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Other than mediation and litigation, other methods that are available to settle the outstanding issues are neutral evaluation, arbitration and mediation/arbitration. Mediation/arbitration is a dispute resolution method that is a hybrid of mediation and arbitration. There is a debate as to the propriety of a professional acting as both a mediator (who does not give an opinion or decision) and an arbitrator (whose only role is to give a decision). Mediation/arbitration is prohibited by the Arbitration Act, however, the spouses may specifically waive that prohibition. In mediation/arbitration, the mediator/arbitrator first attempts to settle the issues through mediation. Mediation may turn into arbitration if the mediator/arbitrator determines that mediation has failed. The mediator/arbitrator then ignores all the information that had been exchanged in the mediation and hears the matter afresh as an arbitration. The mediator/arbitrator cannot mediate while he or she is arbitrating and cannot arbitrate while he or she is mediating.
Let’s be honest… Separating spouses are not running to line up for any process to commemorate the death of their relationship. The separating spouse is usually in pain, angry, confused, scared and hopeless.
She is wanting to run away from the ruins of her marriage. She is not volunteering for anything at this stage of her life.
As an aside, the most satisfied client of mine, after thanking me for providing them with excellent and compassionate legal representation, follows the compliment with “I hope I never need to use you again.”
When we use the term ‘voluntary’ we must recount the context… not from our perspective (we meet hundreds of separating spouses, whereas the client meets one Family law lawyer and we are in and out of courthouses almost daily, which does not cause us anxiety, whereas the very presence of a separating spouse in a courthouse causes tremendous stress and anxiety for her), but from the perspective of the client who never planned for this, wishes the pain would stop and feels helpless.
Can a person in this emotional state really be acting with volition and intent ?
When a spouse finds herself in this situation, she speaks to her friends and family, makes inquiries of what to do next and, eventually, lands in the office of a professional (therapist, lawyer and/or mediator) who guides her to the next step.
When this person ‘volunteers’ for mediation as a ‘process’, she is usually choosing the least of all poisons. The other alternatives are not available (reconciliation), not affordable (litigation) or impractical (doing nothing).
Another way to look at it stems from my observations on Wednesdays at the Family Court of the Superior Court of Justice in Newmarket. Wednesdays is motions day. Between 30 to 50 motions are on the docket each Wednesday. There is no limit placed on this list. There is no case management. There is no planning. It’s a free for all. Each Wednesday, separating spouses and counsel line up at 10:00 a.m. to seek judicial intervention. There is a problem in the lives of these spouses. They could not resolve them. Their lawyers could not resolve them. They are nervous, worried and anxious…but hopeful. They hope that the motions’ judge will hear their problem and declare a solution.
That can’t happen. Why ?
One motions’ judge cannot solve 30-50 domestic problems between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. S/he may be able to help a few families. This of course starts after those spouses who have given up, failed to confirm their court attendance in advance, failed to attend court that day or have already resolved their dispute, are managed by the court. This usually takes 30 to 90 minutes. That is when the motions’ judge announces that the remaining time in the day is not adequate to help the many remaining spouses in waiting.
Now for the notion of ‘volunteering for mediation’.
The motions’ judge announces that this court location offers mediation services. It is free and available. The judge reminds everyone that, regrettably, s/he cannot help most of those in the room.
So the spouses and counsel, in utter disappointment, consider the alternatives (leaving court with no solution, coming back next Wednesday and hoping to be heard, booking a fixed motion date in 4 months or… ‘volunteering for mediation’).
It is arguable that in these situations a person is acting under duress or desperation when opting for mediation.
Don’t get me wrong. Mediation may be the very best option for this family. It may preserve the relationship… ensure mutual respect… permit the discovery of a cooperative solution… end the conflict… and save money.
But I query whether mediation was voluntary.
The Ontario Court of Appeal in the May 21, 2003 decision of Wylie v. Leclair did not think so. In that case, the parties lived together from 1985 to 2000 and had two children. After they separated, they agreed to a shared custody arrangement, with the children living with each parent on alternate weeks. A trial was held on the issues of support and division of property. Regarding the division of property, the trial judge found that Mr. Wylie received the benefit of Ms. Leclair’s housekeeping and caregiving services during their relationship. The trial judge awarded Ms. Leclair $150,000, and calculated this amount based on an equalization of net family property—a calculation that is used when married spouses separate by calculating each spouse’s assets and liabilities at the date of marriage and the date of separation.
Mr. Wylie appealed the trial judge’s decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The appellate court felt that the trial judge was wrong in attempting to provide an equalization of net family property for a common law couple.
When married spouses separate, it is necessary to equalize the parties’ net family property. However, this is not the law in common law relationships. The appellate court felt that the trial judge was attempting to adjust the law to provide for an equalization of net family property for common law spouses while there is no legal authority or presumption to do so.
The appellate court did consider the fact that Mr. Wylie received the benefit of Ms. Leclair’s housekeeping and caregiving services during their relationship, but also considered that Ms. Leclair lived rent-free for the duration of their 15-year relationship.
The appellate court reduced Ms. Leclair’s award to $70,000.