How To Best Manage Covid-19 Family Law Issues In Alberta
COVID-19 has taken the country by storm with rules and limitations changing by the hour. This is a stressful time for everyone and even more so for separated families who were already in a state of transition and frustration prior to the commencement of the pandemic. Added to this is the fact the Alberta Courts have now closed (other than urgent applications), leaving family lawyers with fewer resources to assist their clients during this time period. But do not worry, your file will progress throughout this time, just in a modified capacity. The family law lawyers at Kahane Law Office continue to work, from home (and the office when needed) to help you and your family.
Courts: CLOSED: Except ‘Urgent’ Family Law Issues
The Alberta Courts have now closed until May 2020, except for URGENT files only.
What Are “Urgent” Family Law Issues?
For family law, the Court of Queen’s Bench defines “urgent” as the following:
- Orders where there is a risk of violence or immediate harm to one of the parties or a child.
- Orders where there is a risk of removal of a child from the jurisdiction.
- Emergency Protection Order reviews.
To be clear, the court will not hear any applications which do not fall within the above 3 categories.
What Happens To Scheduled Family Law Matters?
Any court dates previously set to take place over the next few months have been adjourned ‘sine die’. This means the court removes them from the list, to be re-added to the list at a later mutually agreed upon date. Note, you do not have to re-file any materials which have already been submitted.
Little information exists at this point, given to the profession, as to how the the process to manage the backlog of files when the courts re-open. It is also unknown how long the closure of the Courts will last. When they do re-open however, it can reasonably be expected that Criminal matters will be given priority over Family Law files due to the SCC Jordan decision which mandates criminal matters must be dealt with within a specified time frame.
Simply put, this is not the optimal time to have a family matter before the Court system. The uncertain and unspecified delay in the operation of the Court system adds to frustration for many families. Their matter then sits in limbo until a reassignment of court dates.
Lawyers: Still Working
With the Courts mostly closed at this point in time, now more than ever, families must work together to reach settlement between themselves. Family law lawyers help facilitate this often involving the use of private resolution services, if needed.
Please know that all family law lawyers are still working. We anticipated the designation of the family law profession as an essential services in Alberta. This is so notwithstanding, there is direction in Alberta to close all non-essential businesses. (Ontario has set out paralegals and lawyers as essential services as of March 23, 2020). As expected in this environment, many meetings are now taking place by Skype and phone call, but they are taking place. Additionally, many offices, including Kahane, still hold in person meetings. This occurs when, safe and, deemed the most efficient use of time or necessary to execute documents. You can fully expect your file to progress during this time period, just in a modified setting.
Mediation / Mediation – Arbitration
The closure of the courts has increased the use of private settlement options using Meditations or Mediation – Arbitration. Over the past few weeks, family law firms around Calgary have quickly adapted their technology to allow for call in meetings such as Skype, Facetime and Zoom. this allows settlement meetings to take place as scheduled. Many offices continue to also hold in person meetings. This happens only if agreed upon by all involved and deemed safe for everyone.
Some situations require an absolute binding decision. They parties may execute an Arbitration Contract which permits a third party, usually a senior Family Lawyer or retired Judge, to make a binding decision on a specific issue. The decision is just as binding as if made by a judge in Court. (subject to options of appeal).
Before signing any form of Mediation or Arbitration Agreement be sure to understand your rights, the process that will be used, as well as the fees involved for paying the Arbitrator. A family law lawyer is the best person to explain this to you.
Parenting Coordination: Binding Or Not
If parenting issues arise on a file which need assistance of a third party, a Parenting Coordination is considered. A Parenting Coordinator is often a psychologist or senior family law lawyer. They work with both parents directly, talk to the child if the child is age appropriate and talk to additional contacts of the child. The coordinator will then assist parents in coming to a resolution which is in the best interests of the Children. The Parenting Coordinator can also be given powers under an Arbitration Contract to make a binding decision. This is similar to Arbitration (subject to specific appeal rights).
With Covid-19, family law issues continue in that Parenting Coordinators around town are continuing to hold meetings both via Skype or teleconference. Some are also agreeable to in person meetings. Just as with regular Arbitration Contracts, you must understand your rights, the process used, as well as the fees involved for paying the Parenting Coordinator. A family law lawyer is the best person to explain this to you.
In some instances, parenting coordination may be covered by employment benefits if the services are provided by a psychologist.
In Person Meetings
During Covid-19, family law issues come up and people require consultations. As anticipated, any in person meetings, only occur if all parties answer NO to the following questions:
- Are you currently or have you within the last 14 days had any flu like symptoms?
- Have you traveled outside of Canada within the last 14 days?
- Have you been in close contact with a confirmed or probably case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days?
With an answer in the affirmative of any of the above, then meetings require a delay until such time as meeting in person in safe or alternatively booked in a modified setting.
Even With Covid-19, Family Law Issues Addressed For You
The Kahane Family Law team continues to be here to service you throughout this uncertain time and walk you through all of the various process options which still remain available to clients. Please connect with us. During Covid-19, family law issues needing assistance receive faster responses by using email. Please email us directly here. We still have access to our phone, so you may also call us at 403-225-8810or toll-free at1-877-225-8817, but please understand if it takes a day or two to get back to you.