What's the difference between a contested and an uncontested family law matter?

In an uncontested case the parties have reached agreement on all legal issues. In a contested family law matter, the parties need a decision maker, such as a Justice of the Court of Queeen's Bench, a Judge of the Provincial Court Family Division or an Arbirator to decide their dispute for them. Contested family law matters are best avoided if possible.

What can I do to settle my case out of Court?

Try to stay a bit objective about your situation if you can and think about everyone's needs, not exclusively your own. When both sides manage to do that, and they have freely exchanged full financial and parenting information, it leads to reasonable settlements, much happier children and lower legal costs for both parties. Compromises by both parties are generally required to achieve settlement.

What can I do to reduce legal costs?

Try to distinguish between "legally" relevant issues, the ones your lawyer is trained to help you with, and other problems that an accountant, mediator, close friend, or counsellor may be better suited to help you resolve. For family law cases, most lawyers bill by the amount of time required for the case, so it also helps to reduce legal costs if clients try to keep their information, instructions and documents organized. Good organization and distinguishing legally relevant issues from those which are not, minimizes the need for lawyers to spend extra time, and your money, on the case while achieving reasonable outcomes.

What are Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques?

ADR is the term used for various methods of reaching agreement with the other side that do not involve a private arbitrator or Judge having to rule on your case to resolve your disputes. Mediation, the use of a Dispute Resolution Officer, a Judge in a Judicial Dispute Resolution role, collaborative family law methods and some types of arbitration are all regarded as ADR techniques. Litigation / Courts have a very important role to play within family law, especially for cases that involve a history of family violence, mental health problems, anger management concerns or addictions. But most lawyers agree the involvement of a Judge is best reserved for emergent situations or as the last conflict resolution option, after serious efforts to resolve matters outside of court have first been attempted.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a confidential process offered by a neutral, trained professional who helps parties identify their issues, communicate their points of view with each other, explore settlement options and achieve settlement. Mediation can be an extremely helpful and cost effective way to resolve some or all aspects of many family law disputes. It is extremely child friendly and it helps parents work out the fine details to meet children's needs if they are not able to do so on their own, to minimize disruptions as much as possible for their children, despite their separation, while ensuring both parents stay closely involved in their childrens care. Mediation is especially useful for issues requiring lengthy discussion of fine detail for parties who otherwise have trouble effectively communicating directly with each other. Parties may want to select a private mediator with a professional background that mirrors the issues to be resolved as mediators in private practice come from many different professional and lay backgrounds. The Government of Alberta also offers mediation services on a "without charge" basis to many lower income qualifying Albertan's. For more information about that service in the Calgary area, phone 403 297-6981.

What is Arbitration?

Arbitrators provide the same type of adjudicative service as a Judge, but arbitrators work privately, outside of the public Court system. An arbitrator's award has the same legal effect as a Judge's Order. Private arbitration may be a useful option to consider when parties are unable to reach an agreement with each other on one or more issues and they prefer to avoid litigation. Arbitrators are selected and paid for by the parties and the parties may or may not chose to have their lawyers present to help represent them during the process.

What is Collaborative Law?

Collaborative law is a technique for resolving disputes where both parties and their respective lawyers have contracted in writing, to negotiate settlement in a highly co operative and ethical manner. Litigation or adversarial tactics are not permitted within the collaborative law process. Full financial disclosure must be exchanged by the parties within this process, as in all settlement situations. The collaborative process generally involves face to face meetings with the parties and their respective lawyers, known as 4 way meetings. Within a collaborative process, the parties may also use the assistance of a mediator, children's specialists, divorce coaches or accountant etc. for some of their issues, as such expertise may be required. Family law collaboration has a high success rate but it may be best suited to more financially or otherwise complex cases, where the parties derive the most benefit from ongoing, continuous legal advice during their meetings to help them get matters resolved.