On December 1, 2017, benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada voted to expand the scope of paralegals in family law matters. This was in part a response to an earlier report commissioned by the law society and the provincial government to improve upon access to justice measures available to an increasing number of self-represented litigants.
As an area of practice, family law has long been plagued by quarrels over what constitutes “reasonable lawyers’ fees”. While some services, like uncontested (or simple) divorces are flat-rated, more complex matters related to custody and access, support, property division and equalization, end up becoming more time-consuming, stressful, and costly not only for the spouses themselves, but also for their respective lawyers. Inevitably, one of the parties may end up settling out of frustration, desperation or simply because he/she has run out of money. This is especially the case when either one of the parties or both are minimum- or middle-income earners and do not have significant assets in their possession to liquidate or sell.
According to government statistics, 57% of the Ontario litigants in the family court system were self-represented in year 2014-2015. These litigants either cannot afford a lawyer or believe they can navigate the family law system on their own. The need for enhanced access to justice prompted the intervention by both the law society and the provincial government to come up with alternate more cost-effective means of service delivery in this area. The new action plan, approved last Friday, will allow paralegals to obtain a new licence and be trained in certain aspects of family law, such as completion of forms, motions to change and uncontested divorces, as described in Alex Robinson’s article “LSUC to Expand Scope of Family Law for Paralegals”, in the December 1, 2017 issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine.
Proponents of the new action plan, such as Bencher Howard Goldblatt, argue that the expansion of the role of paralegals in family law matters is crucial and “people facing complex emotional issues and financial hardship can benefit from a strengthened provincial family law system with increased capacity and resources”. Others view family law matters as too complex for paralegals; Bencher Raj Sharda states that there is a “skillset deficiency” between lawyers and paralegals and that the new action plan would not be helpful to the public interest until “[one] can establish a baseline of competency for the over 9,000 paralegals that we’ve licensed up until now… [or else] we may be engaging in a three-year placebo.” Only time will tell whether this new action plan will lead to an expanded access to justice system for self-represented litigants.
If you have questions or concerns about your family law matter, its level of complexity, and options moving forward, contact the Ontario family law lawyers at Nanda & Associates today. Our experienced team can help you better understand how these changes affect you.