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A different kind of divorce

When Karen Stewart finalized her divorce in 2005 the toll was immense: a four-year battle and $500,000 in legal fees, not to mention the emotional wear and tear. She felt there had to be a better way to dissolve a marriage than dragging it through the courts.

The Calgary business woman, who had a background in finance, saw an opportunity. In 2006 she launched Fairway Divorce Solutions, which has 18 offices in Canada and the U.S. specializing in alternative dispute resolution.

"The system is really broken," says Stewart of traditional divorce whereby asset and custody issues are resolved in the legal system; a costly endeavour that often leaves families in tatters.

In turn, more couples are turning to divorce mediators.

Reinventing divorce
While a degree of mediation plays a role in collaborative family law, the idea of using private mediation from the start is garnering steam.

In a landmark speech last fall, Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler called for a "fresh approach" to resolving family disputes: "Only in the event that the alternative dispute resolution (mediation) process is unsuccessful would access to the costly, time-consuming, adversarial and sometimes acrimonious court process be available to litigants."

The Ontario government recently announcing plans to offer mandatory mediation information sessions to all divorcing couples. The sessions highlight the costs -- financial and emotional -- of litigation and encourage alternatives. The move is expected to reduce the strain on Ontario's overburdened family courts and other provinces are also weighing the idea.

"The notion has been spreading for years and most of our judges are totally in favour of it," says Mervyn Rosenstein, a lawyer turned full-time mediator with The Resolution Alternative in Thornhill, Ont. "The concept is a basic one: This is your life, these are your children and these are your assets. It doesn't belong to the courts, so you should really be making the decisions."

Who should consider mediation?
Mediation works in almost every situation, no matter how complex. "For the vast majority of people this makes the most sense," says Rosenstein, adding both parties need to be able to voice what they want.

Joyce Young, a mediator with Toronto-based Joyce Young and Associates Ltd. and president of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario, says it isn't ideal in cases involving substance or domestic abuse. "It's important both parties are coming to the mediator voluntarily."

How to find a mediator that works for you
Every mediator has a slightly different approach depending on their training and background. "Family law is complex, so you should look for a mediator with credentials," says Young. The ADR Canada website has a useful search engine.

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-- Posted February 7, 2011
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