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What changes should be made to family law?

These proposals let family law lawyers discuss and vote on what changes they think should be made to the law or court procedures. The results can be viewed and shared with legislators and the Courts. The proposals put forth are written by member lawyers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this website or its administrators. You can view more proposals or make a proposal yourself.


Proposal: QB Justices need training in family law
Court Procedure - Mar 30th

100% in favour out of 32 votes

Anonymous 2018
   Edmonton Region, Alberta


There should be a separate section of QB where the Justices deal only with family law matters, similar to PC. Otherwise, all QB Justices should be given extensive family law training before they're allowed to handle family law cases.

2 7 months ago

Anonymous 2017
   Edmonton Region, Alberta


I'm not going to vote because I think the question is too simplistic.

Obviously a judge needs to rule according to law, and thus needs to have a good idea what the law is. They also rely on counsel to tell them the law, that is also clear.

However, I have frequently found that Justices are trained too little in family law, but also trained too little in other law. Like there is not a problem where they are good in all areas other than family law. The problem is all around. And frankly, this is understandable. We have 75% of Justices now with under 6-7 years on the bench, or something staggering like that. They've really been thrown into the fire.

I have also not understood what "training in family law" means. I have certainly heard from a lot of advocates in terms of things like education in family violence, early intervention, brain science. But generally there are competing interest groups. Frankly, if the court is to be a court of social work, what we really need is a better system, not just more trained judges.

In fact, many of the so-called "super educated" judges often make situations awful. Being hyper aware of all the pressing issues sometimes results in decisions that accomplish nothing but further fights and resentments among parties. Cases are resolving often because people run out of money and aren't entirely heard.

So all in all, I do not think anyone can meaningfully engage with this question. It's either an obvious yes (like "QB Justices need to be literate") or too vague. I think I would like to know in particular what kind of training is being sought. By the way, there is a new Act being passed this week about manadatory sexual assault training for provincial court judges. I do not like the drafting of that as it just says the judges shall have education in sexual assault law (whatever that means) but it does mean that the matter of judicial training is currently on one prong of the legislature's radar.


2 7 months ago - edited 7 months ago

Anonymous 2017
   Edmonton Region, Alberta


I agree with the above comments. I am also "old school". I was always taught (in law school but also by my mentors) that it is you job as a lawyer to educate the judges on whatever issues you want them to decide. You cannot expect judicial education to do your job for you.

2 7 months ago

Anonymous 2019
   Edmonton Region, Alberta


^ Well said.

0 7 months ago

Anonymous 2018
   Calgary Region, Alberta


Judges are provided with excellent training by the National Judicial Institute. We cannot expect our Judges to have expertise in all areas of the law. As counsel it is our job to make sure they have the law made available to them.

0 7 months ago

Anonymous 2018
   Edmonton Region, Alberta


One of the goals of the planned Unified Family Court was to have family specific judges. The UCP scrapped the funding for this. If anyone has any political sway, this needs to be back on the agenda.

7 7 months ago

Dustin J .Tkachuk
  Lawrence & Tkachuk
   Edmonton, Alberta


I think you'll find the Justices who are interested or have a background in family law try to involve themselves in it as much as their schedules permit. Could just be confirmation bias by me, but I see such Justices as Yungwirth, Kraus, Kiss and Jerke in family docket more often than I would expect.

1 7 months ago

Anonymous 2017
   Edmonton Region, Alberta


I have wondered whether it is those Justices pushing for those spots, or other Justices saying "oh hell no"

0 7 months ago

Wayne Barkauskas, K.C. - view Arbitrator profile
  Wise Scheible Barkauskas
   Calgary, Alberta


The proposed unified family court that was only months from starting up before our current provincial government blocked it for financial reasons, would have had judges that were for the most part, exclusively assigned to family court (just like Provincial Court). This is how several other provinces do it. The Federal Government was providing funding for 17 additional QB judges in order to do this. It was years in planning. I still remain hopeful that political will changes and it gets back on track. This will take some loud advocacy I suggest.

4 7 months ago

Mathieu Maillet
  BARR LLP
   Edmonton, Alberta


This literally broke my heart when I found out. It is my understanding that the push for the unified family court still exists and that a change in government may be what is needed for it to occur.

0 7 months ago

Anonymous 2021
   Other Region, Alberta


I agree with the above comments re: courts can only know so much and it is our responsibility to fill in the gaps. However, I do believe that the Court requires additional training with respect to family matters: Justices need to start accepting that family law disputes are real disputes. Many times I have been before the Court and while the Court had the capacity to resolve the issue, it refused to engage with the issue because the Court felt the matter trivial. Like it or not, family law is about people and emotions and that makes for messy affidavits and tit for tat events that are still relevant. We're going before Judges who seem to find the entire body of Family Law and Practice to be "silly". How many times has the Court lost patience with competent counsel and made a quick and narrow order that was insufficient, or conversely simply dismissed the thing and admonished Counsel with a "you're wasting time and money, figure this out yourselves". Even former family law practitioners on the Bench are taking that approach. I recall my very first Special Hearing as a Student before Hawco J. it was a parenting thing, parties fighting over a variation from primary to a bit less primary (but not shared). Parties couldn't agree on the specifics. J came out of chambers and asked me to explain why we were all there. I began, only to be cut off and told "This is what's going to happen, I'm going to get up right now and go back to my Chambers, and I will come back in an hour. By then, you and opposing Counsel are going to have a deal worked out.".........Like, ok sir... but the thing is... we've already thought of that and tried it (via 4way no less), and it was a no go. So these tax payers have a dispute, and their taxes fund a third party system which assists and at times makes final decisions. I realize the Court has an aversion to getting into "people's lives", but that is precisely the system we have because so far its the most efficient system we've come up with. The court needs to stop riducling family Counsel just because they find the subject matter of our practice beneath them. Often, if Counsel could be candid, we'd agree with the Court 'Yes M'Lord, if I, a rational financially comfortable individual who had not suffered any emotional harm or loss a result of Family breakdown were making the decisions, we would have consented to X Y and Z and we wouldn't be here." I guess in short, Justices need to have more patience for family law matters....It'd be great if they could also start applying the Rules in a consistent way, rather than the near Quantum Randomness we currently get.

2 7 months ago

Stephen Harfield
  Queck & Associates
   Sherwood Park, Alberta


However, the failure you are speaking to here might less be training, than just the amount of resources needed to fix families.

Most areas of law are about resolving a historical question - is Mr. X guilty of killing Mr. Y? Did Mrs. A infringe the copyright of Mrs. B?

Judges are paid to make a decision. The problem with a lot of family law is that a lot of it isn't solved by a decision. I mean, some of it is - we need decisions on what support should be, what the property division should be. But then again, that's usually not the areas people are asking for better "training" about.

I actually sort of like the thinking of the Judge making you sort out your matter. It's not always about making the matter less important to the court - have you considered that maybe an agreement reached by consent might "stick" better? Or be immune from appeal (and thus help end the cycle of conflict between the parties more)?

We probably also don't think that better training will result in better decisions for parenting either. Because the decision often doesn't matter. Even the wisest most skillfully informed decision will likely leave one party more disappointed than the other, and thus still actively contribute to the dysfunctional family dynamic.

That said, I think more training and thought is always helpful, and more reflection for Judges to identify the biases they bring into matters. But this is only a small piece of the iceberg. A dysfunctional family needs money, resources, and time. Why do parenting coordinators sign service agreements for 2 years?

By the way, I have sometimes wondered what would happen if we started implementing satisfaction surveys from court proceedings. Get input from litigants - did you feel you were heard? Did you feel the judge read your materials? were you treated with respect? Did you have enough breaks? Was the shitter full when you had to use the loo? Some sort of feedback to give clients a chance to vent and for judges to get some feedback. But then I wonder whether making things too "customer servicey" makes the aura of the court diminish.


1 7 months ago - edited 7 months ago

Anonymous 2020
   Edmonton Region, Alberta


I find that more often than not recently, Justices are not doing their due diligence in reading the material before them and spending time with the parties and their counsel, getting to know the matter. I understand it is our job to educate the Court on the facts, the issues, and the law. But if the Court is cutting off counsel when they are attempting to provide this information, and jumping to conclusions on matters, this does not help the parties. I was in an EICC about a month ago and we had a full hour but we were rushed through it, and the Justice ended it at the 36-minute mark. It didn't even appear that he had reviewed the summaries. We agreed to things that didn't even end up in the Report and need to be corrected. This seems to be a waste of everyone's time and causes more issues for the parties.

Yesterday, I was in another EICC and was pleasantly surprised when the Justice reviewed all the facts and positions presented in the summary with incredible detail. This does not happen often for me, and it really helped the parties come to agreement on some things. The Justice also provided information on what they would likely order if the case was before them in Chambers, which was very helpful. This is the purpose of an EICC, yet, more often then not, I find that lately they are not like this. Lately, EICCs and Court tends to be very rushed, with unprepared Justices who just want to push it off to the next process without at least attempting to deal with the actual issues before them.

I don't know the answer to this. Perhaps it's a resource issue. But I believe it also may be that some judges dislike dealing with family cases and this comes through in their courtrooms. I believe a unified family court would help with this issue.


1 7 months ago

Anonymous 2019
   Edmonton Region, Alberta


The Unified Family Court has been attempted 4 times since I've been practicing. It's never happened. We shouldn't be holding our breath that it will. Even with the NDP it got delayed, and delayed and delayed.

It is impossible for our bench to know everything about every area they hear, but it would be beneficial if there was some recognition that the "small" issues can have a big impact on families and the way parties treat each other going forward. Sometimes practicalities get overshadowed in legal theory.

I do not think it is appropriate for a judge to tell counsel to work it out. If we have done our jobs we have tried. It's not up to us, it is up to the clients, and our clients may not be at court. You don't hear judges telling criminal lawyers to work it out when it's shoplifting for $50 of stuff so why are we being told that when it's $200 of a s. 7 expense. What they may not realize is that a decision that refuses to address that $200, also impacts on the next expense, and whether the parties will be reasonable in dealing with each other.

Having said that, I would hope that most lawyers try to deal with matters out of court before racing to docket. If not, that's on us.

This is the fall out from the publicized comments of the bench saying that family law is not about "legal" issues but "people" issues. All court actions come down to "people" issues. Frankly it is offensive that we have been singled out. It is complicated and messy. Our law makers don't help with poorly drafted legislation.


0 63 days ago

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