Obviously mental health, personality disorder, domestic violence and abuse factors are extremely problematic & require special attention. But those cases only represent a small percentage of all separations. Our laws regarding support and property division are for the most part simple and straightforward. Family cases can be emotional and people can be “at their worst” when going through a difficult life changing event, but that can’t be the blanket answer. Family Courts everywhere are back-logged and families are spending thousands of much needed after tax dollars in time consuming processes to achieve basic support and property settlements.
The problem is organization. Every competing interest legal dispute requires a clear record of the evidence to be relied on by each party. Lawyers need to review the evidence in order to provide advice & formulate positions. Mediators need to review the evidence in order to facilitate the development of settlement options. Judges & Arbitrators need to review the evidence in order to make a ruling based on the submissions of the competing parties. Each party to the dispute needs to review the evidence of the other party in order to be satisfied that the settlement is fair and balanced.
A primary reason for delay and expense in the family dispute resolution system is the assembly and organization of the financial evidentiary record. Every separation settlement requires the exchange of basic tax documents, income or pay statements, bank account and debt statements. The amount of documents required increases based on the extent of assets, debts, income and expenses.
This is even a problem in basic child support cases. Child Support Guidelines are in place in all jurisdictions yet courts are back-up with child support change or modification cases. Guidelines are simple to apply once the income is known. Without the required evidence these cases are time consuming and frustrating to complete.
In 2012 we introduced a simple online child support disclosure tracker to help parents connect the dots in the system. By using Support Information Exchange (SIX), www.yoursix.ca parents can exchange annual income information, job change details and information regarding special expenses in the secure & private online neutral LEDGER.
The LEDGER is a permanent evidentiary record of all entries to the exchange. When a tax return is uploaded to SIX by a payor, the LEDGER is updated and automatic notification is provided to the recipient. The documents added are accessible anytime and anywhere by the parties’ advisors, mediators or court officials, including judges with Smart phones, IPAD’s or any other available web accessible device. Once added the document cannot be removed.
Either parent can download the LEDGER to prove disclosure compliance in any future court proceeding or dispute resolution process.
As we introduced SIX to lawyers over the past two years it became very apparent that the SIX neutral exchange platform should be expanded to accommodate all “on the record “ disclosure and communication exchanges between family law lawyers throughout the file. We received extensive input from lawyers and mediators & now have a disclosure operating system that customizes for all family law professionals. A number of themes emerged as we met with lawyers, clerks and assistants throughout Ontario and beyond:
1. The Wild West of Communication Modes in Family Law
We have visited close to one hundred & fifty law offices in Ontario and met with lawyers and mediators at conferences from all over North America and Australia. It is a well known fact in the technology industry that the legal sector is slow to adapt to new technologies. We have found that documents and sensitive client materials are sent to the opposing counsel using a myriad of formats, including, fax, ordinary mail, courier, CD’s ,memory sticks , Email, and portals such as Drop Box. Strong adherence to paper tabs and re-inventing a brief on multiple occasions persists in over 95% of the offices that we have visited. Many lawyers and clerks reported receiving disclosure in as many as four or five of these formats from the same office on the same file.
Searching for documents in email folders, word folders, paper correspondence brads (& court files!) is a nightmare. High end document management systems are internally great for those firms that can afford them, but they do not address the challenges of documents coming in and going out the door. Receiving a CD or tabbed document brief each present challenges for the receiving lawyers.
All of this takes time, costs money & may be reflected in hourly rates. At the end of the day the client is billed. Those that cannot afford these services self-represent. This is an access to justice issue and creates huge demands on our family justice system.
2. A Uniform Communication System for Family Law
The need for a uniform system for all inter-office communications was strongly identified by the lawyers in our visits. No matter the size and technological sophistication of the opposing counsel all inter-office communications should occur in one simple, easily accessible format. We have built SIX to meet this requirement. The newly called lawyer who has just put up his or her shingle and the lawyer in the large established firm all exchange on the same secure online neutral & permanent platform.
3. Security & Privacy
Client confidentiality and privacy law breaches are risked each and every time documents are sent out the door. This is particularly the case with email transmissions and cloud based delivery and storage systems. We have built SIX to protect clients & lawyers based on the highest security standards according to the specific obligations of the legal profession.
4. Self-Represented Parties (“SRL”)
Lawyers and clerks have continually asked us whether SIX could be used in cases involving SRL’s. Although tested and enhanced with Toronto & Ottawa family law lawyers and mediators, the original development of SIX for child support disclosure was premised upon use by separated parents for child support disclosure purposes as an access to justice initiative and as such, SIX is openly available for SRL’s. Lawyers are now reporting SRL use by SIX on new separation files, including court files. SIX Customer Support reports strong engagement from SRL SIX users.
Active use of SIX for ongoing child support obligations and in a new separation situation is a simple and accessible way to create the organized record of the basic evidence to be relied upon to resolve the issues. This will reduce costs & delays whether or not a lawyer is involved.
Once the necessary evidence is exchanged and on the table for all to see most family law cases are easy to settle.
To learn more about SIX take a tour at www.yoursix.ca