What changes should be made to family law?

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Proposal: Alberta should have a Unified Family Court
Court Procedure - Jan 10, 2023

97% in favour out of 35 votes

Ken Proudman Executive
 view Arbitrator profile
   Edmonton, Alberta

The 2018 Federal Budget included funding for 17 judges to create a Unified Family Court in Alberta. At that time, UFCs had already been established in Manitoba, New Brunswick, PEI, parts of Saskatchewan, and parts of Ontario.

The Unified Family Court would be a one-stop-shop, essentially consolidating the Provincial Court and Court of King's Bench Family Divisions. The idea in a nutshell is that there would be dedicated judges to the area of family law (i.e. with expertise in family law), that court would be in a better position to design it's processes around family law, that court's management would be focused on family law issues, legal education wouldn't have to address two systems and as a result self-represented litigants wouldn't be confused about the two systems.

There was a judicial working group that had built a lot of momentum towards a UFC, however the proposal was shot down by the provincial government. My understanding is that at the time oil had plummeted, and the government decided that there were insufficient resources to implement the change (even though the feds would have been paying for the judges), and too much on their plate to devote the time to changing legislation to update this change. Alberta is in a much different economic climate now, and with the formation of AFLA, we're looking to reignite the flame to make this change happen.

There's a 2014 article by JP Boyd, KC on LawNow which further elaborates some of the benefits of a Unified Family Court:

1 15 months ago - edited 15 months ago

Anonymous 2017
   Edmonton Region, Alberta

This was a news article at the time it was quashed.

It can be seen that the reasons cited were expenses, including the overhauling of infrastructure.

Something has to be said that if infrastructure is a concern, it has already been greatly overhauled in response to covid. I don't doubt that there are still expenses involved, and it will be a question of seeing what budget forecasts allow. We have a premier who wishes to do a lot of work with the healthcare system, so one would think this could dovetail into that, but then also a question of priorities.

There shouldn't be a lot of resistance. The federal government did a lot of work years ago looking at it, and the results have and continue to be positive:

Although I don't really know what the particular gripes might be with the jurisdictions that are doing it. If they have learned some lessons, we should benefit from them.

The devil is going to be in details, though. Like removing some artificial barrier where one court can only hear divorce matters, one court cannot hear any property matters, obviously makes sense. But boy, if you only just collapsed PC and put everything into Family Docket now, you are are going to have such chaos. So clearly knowing how to handle all the volume. If the design process isn't great, then all the benefits will be lost as things churn and become more inefficient.

Aside from potential design problems - and overall even if there is a rocky start, one would think things get ironed out over time - I would think the only other consideration would be...well, what if it works too well?

These are the problems that plague highway design, for example. At a certain point you find traffic being too thick, and it slows everyone down, and you get traffic jams. So what is the response? Widen the highways. At great expense. While this works good for a couple years, it is enormously expensive, and the real cost isn't the upfront materials and labour, but the years and years of continued maintenance. Known to bankrupt cities.

So it's just a question, and for the sake of finding a resisting argument. If the family law system has improved efficiency, capcity, and makes the process of restructuring families faster, more affordable, and more painless, will this have the effect of inducing greater demand? More relationships fall apart due to less incentive to stay together, more people who haven't accessed the justice system now go to it, and the people who have the means to use arbitrators as an alternative now just expect the government to do more to cater to them. In the end do you just end up with a more bloated system than where you started?

Because I think the unified family court system will have overwhelming support (me included), this is why I raise this, because history says that when things have a lot of support, then we rush into them, and end up with, say, LRTs that don't actually move, despite all the great intentions.

0 15 months ago

Chantelle Lefebvre
  De Novo Law
   Lloydminster, Alberta

My understanding (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that the UFC would run out of KB. While there are certainly benefits to a UFC (judge familiarity with family law being the biggest advantage), access to courts would be an issue for many rural Albertans. The court website tells me there are 13 KB locations and 73 PC locations. I fear a UFC could result in increased travel (and therefore cost) and decreased court availability. I hope that this is an issue that will be addressed in any further UFC discussions.

1 15 months ago

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