Why are Family Law Issues So Difficult to Resolve?

child support

While mental health, personality disorders, and domestic violence are significant issues that require special attention, they represent only a small fraction of all separations. The laws concerning support and property division are generally straightforward. However, family law disputes can be emotionally charged, and people may not be at their best during such life-altering events. This doesn’t provide a comprehensive explanation, though. Family courts are often backlogged, and families spend thousands of dollars on time-consuming processes to achieve basic support and property settlements.

The main issue lies in organization. Every legal dispute, especially those involving family law issues, requires a clear record of evidence for each party. Lawyers, mediators, judges, arbitrators, and the parties involved need to review this evidence. This review process is crucial for providing legal advice, formulating positions, developing settlement options, making rulings, and ensuring a fair and balanced settlement.

A significant cause of delay and expense in the family dispute resolution process is the assembly and organization of the financial evidentiary record. Every separation agreement requires the exchange of basic tax documents, income or pay statements, and bank account and debt statements. The volume of documents required increases with the complexity of assets, debts, income, and expenses.

This issue is even prevalent in basic child support cases. Child Support Guidelines are in place in all jurisdictions, yet courts are backlogged with child support modification cases. These guidelines are simple to apply once the income is known. However, without the required evidence, these cases become time-consuming and frustrating to complete.

In 2012, we introduced a simple online child support financial disclosure tracker, Support Information Exchange (SIX), to help parents navigate the system. By using SIX, parents can exchange annual income information, job change details, and information regarding special expenses in a secure, private, online neutral LEDGER.

The LEDGER serves as 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, family mediators, or court officials, including judges with smartphones, iPads, or any other web-accessible device. Once added, the document cannot be removed.

Either parent can download the LEDGER to prove financial disclosure compliance in any future court proceeding or dispute resolution process.

As we introduced SIX to family law lawyers over the past two years, it became apparent that the SIX neutral exchange platform should be expanded to accommodate all “on the record” financial disclosure and communication exchanges between divorce lawyers throughout the file. We received extensive input from family law lawyers and family mediators and now have a financial disclosure operating system that customizes for all family law professionals. A number of themes emerged as we met with family 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 and fifty law offices in Ontario and met with family lawyers and family mediators at conferences from all over North America and Australia. The legal sector is known to be slow in adapting to new technologies. We found that documents and sensitive client materials are sent to the opposing counsel using a myriad of formats, including fax, ordinary mail, courier, CDs, memory sticks, email, and portals such as Drop Box. A 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 family lawyers and clerks reported receiving financial 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 family lawyers.

All of this takes time, costs money, and 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.

  1. A Uniform Communication System for Family Law The need for a uniform system for all inter-office communications was strongly identified by the family 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 family lawyerOpens in a new tab. who has just put up his or her shingle and the family lawyer in the large established firm all exchange on the same secure online neutral & permanent platform.
  2. 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 & family lawyers based on the highest security standards according to the specific obligations of the legal profession.
  3. 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 divorce lawyers and family mediators, the original development of SIX for child support financial disclosure was premised upon use by separated parents for child support financial 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 family lawyer is involved.

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 family 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

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