A new legal aid project is providing free mediation services for B.C. families to help them resolve family matters concerning property, debt, spousal support or child-related issues without going to court.
With increased funding from the Ministry of Justice, the Legal Services Society (LSS) has launched a Mediation Referral pilot project. Low-income people who qualify financially for legal aid, but have legal issues outside of the scope for a referral to a LSS-referred lawyer, will be referred to the Mediate BC Society for six hours of family mediation services.
Mediate BC co-ordinates the delivery of a range of dispute resolution services and maintains a list of professional mediators located throughout the province. Mediators assigned through the referral program will work with clients separately and/or together, depending on the situation, in order to achieve early resolution of family disputes.
Mediation gives families an opportunity to minimize conflict and resolve their family law problems out of court whenever possible. Collaborative problem-solving for separation and divorce often results in high settlement rates with lasting outcomes that can help maintain relationships and improve communication.
Mediation services will be provided by mediators face-to-face, by telephone or by web-conferencing. If the dispute is not resolved after the six hours of mediation, further mediation services will be offered at sliding scale rates based on the parties’ income and assets.
The pilot project, jointly delivered by the LSS and Mediate BC, is one of five new justice transformation projects that the B.C. government is funding through a targeted $6-million investment over the next three years.
The project was developed collaboratively between the Ministry of Justice, the LSS and Mediate BC, and is consistent with recommendations made to the ministry in the LSS report, Making Justice Work, and commitments made in the White Paper on Justice Reform: Part 2.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton said: “Mediation is an effective and affordable alternative to going to court and government is proud to support innovative solutions that save B.C. families time and money in resolving their disputes and engaging in their own solutions. By providing clients with appropriate services, family issues will be resolved without going to court, and resolutions will ensure the best interests of children are met. This new pilot project is yet another example of meaningful change that the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Society are undertaking to provide people with the services they need, when and where they need them.”
Tom Christensen, Chair, Legal Services Society of B.C., said: “The LSS is proud to be part of this collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and Mediate BC to deliver new legal aid services that will assist people who need help with their family law problems to find lasting solutions.”
Kari Boyle, executive director, Mediate BC Society, said: “We are excited to partner with the Legal Services Society to increase access for low-income B.C. families to safe, timely, effective and affordable family mediation services. If the dispute remains unresolved after six hours of LSS-funded mediation services, families will have the option of completing their mediation with the same mediator, at rates set according to a unique sliding scale.”
* In total, government is providing the LSS with $74.5 million in 2014-15.
* This includes a $2-million annual increase over three years to fund the expansion of legal aid services in family and criminal law and development of five new pilot projects.
* In addition to the Mediation Referral pilot, the new projects include:
– Expansion of the Family LawLINE services.
– New full-time family duty counsel at the Victoria Justice Access Centre.
– Parents’ Legal Centre for child protection matters.
– New and expanded model for criminal duty counsel.
* Individuals can apply for the mediation pilot program by calling the LSS call centre or by visiting an LSS office.
Legal Services Society: http://www.lss.bc.ca/
Mediate BC Society: http://www.mediatebc.com/
Legal assistance information factsheet: http://ow.ly/Eb1zf