Ontario Family Court Watch: An invitation to organizations

many hands reaching in

The problem

When a woman leaves an abusive relationship, family court outcomes can play a key role in improving the safety and quality of her life and that of her children.

However, the family law system can also increase risk with — as examples — processes that allow abusive individuals to manipulate the system or confront the woman or court decisions that require ongoing contact between the ex-partners.

The potential problems of family court are exacerbated in complex cases that also involve child protection and criminal charges. For example, when an abusive partner is found not guilty of assault in criminal court, family court judges sometimes accept that court’s higher requirement for proof and disregard any evidence of abuse in their decision-making. Child protection court may hold the mother responsible for protecting the children from exposure to the abusive partner’s behaviour, an attitude that may also bleed into the family court decisions.

Finding solutions

To inspire change in court processes and decision-making, evidence of the problem as a systemic issue must be collected and best practices identified.

To this end, Luke’s Place has proposed the Ontario Family Court Watch, a province-wide initiative. It will involve an academic partner to guide data collection and the contributions of trained community volunteers. Informed by the expertise of WomanACT, which has led many court watches in Toronto, with outreach supported by the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH), the project will monitor complex family court cases that include woman abuse, criminal charges and child protection.

The Law Foundation of Ontario has funded the first phase of this project, which begins in September 2018 and concludes in January 2019. The activities in this exploratory stage are as follows:

  • Luke’s Place will seek commitments from women’s organizations that wish to participate as research partners monitoring their local courts,
  • Luke’s Place will establish protocols for accessing the courts, and
  • Our academic partner, Dr. Mavis Morton of the University of Guelph, will undertake research and devise a data collection tool.

Be part of the solution

Organizations interested in participating in the research phase of the Ontario Family Court Watch are invited to contact Luke’s Place.

Partnering community organizations will benefit by receiving:

  • A modest stipend for their Court Watch community liaison, who will recruit and coordinate the community research volunteers and communicate with Luke’s Place
  • An honorarium for each community research volunteer (3 volunteers per agency)
  • Training in community research and family court monitoring for volunteers
  • Ongoing online debriefing and support to community research volunteers throughout the project
  • The court watch research tool for organizations’ ongoing use in their communities after the project is completed
  • A tablet, which will be used by volunteers during the project but can be used for any purpose after the Ontario Family Court Watch ends
  • Access to the research data, analysis and conclusions/recommendations

These benefits are dependent on the next phase of this project receiving funding.

Interested organizations are asked to contact admin@lukesplace.ca by Tuesday October 16, 2018.

Organizations interesting in conducting local court watches should consider their:

  • Familiarity with complex family law cases: Do you support women involved in family court who have been subjected to partner abuse? How often do their cases also intersect with other legal issues, specifically criminal court and child protection?
  • Interest in the issue: Are your staff already in the courts? Do they wonder about decisions?
  • Relationship with the local court: Have you established local contacts? What is the tone of your relationship? Do you have court official allies?
  • Volunteers: Do you have the staffing capacity to recruit and coordinate volunteers? Do you have volunteers available?
  • Organizational capacity: Do you have the resources and staffing to commit to this project? (It is estimated the research phase of the project, which includes volunteer outreach and training as well as court monitoring will occur over a 15-month period.)

Organizations joining the Ontario Family Court Watch as community research partners will:

  • Designate one staff person as a project liaison who will recruit and coordinate volunteers and communicate with Luke’s Place throughout the project
  • Ensure volunteers participate in training (provided by Luke’s Place in a webinar format)
  • Maintain contact with volunteers throughout the project
  • Commit to seeking out and monitoring family law cases; research partners will be strongly encouraged to monitor 15-30 cases each, recognizing that smaller communities may have limited numbers of relevant cases
  • Follow all protocols developed for the project, particularly those related to court access and respect for parties’ privacy and confidentiality
  • Follow project timelines
  • Communicate challenges or difficulties with Luke’s Place in a timely manner
  • Provide data as required
  • Sign a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines project details, deliverables and expectations

Luke’s Place hopes to establish 5-6 partnerships with organizations throughout Ontario. To ensure representation of the province’s regions, court types and populations (Indigenous, rural/urban, and newcomer), we reserve the right to select organizations on this basis.

Contact: admin@lukesplace.ca

Deadline: Tuesday October 16, 2018