We know from countless studies and reports that Canada's justice system is failing low-income families. The system is too complex, too slow and too expensive. Approximately 50-80% of people involved in a family law dispute have no choice but to self-represent (to "go it alone") in a system premised on the expectation that both parties will have the benefit of a trained advocate. In short, families are suffering during what is often described as the worst time in their lives.
In 2019, through our award-winning Family Law Project (FLP) in partnership with Legal Aid Ontario, our volunteers assisted over 1,200 self-represented litigants across Ontario. This included filling out over 2,330 court forms and providing 2,080 hours of pro bono support directly to families in need. Approximately 97% of FLP clients in our survey sample indicated that they would recommend FLP services to others.
As we move toward a new program model in the fall of 2020 with the launch of our Family Justice Centre (FJC), we will continue to combat the family justice crisis by supporting families in need through innovative approaches to service delivery.
HIGH DIVORCE RATE
A 2015 study found that approximately 40% of marriages will end in divorce.
The cost of a two-day trial
is estimated to be over
$30,000 as of 2015.
50-80% of Canadians involved
in a family law dispute opt to self-represent.
PBSC, Epstein Cole, and Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) have partnered to launch the Family Justice Centre (FJC) in the fall of 2020. The FJC is a first of its kind initiative bringing together law students and pro bono lawyers to offer free legal services to low-income self-represented family law litigants in Ontario.
The substantial and long-standing challenges faced by Ontarians attempting to access the family justice system have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. People are less able to afford legal services as a result of job and/or income loss, and prolonged court closures have resulted in significant backlogs for individuals engaged in or starting litigation.
To address this gap, the FJC will host regular virtual legal clinics for Ontarians dealing with family law issues who are unable to afford a lawyer, but do not meet the threshold to qualify for legal aid services. At the clinics, private bar family law lawyers will supervise PBSC law students in the delivery of unbundled legal services to self-represented litigants. Law students will administer the virtual clinics and will work with clients to prepare their court documents under the supervision of lawyers. Additionally, law students working with the FJC will create public legal education materials pertaining to family law, including short videos, flowcharts, and other interactive resources.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is anticipated that for the 2020-2021 academic year, all FJC work will be conducted virtually. For more information on the FJC, visit our webpage.