Canada’s family court system is in desperate need of reform. Trial wait times are long and fees are high. While delays and costs affect anyone who uses the system, they’re especially harmful to some of Canada’s most vulnerable. 

Leighann Burns of Ottawa women’s shelter Harmony House knows just how detrimental the family court system can be, especially to survivors of domestic abuse. In an interview with CBC last week, she said that family courts often fail to understand the complexity of a survivor’s situation and take far too long to get things done. Plus, stories of ex-partners intentionally delaying proceedings to prolong the court process are all too common.

To help combat these problems, the federal government recently gave Harmony House a $400,000 grant to research Canada’s family law system and make recommendations for reform.

The research will take three years to complete entirely, but Burns told CBC that she's certain of one thing already: survivors need quick and practical assistance that today’s system fails to provide.

We think we can help.

One major cause of the family law system’s inability to provide timely and specialized service to survivors is family court backlog. Backlog occurs when cases which are otherwise ready for trial are delayed due to a lack of available courtrooms and judges. Because court houses are inundated with cases, delays are inevitable.

Aside from a general lack of funding, some contributors to Canada's unprecedented trial wait times are frivolous claims, ineffective triage, and under-prepared self-represented litigants.

Miralaw can help with all three.

Miralaw’s Neutral Algorithmic Evaluations (NAEs) and Miralaw's divorce application, Thistoo, can be used to encourage out-of-court resolutions where they’re appropriate, leaving the courts free to hear more serious cases. Thistoo, for example, provides step-by-step instruction through uncontested divorces.

 

This can help encourage couples in less contentious situations to come to an agreement outside of the courtroom.

NAEs predict how a user’s claim may play out in court by comparing the user’s facts to a database of previously decided cases. The NAE provides users with similar previous decisions, giving them an idea as to what may happen if they bring their claim before a judge. This can also encourage out-of-court resolutions, since NAE results can fuel negotiation or mediation, and can help dispel any unrealistic expectations that may have brought users to court unnecessarily.

Another contributor to trial backlog is ill-prepared self-represented litigants (SRLs). SRLs who are unfamiliar with the court process often require extra help from judges which can slow down their proceedings and lengthen their trial. Because more and more Canadians are choosing to self-represent, the time judges spend helping SRLs in court quickly adds up.

Miralaw can combat this by educating SRLs before they reach the courtroom. We've created a platform that provides integrative and client-focused legal information to SRLs and can even provide answers to their plain language questions. This platform could be implemented at family law information centres, courthouses, or made available by the government online.

Finally, this technology could even accelerate the triage process, since it could help SRLs complete paperwork, offer alternate dispute resolution options, and direct them to a lawyer or information centre.

Miralaw is working to eliminate the trial backlog and court delays that exacerbate problems faced by survivors. We want to end Canada's family law crisis and improve the court system.

To learn more about how we can help, contact us.

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