Early in the pandemic, Lisa Hamilton QC, a Bencher of the Law Society of BC, suggested that some family lawyers were interested in offering mediation services to help families with low or modest incomes resolve their family law issues without going to court. Provincial Court Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie fully supported the idea and was instrumental in identifying candidates like Stephanie Melvin, Executive Director of the Family Justice Services Division, for a project steering committee. With creativity and hard work from everyone involved, this led to the Access Pro Bono Society of BC partnering with the Ministry of Attorney General and a BC-based technology start-up, Qase, to launch a pilot project providing free online family mediations to people not otherwise able to afford them.
The new Provincial Court Family Rules makes early mediation an important part of the court process, and Access Pro Bono’s project offers another way to get help from a mediator to resolve family law issues. Clients who meet with a Family Justice Counsellor may be referred into the Virtual Family Mediation Project to mediate the entire scope of their family law dispute.
- Free services. “Pro bono” means you are not expected to pay for the services provided if you meet the Project’s financial qualifications.
- Independent Legal Advice Lawyer. You will be matched with a lawyer who will give you independent legal advice before and after the mediation.
- Pro bono mediator. You will be matched with a trained and fully neutral mediator who will meet with both parties independently before the mediation. After this consultation, the mediator will schedule a mediation at a time that works for everyone. At the mediation, the mediator will help you and the other party to have important conversations about your family and, if the process is successful, to reach an agreement to resolve your legal issues.
- Virtual process. All meetings take place over the phone or video conferencing software, so you can attend from home or another convenient place. You can also attend no matter where you are in BC. This makes mediation services available to people who live far from a mediator.
Who can participate?
To be eligible at least one of the parties must meet the Access Pro Bono income criteria:
There are two ways to take part:
- Clients working with a Family Justice Counsellor through a Justice Access Centre will be referred to Access Pro Bono for issues that the Family Justice Counsellor is not able to mediate (for example, property division or spousal support); or
- Clients can refer themselves by contacting the Access Pro Bono Society of BC. Call or email Access Pro Bono at 604 482 3195 ext 1526 or firstname.lastname@example.org to provide information on your situation.
How does it work?
- The Project Manager will contact you and the other party to explain the process and answer your questions.
- Mediation is possible only if all parties agree to participate. You will both need to sign an Agreement to Mediate form.
- Screening for family violence will be conducted during the intake process, and in more detail with the mediator during their screening process.
- Each party will receive independent legal advice from a family lawyer volunteer.
- Each party will meet with a Law Society of BC accredited mediator separately before the mediation is scheduled.
- The parties will attend a mediation with a pro bono mediator. Mediations typically last 2-4 hours.
- If you and the other party reach agreement, you will each will receive independent legal advice before signing an agreement.
Why try mediation?
With mediation, the parties control the outcome. The mediator does not decide for you. Instead, they help you and your spouse have productive conversations so you can make the important decisions needed to move forward. There can be many benefits, including less stress for parties and their children, more satisfying outcomes, lasting agreements, and lower costs.
Lawyers and mediators volunteering their time through the Access Pro Bono Society of BC make this project possible.