As of May 13th, 2020, all family matters scheduled in the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta must be scheduled initially for a Family Docket Court appearance before proceeding with filing of materials and scheduling of court processes.
The introduction of Family Docket Court is intended to streamline court processes and provide a purposeful trajectory for family matters entering the court system here in Alberta. On the date of the Family Docket Court, a Justice of he Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta will hear the matter and assess what services families need to resolve their disputes effectively and efficiently before allowing parties to book further court proceedings such as Morning Chambers, or Special Chambers, or Trials.
Before Scheduling a Family Docket Court Appearance
It is recommended that parties attempt to resolve their disputes outside of court before proceeding to schedule a Family Docket Court appearance. There are several forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution services that do not involve attending court. Collaborative law, mediation, and negotiation are among the more popular options that parties choose to resolve their disputes (please visit “How to I stay out of Court?” for more information).
It is also important that parties with children take the online Parenting After Separation Course. This course is offered to parents and guardians who are separating and is often a prerequisite for proceeding with further legal matters in court.
Scheduling and Attending an Appearance at Family Docket Court
If parties are unable to resolve their matter outside of court, they must begin the court process by booking a Family Docket Court appearance. Your Family Docket Court Appearance will begin with an identification of the issues such as parenting, guardianship, child support, etc. If an agreement on some of the issues can be reached, the court may grant a Consent Order. If an agreement cannot be reached, the court may, depending on the circumstances of the parties, refer them to an Alternative Dispute Resolution service.
In some circumstances, it may be appropriate for the court to refer parties to a more formal process such as Morning Chambers or Special Chambers. If the parties are still unsuccessful in obtaining a Final Order after attending one of the more formal court processes, the parties will be directed back to Family Docket Court before proceeding with further court processes.
Referral to Alternative Dispute Resolution
In addition to the new Family Docket Court process for family law disputes, new procedural rules have been implemented by Alberta Courts to encourage the efficient and timely resolution of family law disputes through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Alberta Courts have always supported the use of ADR, but new amendments to the Alberta Rules of Court provide Justice’s hearing a family law dispute with the authority to refer parties to an ADR service. Some of the services that the court may refer parties to are: Mediation, Family Resolution Counsel, Early Intervention Case Conference, or the Dispute Resolution Officer Program. Additional alternative dispute resolution services that may be encouraged are Collaborative Family Law and Arbitration.
In addition, rule 8.4(3)(a)(i) of the Alberta Rules of Court requires parties to provide a certificate of completion for at least one form of ADR before requesting a trial date. Further information giving a brief description of Alternative Dispute Resolution services are as follows:
Types of Alternative Dispute Resolution
Mediation is a common form of dispute resolution where parties work with an impartial third party, the “mediator”, to deal with family law issues in a cooperative and informal environment. Family law mediators are professionals and often family lawyers who are specially trained to assist parties in this cooperative process. This form of ADR can be an extremely cost-effective way for parties to resolve their legal matters.
Arbitration is a resolution process that mirrors the traditional Court process; parties present evidence, make submissions and are ultimately bound by the decision that is made by an impartial third party – in this case, an arbitrator. Arbitration may be appropriate in circumstances when the positions of the parties are too far apart to make mediation or negotiation effective. Arbitration is also effective for parties who wish to resolve their family law disputes quickly and discretely.
Collaborative family law is a unique style of dispute resolution where parties to a family law dispute work with a customized team of professionals trained to find solutions to a variety of challenges related to the family law dispute. This team of experts may involve lawyers, accountants, counsellors, or child psychologists.
Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO)
The Dispute Resolution Officer program is often useful for parties who cannot agree on child support issues. The DRO officer, usually an experienced family law practitioner, will review both parties' documents and determine what they owe. The goal of the DRO is for the parties to come to a Final Child Support Consent Order.
At Family Central Law Office LLP, we can assist you in the steps that are necessary at the commencement of your family law matter and we can help to effectively manage the litigation process for you. To learn more about your rights and the legal services we provide, please contact us today for a free consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers by calling our office at 587-392-7970 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by clicking on our consultation page.