Legal Aid Ontario is launching new services to help separating couples avoid a court battle.
Eligible couples will be able to access legal advice, and get help drafting a separation agreement.
The director general for the Northwest District for Legal Aid Ontario said the services will make a big difference for low-income families in northwestern Ontario.
"I would suspect that there's a large number of people who will be able to resolve their ongoing issues, especially around custody, access and child support, and have less conflict in their lives,” Andreas Asmus said.
The programs will also cut down on the number of people representing themselves in court, he noted.
‘Getting a little bit of closure’
The pilot project, which involves two programs, is being launched across Ontario.
One program will fund 10 hours of legal advice for each member of a couple, so that they can come to a separation agreement. The other program will give each partner entering into a mediation process a total of six hours of independent legal advice.
Income level determines a person’s eligibility but, in general, more people will be eligible for these family law services than would be eligible for Legal Aid Certificates, Asmus noted.
The programs are expected to help families who are feeling the impact of a long, drawn-out conflict over things like custody, and that could be resolved with the help of a lawyer.
"What happens is there's this continuing low level conflict that's always going on,” Asmus said.
“And so it really prevents people from moving on and finalizing and sort of getting a little bit of closure."
He said he thinks there will be a large number of people in the region who will be able to resolve issues around things like custody and child support because of these programs.
More legal help on the way
People can access the program by calling Legal Aid Ontario's toll free line 1-800-668-8258, or visiting the website.
Legal Aid Ontario also has some other small expansion plans in Northwestern Ontario later this summer.
At Family Law Information Centres in Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Fort Frances and Dryden, Legal Aid will fund a lawyer to provide advice for a few hours each week. People can receive one-on-one advice, as well as help with things like reviewing documents. There is no such service in those centres now.