Problem solving with civility
tina peplinskie Tina.Peplinskie@sunmedia.ca Renfrew County Mediation Services recently held an organization launch at the Marguerite Centre in Pembroke. Involved in the launch (back from left) are mediators Joseph Hamon, Daniel Lanoue and Enid Blackwell and (front from left) Theresa Dunn, information referral co-ordinator; Carolyn Michaud, director and Susan Chalmers, administrative assistant.
Couples in Renfrew County going through separation and divorce now have access to an alternative, less adversarial approach to dispute resolution.
The Renfrew County Mediation Services is available to families going through the legal system or for families that feel they would benefit from mediation even if they are not going through lawyers. Family mediation is a voluntary process in which a mediator assists parties to identify, create and discuss solutions to their disputes. Mediation is designed to help couples reach an agreement without going to court.
Since 1999 the Ministry of the Attorney General has been providing family mediation and information services at court locations throughout the province of Ontario. From the beginning, services were established in 17 jurisdictions including Ottawa, Perth, Brockville and Cornwall among others. Renfrew County is the final area of the province to offer the service, noted director Carolyn Michaud.
In August 2011 Renfrew County Mediation Services (RCMS) opened its doors. Family mediation, including parenting plans, child support and property, is offered in the Pembroke and Renfrew courthouses.
Local services providers were invited to the official launch of the RCMS, which also served as a networking opportunity as the agencies could refer clients for the RCMS. Among the agencies represented were Witness Assistance Program, Pembroke Hospital Social Workers, Ontario Works, Pembroke Regional Hospital - Mental Health Services, Family and Children's Services, Phoenix Centre for Children and Families, Valley Employee and Family Assistance Program, North Renfrew Family Services, Bereaved Families of Ontario, private practitioners Heather McDowall, Bob Neilson, Julie Edwards and Petawawa Family Centennial Health Centre.
On-site mediation is provided free of charge to parties whose applications for separation are before the courts. Through self-referral or through referrals from a judge or lawyer, clients may access up to four hours of mediation.
Off-site mediation is also available to any client wishing to pursue mediation. It is offered in various locations throughout Renfrew County with mediators Dan Lanoue, Enid Blackwell and Joseph Hamon. There is a fee for off-site mediation, but a sliding scale based on income and the number of children involved has been developed and the remaining costs are offset by the Ministry of the Attorney General.
Mr. Hamon sees the mediation process as the best solution for couples and the children who are often caught in the crossfire of court proceedings.
"It's a way of getting people working on the same side of the table," he said. "It is about the little victories."
He added he is always astonished at how many couples go to dinner after a mediation session because they learn communication, respect and patience.
"If issues are addressed quickly people are open to resolve conflict in favour of their family," Mr. Hamon noted.
Mr. Lanoue stressed the importance of coming up with a solution that makes sense for the parents and the children.
"The service is child focused and we are in favour of trying to protect the children," he said.
Aside from the mediation services, RCMS also runs the Mandatory Information Program (MIP), a free information session that court clients are required to attend. The sessions are designed to provide information on the social and emotional impact of separation on children and families as well as inform parties of the court process and options for resolving disputes. These sessions are provided by social workers and lawyers.
For on-site mediation services, visit room 1201 at the Pembroke courthouse or the office on the main floor of the Renfrew courthouse. For off-site mediation, call 613-687-0940. For other inquiries visit www.rcmediationservices.ca.
Tina Peplinskie is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist