Manitoba First Choice Dispute Resolution Pilot Project
A Government of Manitoba pilot project offering mediation and information services to families experiencing separation and divorce.
Ongoing pilot project
Family Conciliation, Manitoba Department of Family Services and Housing
First Choice was launched in Winnipeg as a pilot project in August 2008 to offer mediation and information services to families experiencing separation and divorce.
First Choice has been developed to help parents understand the likely outcome of a traditional court-ordered assessment. The Family Court can refer parents and other family members, (hereinafter called "parent") who are having trouble reaching agreement on custody, access and private guardianship issues. First Choice can also provide follow-up assistance to the families it served, to address subsequent issues and concerns.
The First Choice pilot project involves two distinct phases:
1. Assessment Phase:
As soon as possible after the referral is made to Family Conciliation, both parents and possibly their lawyers, meet with a First Choice team. Each team has a male and female counsellor, experienced in evaluation and mediation. Both parents have the opportunity to describe their view of the family situation and state what they are hoping for from the court.
After the team has heard both parents and asked questions, there is a break while the team meets to discuss the case. The team then presents their opinion about what a court-ordered assessment would likely recommend, based on the parties' particular circumstances. Both parents have an opportunity to review the information with their lawyers. If a party's lawyer is not present at the assessment, the party can call their lawyer. This is arranged by the counselling team.
2. Mediation Phase:
If not all concerns are resolved after phase one, additional meetings can be held to mediate them. These meetings include both parents and may or may not include lawyers. The children may also be interviewed. All information brought up during the mediation is confidential and cannot be used in court.
The feedback presented to the parents by the First Choice team in phase one is given, in writing, to the Family Court judge. The team also provides a notification that a parenting agreement has been reached, or the team's recommendations and options for resolving the conflict.
The pilot project's goal is to have the assessment and mediation completed within three to four sessions. The first session typically takes up to three hours, but subsequent sessions may average 60-90 minutes depending on individual circumstances with the full process completed within 30 - 35 working days from the first session.
First Choice can also provide follow-up mediation assistance to help families resolve issues that subsequently arise.