to attend the MIP session in order to have that agreement turned into a final order.

In addition, you do not have to attend an MIP for the following cases:

  1. A joint application for divorce;
  2. An application for divorce only;
  3. An application for divorce and costs only;
  4. Cases that only request the incorporation of terms of an agreement or a prior court order; and
  5. Cases that only request costs.

That still leaves most family law actions such as custody, support, division of assets, which are the biggest issues in family law.

Spouses will not attend the same session. There will be separate sessions for each party.

Each session will be approximately 2 – 3 hours long and is divided into two parts. The first part is for all parties and the second part is for parties with children. If you don't have children, then you do not have to attend the second part of the session.

Please note that children are not permitted at the MIP session.

You must bring your MIP Notice to the session so that the presenter can certify that you have attended the session and then this Notice must be filed with the court.

If you cannot attend in person, you may be able to attend by video-conference or teleconference.

The applicant or moving party must attend the MIP before they can move forward with their claim. However, refusing to attend will not help a respondent in denial – a judge can still grant orders, and may penalize people for failure to show up.

Of course, if you wish to avoid the court process altogether including the MIP sessions, you can consider a variety of alternatives such as the Collaborative Family Law process, mediation, or the negotiation of a separation agreement.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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