Quebec trying new approach to help speed up divorce cases

Bill C-78 aims to put children front and centre in divorce cases
Bill C-78 aims to put children front and centre in divorce cases

Quebec trying new approach to help speed up divorce cases

The province of Quebec recently launched a pilot program to help streamline the justice system in family disputes and divorce cases, where one judge handles the case throughout the entire process.

As reported by CBC.ca, the province will spend $180,000 to expand the Parental Conflict Resolution (PCR) program.

“If we can save the lives of one or two children, this is worth it,” said Robert Pidgeon, associate chief justice of the Quebec Superior Court, referring to cases where an estranged parent would do something horrific such as kill a child, and then commit suicide.

Collaborative justice is not a new idea in Canada. It has been tried in other jurisdictions and involves two parties who agree to work together to solve disputes, rather than rely on the adversarial justice system.

According to the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), the time is ripe to reform Canada’s “archaic” Divorce Act, which is 32 years old and could use a freshening.

“The concepts at the heart of the present Divorce Act are archaic,” said Nicholas Bala, a professor of family law at Queen’s University. “Although lawyers and judges are able to work around them, it would be a big improvement if we had modern legislation that more closely resembles how families and courts actually think about these questions.”

The CBA sent a letter late in 2017 to federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, asking for changes to reflect the modern realities of the Canadian judicial system.

“Canadians often have their first encounter with the legal system because of a family law issue, and family law should reflect the best current knowledge in the area. Amendments to prioritize increasing access to justice, encouraging proportional responses and advancing the best interests of children would further this goal,” according to the letter.

And the federal government has responded by introducing Bill C-78 earlier this year.

It updates some of the language in the old Divorce Act to replace the words “custody” and “access” to include such terms as “parenting orders” and “parenting time” in an effort to better reflect the needs of the children versus the needs of the parents.

“It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a separation agreement that used the words custody or access. Kudos to them for largely reflecting what’s already happening in the family law bar,” Laurie Pawlitza, partner at Torkin Manes in Toronto, told Canadian Lawyer magazine.

The Bill also encourages both sides to pursue the “family dispute resolution process” which takes place outside of the traditional adversarial court system.

However, the head of a domestic-violence support group in Vancouver said the changes do not accurately reflect the dynamic that exists when one partner has abused the other one.

“It is repeatedly demonstrated that alternative dispute resolution processes, including mediation, are neither safe nor appropriate for women, particularly when there is a history of violence. These practices are often founded on the presumption of equal bargaining power between participants,” said Angela MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women Support Services.

 

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