Of Family Law Flowcharts and Guided Pathways

It’s the hap-happiest season of all.

And for some—family law practitioners in particular—the crackling warmth of hearth and home will be interrupted by the rustling sound of short leave applications, affidavits of unspeakable length and one or two clients’ Ghosts of Marriages Past. I have heard of counsel that dislike dealing with last minute Christmas custody conflicts so vigorously that they write office closure hours for the month of December directly into the retainer agreement. This is all said by way of making the point that family law and mid-December have a long history together. We should be reminded on this day (when there are enough days to be tempted to file that Notice of Motion) that there is never a bad time to reflect on tools and behaviours that reduce — or better yet avoid entirely — high conflict tendencies.


Speaking of which, here are a few developments worth mentioning. These are new and/or emerging tools for self-representing people who are committed to minimizing the stress, uncertainty and disruption of separation and marital breakdown.

One initiative is BC-based, called MyLawBC. It is headed by the Legal Services Society (LSS), and due to launch next month. LSS recently blogged about the three “guided pathways” being developed specific for family law:

  1. Make a separation plan,
  2. get a family order, and
  3. respond to a court document being served.

The LSS defines a “guided pathway” as a tool on a site that ends with an action plan tailored to the user’s need.

This might be quite similar to another online tool for Ontario users. Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) calls their tool “Steps in a Family Law Case“, which is a series of “flowcharts”. Jane Withey, CLEO’s Director Clinic Operations, recently reached out to send me the press release and also tell me a little more about it:

“Our aim with this project was to help people in Ontario understand and negotiate the intricacies of the family law court processes. We have given clear language summaries of the steps involved, and included links to relevant rules, forms and practical guides. We worked with the courts, MAG and LAO to ensure accuracy. As far as we know, this is the first time this information has all been brought together in this format.”

I checked out the three flowcharts, all of which worked fluidly on a desktop, and somewhat disjointedly but still passable on a mobile browser:

  1. One called “Before you start” uses a decision tree to get people thinking about the issues involved in their situations. It offers a glossary plus links to other help and information. But primarily it funnels users into different camps:
    • those able to settle matters and file separation agreements on their own,
    • those who could benefit from alternative dispute resolution, and
    • those who need the courts
  2. For the latter group (those who need court) there is one flowchart for “Applicants“, and
  3. one for “Respondents“.

Because the steps detailed in flowcharts #2 and #3 are more linear and procedural, it’s helpful to see that the ancillary links and information in the margins link to particular rules, forms and subject guides with more procedures detail. Glossary-defined words are underlined and provide tool-tip definitions when clicked (something we find useful with our JP Boyd family law title at Clicklaw Wikibooks). One helpful feature would be to have the same “tool-tip” approach applied to the Family Law Rules links at each step, since those are briefly enough worded to fit a small overlaid text box, and because the current links are not pinpointed to the relevant rule.

Screen caps actually work pretty well to show the process these flowcharts set out. Here is a glimpse of the new Ontario tool:


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