THUNDER BAY -- Legal Aid Ontario hopes a new pilot project will keep family matters out of the courtroom.
Studies show nearly 63 per cent of people who head to family court are unrepresented. Many times couples have ended up there after custody disputes, child support or dividing up property.
"That creates all kinds of problems for the people involved of course because they don't understand the law. They don't understand the complicated process. They don't understand what's sort of relevant and I think they also don't understand what can they realistically expect the court to do," Northwest district director general Andreas Asmus said.
A lot of people across the province are stuck between earning too much to qualify for legal aid but not enough to afford a lawyer. The new pilot project will now give couples access to ten hours of legal advice with a lawyer, hopefully enough time to draw up a separation agreement and avoid the courtroom altogether.
If a person earns $18,000 a year or less, they qualify for the program. The partner also qualifies if the earn less than $50,000.
"In legal aid terms that's a substantial increase in the people who are potentially eligible," Asmus said.
"We're hoping that a lot of people will take advantage of this."
The program also allows for six hours of mediation.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Legal Services executive director Celina Reitberger said anything that keeps families out of the court system is a step in the right direction.
"I think it will be well received and used," she said.
For people living in remote communities where court is sometimes held every three months family cases are pushed back a lot of times because criminal cases take up the majority of time. That can lead to a lot of frustration.
"If you're trying to get some sort of closure in a family law case you're going to have a long time to wait," she said.
Asmus expects the number of people who use legal aid for family cases, about 300 a year in Thunder Bay, could double. Reitberger said
around 275 cases are currently in NAN territory.