Parenting Assessments and Their Use in Family Law Disputes in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario

“Parenting Assessments and Their Use in Family Law Disputes in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario” is a recently published paper based on reviews of practice and procedure in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, and examines:

  • the extent to which these assessments are used and relied upon in courtroom decision-making;
  • and, whether there is a relationship between the cost of private assessments and the frequency of their use in these jurisdictions.

The report concludes with recommendations for further research to explore: the qualitative difference between assessments conducted by psychologists and psychiatrists compared to social workers and their impact on the settlement of family law disputes; the utility and feasibility of establishing standard guidelines or best practices for parenting assessments; and, options for shielding assessors from the damaging impact of unmeritorious complaints.

“Parenting Assessments and Their Use in Family Law Disputes in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario” was prepared by the the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) under the leadership of Zoe Suche, LL.B. and John-Paul E. Boyd, M.A., LL. B. The paper is available on the CRILF website.

The details in this post was taken from information circulated by CRILF.

Analysis of Data from the Federal Justice Divorce File Review Study: Report on Findings for Alberta, 2011

This latest report from the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) looks at data collected from the Calgary registry of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench by the federal Department of Justice in 2011. The Report is authored by Sibyl Kleiner, Lorne Bertrand, Joanne Paetsch and John-Paul E. Boyd.

Highlights from the Report include:
  • Two-thirds of divorce claims were initiated by women, and three-quarters of plaintiffs were either represented by or had the assistance of a lawyer at some point in the case. Just under one-half of defendants had legal representation at some point in the case.
  • Almost 15% of the court files reviewed included a reference to family violence somewhere in the file.
  • Mental or physical cruelty was given as a reason for marriage breakdown in only 2.7% of files. Separation for not less than one year was given as a reason for marriage breakdown in 98.6% of cases.
  • On average, spouses had been separated for approximately 2.5 years before the start of proceedings in the Court of Queen’s Bench. The least amount of time passing between these dates was zero years, and the most time passing was 16.4 years.
  • The average length of time from the start of proceedings to the making of the final divorce order was 1.3 years. The least amount of time passing between these dates was 0.1 years, and the most time passing was 6.4 years.
  • Interim orders were more likely to be made in cases mentioning family violence (27%) than in cases where there was no mention of violence (3%).
  • In cases mentioning family violence, a larger proportion of plaintiffs were women than in cases where there was no mention of family violence. Plaintiffs and defendants were also, on average, younger in cases involving family violence.
  • In just over two-thirds of the first orders made in the files reviewed, mothers and stepmothers had the primary residence of the eldest child. Fathers and stepfathers had the primary residence of the eldest child in 10.6% of initial orders, and the primary residence of the eldest child was shared in 14.2% of initial orders.
  • In 30.8% of the first orders made in the files reviewed, mothers and stepmothers had the sole responsibility for decision-making in respect of the eldest child. Fathers and stepfathers had sole responsibility for decision-making for the eldest child in 6.9% of initial orders, and responsibility for decision-making for the eldest child was shared in 62.3% of initial orders.
  • Orders on parenting arrangements were made more frequently in cases mentioning family violence (42.6% of cases included two or more orders on parenting arrangements) than in cases not mentioning violence (9.4% of cases included two or more such orders).

Recommendations in this Report encourage the provincial and federal governments to do more work with the data already collected and to undertake a new round of data collection using the materials prepared for 2011.

CRILF acknowledges the ongoing financial support of the Alberta Law Foundation, without which this Report could not have been completed. The complete Report is available on the CRILF website.

Details in this post were taken from information circulated by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family.

Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta: Year 1 Results from the Community Legal Clinic Surveys and the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project – New Research from the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) has published a new report entitled, Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta: Year 1 Results from the Community Legal Clinic Surveys.

This report, which was prepared for the Alberta Law Foundation by Institute researchers, Joanne Paetsch and Lorne Betrand, examines the results of initial and follow-up surveys of 3,300 clients receiving services from legal clinics operated by Calgary Legal Guidance, Edmonton Community Legal Centre, Central Alberta Community Legal Clinic and Lethbridge Legal Guidance after one year of data collection, and has important implications for legal clinics across Canada.

Highlights from the study’s findings include:
  • The vast majority of clients reported that a 30-minute meeting with lawyer was sufficient to talk about their legal problem.
  • The most frequently discussed legals problems related to family law, landlord-tenant disputes and immigration.
  • Family law problems were more likely to be issues for clients who had completed some university or college than clients who had completed high school or less.
  • The vast majority of clients strongly agreed or agreed that they had a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities after their meeting at the clinic.
  • In the follow-up survey, clients who received a written summary of the advice they received were significantly more likely to strongly agree or agree that they had a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities after their meeting at the clinic.

Summary Legal Advice Services in Alberta: Year 1 Results from the Community Legal Clinic Surveys is available on the CRILF website.

 


On 18 April 2017, the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family formally launched The Alberta Limited Legal Services Project. The primary goals of the project are to determine whether limited scope legal services, also known as limited scope retainers and unbundled legal services, improve people’s ability to access justice, and to assess clients’ and lawyers’ satisfaction with limited scope legal services. Secondary goals include encouraging lawyers to provide these services as a component of their existing service offerings, improving public awareness of these services as an alternative to the traditional start-to-finish retainer, and creating a pool of lawyers trained and willing to provide limited scope services.

The project presently involves about 50 lawyers, with offices located throughout Alberta, practicing in almost every area of law. CRILF has focussed on family law, being the area of greatest need, and 40 roster lawyers provide service in this area. We will be surveying lawyers and clients alight through the data-collection phase of the project, which will wrap up in September 2018. The project is funded by a grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario.

The project website can be found at http://albertalegalservices.com/index.html and features: a list of roster lawyers, sorted by name, by area of practice and by location of practice; information for clients; and, practice resources for lawyers, including a model retainer agreement, best practices, a training video and frequently asked questions. Project materials are available at no charge to anyone interesting in replicating or repurposing the project elsewhere.

Details in this post were taken from information circulated by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family.

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.

Comparing the Views of Judges and Lawyers Practicing in Alberta and in the Rest of Canada on Selected Issues in Family Law: Parenting, Self-represented Litigants and Mediation

Comparing the Views of Judges and Lawyers Practicing in Alberta and in the Rest of Canada on Selected Issues in Family Law: Parenting, Self-represented Litigants and Mediation draws on the findings of a survey, conducted by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, Professor Nick Bala and Dr. Rachel Birnbaum, of the participants at the 2014 National Family Law Program in Whistler, British Columbia, and compares the views of Alberta respondents with those from the rest of Canada on a number of issues, including parenting after separation, self-represented litigants, access to justice and mediation.

The report notes some striking differences between the views and experiences of Alberta practitioners and those from elsewhere in Canada. Among other things, Alberta practitioners are more likely to: have cases resulting in shared custody or shared parenting; support the amendment of the Divorce Act to use terms such as parenting responsibilities and parenting time; have cases involving self-represented litigants; support mandatory information programs for self-represented litigants; and, support the use of paralegals to improve access to justice for self-represented litigants. Recommendations are made on subjects including: the amendment of the Divorce Act; the use of unbundled legal services to promote access to justice; the use of mandatory mediation where at least one party is self-represented; the provision of limited legal services in family law matters by paralegals; and, the use of standardized questionnaires by lawyers screening for domestic violence.

Comparing the Views of Judges and Lawyers Practicing in Alberta and in the Rest of Canada on Selected Issues in Family Law: Parenting, Self-represented Litigants and Mediation was written by Dr. Lorne Bertrand and John-Paul E. Boyd and can accessed through the Institute’s website here.

New report from the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family: “Access to Legal Services in Women’s Shelters”

Access to Legal Services in Women’s Shelters examines access to legal services among clients of women’s domestic violence shelters. The study samples the views of staff and clients at three domestic violence shelters with the goals of improving understanding of clients’ legal service needs, understanding the challenges clients attempting to access legal services encounter and making recommendations for improvement.

The authors, Alysia Wright, Coordinator of Alberta-based Research Projects at The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family and Lorne Bertrand PhD, Senior Research Associate at The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family conclude that clients’ service needs are complex and often involve legal problems, yet shelters face specific organizational barriers to coordinating legal services. The authors recommend that a further Alberta-wide study be undertaken to examine the legal access patterns of women experiencing domestic violence, to assess the prevalence of the barriers identified in the study and to determine whether further barriers are present in other shelters.

The report is available for download in PDF format from the publications page of The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family website: http://www.crilf.ca/publications.htm.

Access to Justice Research Report on Intimate Partner Violence in Family and Criminal Cases

Dr. Margaret Jackson, Director of the FREDA Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children, and The Honourable Donna J. Martinson, Q.C., LL.M., have released an access to justice report entitled: Risk of Future Harm: Family Violence and Information Sharing Between Family and Criminal Courts.

This report is grounded in their exploratory, qualitative study that deals with both family law and criminal law cases in which intimate partner violence (family violence) is an issue. The research focused primarily on violence against women and children.

Read the final report by The Honourable Donna Martinson, Q.C. and Dr. Margaret Jackson here: http://www.fredacentre.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Observatory-Martinson-Jackson-Risk-Report-FINAL-January-14-2016.pdf

Dr. Jackson and The Honourable Donna Martinson presented their research at B.C.’s Fifth Justice Summit (held in November 2015). The Report on the Fifth Summit will be released soon. The report on the Fourth Summit, entitled Better Responses to Violence against Women, is available here: http://www.justicebc.ca/shared/pdfs/FourthSummitReport.pdf

Self-Rep Navigators

A Toronto-based lawyers group has launched the “Self-Rep Navigators” to direct legal services towards self-represented litigants. Described as “a hub for connecting self-represented litigants to supportive lawyers and high quality resources both online and offline”, Self-Rep Navigators have established a website at www.limitedscoperetainers.ca and list lawyers who will take clients on a limited scope retainer/ at fixed fees for civil and criminal matters, and those offering the same types of services to family clients.

Heather (hh@litigation-help.com) and Michael (mhassell@trialcounsel.ca) would like to hear from any other lawyers interested in being a part of this group.

You can find the full write up about Self-Rep Navigators here.

Action Committee Meeting of Provincial and Territorial Access to Justice Groups

On March 13, 2015 the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters (the Action Committee) convened a meeting for existing provincial and territorial access to justice groups (P/T A2J groups), many of which were formed in response to recommendation 5.1 of the Action Committee’s Roadmap Report.

The purpose of the meeting was to reflect on the progress made by these groups over the past year, discuss the access to justice initiatives underway in different jurisdictions, highlight promising developments, learn from common challenges, and consider collaborations and cooperation among justice stakeholders that could be further supported by the Action Committee.
The report can be accessed in English here and in French here.

Semple Explores Civil Justice Costs for Canadians

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 10.53.32 AM

Noel Semple has recently released a paper contributing to the ongoing discussion surrounding the cost of civil justice in Canada. He draws attention to the financially burdensome nature of civil justice claims, as well as temporal and psychological costs involved with legal disputes. His thorough investigation of the issue draws on the National Self Represented Litigants Project for quantitative information about the true costs of accessing civil justice. The paper is available on SSRN.