Ont. to try making divorce faster, cheaper

Ontario will announce changes Thursday to the way it deals with family law to make the divorce process faster, less expensive and less combative.

Ontario will announce changes to the way it deals with family law to make the divorce process faster, less expensive and less combative.

The Canadian Press has learned Attorney General Chris Bentley will announce several changes Thursday, including more access to legal advice and options like mediation, arbitration or collaborative law.

That will also free up court time for cases that must be argued through the system, although those will now have less paperwork and fewer steps so that people can get to a judge — and a decision — sooner.

"These are very emotionally wrenching situations," Bentley said in an interview.

"You don't want to pile on top of the emotion a long, protracted, bitter fight that studies all say is very bad for the kids, very bad for the parties, and uses up whatever money you're going to have to live on in the future."

Bentley said the changes will mean a "much faster and clearer way" to resolve disputes.

"It will mean you're going to get a lot more support early on," he said.

The changes will mean more cases could be resolved out of court while also cutting out some of the steps for those that must go through the system so that people can get to a judge sooner.

"It takes the time and expense that we spend on cases that shouldn't have that time and expense, and moves those resources to the cases that need more attention, helping them to be resolved faster and better as well," Bentley said.

No new funding

The changes don't involve any new funds, but rather a redistribution of the province's current resources.

Some of the $150 million committed to legal aid over the next four years, for instance, will go toward providing better access to legal advice for people getting divorced.

The government has long promised to reform the province's justice system, and has already worked to reduce the number of unproductive court appearances in criminal cases.

Last year, Bentley pledged to review the handling of child custody cases following the death of Katelynn Sampson, 7, of Toronto, who was allowed to stay in the care of a woman who had a criminal record for drugs, prostitution and violence.

A report from the Ontario Bar Association that same year found that the province's legal system had reached a "breaking point." Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler urged for a review of family law, saying there were only 17 dedicated family courts scattered in various pockets of Ontario.

Other top judges have complained that they are faced with handling a high volume of child protection, custody and support cases.

They've also said there's an increasing number of people who don't have a lawyer, meaning judges are forced to spend valuable court time giving basic advice and help.

The family law changes are expected to start coming into effect early next year.