An International Review of Early Neutral Evaluation Programs and their use in Family Law Disputes in Alberta

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family has just released a report entitled: “An International Review of Early Neutral Evaluation Programs and their Use in Family Law Disputes in Alberta.”

Generally speaking, early neutral evaluation programs are court-based programs that require the parties to a dispute to attend a neutral third party evaluator early on the life of a lawsuit. At these hearings, the parties present their positions in the case and receive the feedback of the evaluator on the merits of those positions and the likely result of the lawsuit if it went to trial. The evaluator may assist the parties in settling all or some of the issues in dispute. However even when a full settlement is not reached, the hearing provides a useful reality check for litigants, helps to clarify the issues in dispute and prepares the parties for future judicial and extrajudicial dispute resolution processes.

Research conducted by The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family shows that these hearings result in high satisfaction rates for litigants, lawyers and evaluators. They promote settlement and the taking of positions supported by the law, and save litigants time, money and emotional stress as a result. They also provide savings to the justice system by reducing the number of contested applications and reducing the number and length of trials.

Based on these findings, the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family proposes that a working group be established to explore the implementation of a pilot early neutral evaluation project in Alberta. The Institute makes a variety of recommendations on the optimum characteristics of such a pilot project, drawn from their research, and on the issues the working group must address in its deliberations. In their view, the proposed pilot project aligns well with the objectives and guiding principles of the Reforming the Family Justice System Initiative presently exploring means of improving the family justice system in Alberta, and may be ideally suited for adoption and evaluation as a prototype by the Initiative.
The authors of the report are Joanne Paetsch (paetsch@ucalgary.ca) and John-Paul Boyd (jp.boyd@ucalgary.ca). Please address any comments, questions or concerns you may have to them.

In addition, this report pairs nicely with the conclusions reached in the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family’s 2014 report, “Self-Represented Litigants in Family Law Disputes: Contrasting the Views of Alberta Family Law Lawyers and Judges of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench” by John-Paul Boyd and Lorne Bertrand. This earlier report concludes that self-represented litigants tend to take unreasonable positions in family law disputes which ultimately reduce the likelihood that these disputes will resolve without a trial. When cases involving self-represented litigants do reach trial, they tend to require more adjournments and take longer to resolve as a result of self-represented litigants’ unfamiliarity with the rules of court, the rules of evidence and the law that applies to their cases, and the results self-represented litigants achieve tend to be worse than the results they would have achieved had they had counsel. An early neutral evaluation program which includes an objective appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ positions would likely be of great assistance to these litigants.

For more information about the other projects the Institute is engaged in or developing, please visit www.crilf.ca/current_projects.htm.

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