Ottawa

Arbitration-law change could send more divorces to court

Proposed changes to the province's Arbitration Act could unnecessarily drag out family disputes before the courts, the Ontario Bar Association is warning.

Proposed changes to the province's Arbitration Act could unnecessarily drag out family disputes before the courts, the Ontario Bar Association is warning.

The Liberal government recently announced that it would change the act, and in the process would ban religion-based arbitration in family matters.

But the bar association is warning about a less-publicized aspect of the government's legislation. Currently, couples involved in divorce proceedings can waive their rights to appeal an arbitrator's decision during the settlement process.

According to Phillip Epstein, who practises family law in Toronto, that option will disappear when the Arbitration Act is amended.

The result, Epstein says, could be more court appearances if either party to an arbitrator's decision chooses to appeal.

He says the amendments could defeat the point of having arbitrators in the first place, which is to keep these disputes out of a courtroom.

"We shouldn't create a system where a sore loser wants to continue the battle by taking it through a court process, and [pushes] the parties back before the same system they chose to avoid in the first place," Epstein said.

Attorney General Michael Bryant wouldn't say whether he's willing to change the legislation.

"I put [that provision] in there for very good reason," he said. "Let me leave it at that."

He indicated that changes to the legislation were unlikely while it is the subject of committee hearings.

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