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B.C. Attorney General says new process for family law disputes aimed at reducing burden on courts

Tuesday, June 04, 2019 @ 9:27 AM | By Ian Burns

People dealing with family law issues at provincial court in Victoria, B.C., now have a new approach to help them resolve their disputes, and the province’s Office of the Attorney General is saying the initiative may be rolled out to other courts if successful.

The Early Resolution and Case Management process, which was launched May 13, emphasizes the importance of needs assessment and consensual dispute resolution, not as an alternative process but as a first step in the resolution of any family law dispute. The model is designed to help families focus on earlier, more collaborative resolution, and involves a “front-end process” aimed at resolving issues before any court appearances. Except for urgent matters, parties will have to meet with a family justice worker as a first step, who will then conduct an assessment and, unless there has been family violence, the parties must complete at least one mediation session before proceeding to court.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby

B.C. Attorney General David Eby

B.C. Attorney General David Eby said the need to make family courts less adversarial has been a topic of conversation among academics and lawyers for some time and it was time to address it.

“This is an important step to try to modify the rules of court and mitigate some of the excess in order to more closely follow our Family Law Act, which says court should be a last resort,” he said. “Although courts should be a last resort, that hasn’t been the experience of most families because the first thing they find themselves doing when they have a family law dispute is appearing in front of a judge.”

If the issues aren’t resolved at mediation, the parties may then file an application and proceed to court. At that point the family justice worker will help the parties make sure they are ready for court. Eby said the government hopes the new front-end process will result in agreements for many families and reduce the number of cases going to court, and it was the result of a consultation with family law practitioners and individuals using the system.

“In the end, everyone agreed it would be a significant step forward in terms of ensuring families can access justice, and the key part to all of it is this idea of a family justice worker who is the family’s first point of contact even before they go into a courtroom,” he said. “And that was based on something called a justice access centre that was already part of the Victoria courthouse.”

The new process is a “fairly significant departure to what we’ve been previously doing and I’m very hopeful it will be successful, and we will be rolling it out to other registries across the province,” said Eby.

“I think most people who look at it agree it will reduce a lot of burden on the courts and the judiciary because people who do appear in front of a judge will have all of their materials together,” he said. “They’ll know what their issues are, and the court will be able to act quite quickly and there won’t be these hearings where people show up and they don’t have their paperwork and they’re told to come back — that is endlessly frustrating for both them, the judge and the court staff.”

The new rules for provincial court family cases in Victoria also include changes to the rules on how protection orders and extraordinary parenting matters are addressed. The forms and process for consent orders are also changed. However, many parts of the current rules are left untouched including trials, trial preparation conferences, case conferences and family maintenance enforcement matters.