Early information, services benefit families in Victoria, Surrey
Families are benefiting from a new model supporting family law issues in Victoria and Surrey, reducing court time and helping create a less adversarial approach.
“Helping families prepare before they go to court is proving to be an incredibly positive change that reduces the conflict and expenses associated with many family law disputes,” said David Eby, Attorney General. “From improvements in the well-being of children involved to reductions in court time and legal costs, I’d like to see everyone in the province who faces having to go to court for a family law issue benefiting from these important reforms.”
A new evaluation report shows that implementation of the Early Resolution and Case Management Model in Victoria is effective in resolving family issues, often eliminating the need to go court. Under the model, people can meet with a family justice counsellor to receive support, information and early resolution. Of the families that sought resolution of family law matters, only 31% continued to court with unresolved issues after using the early resolution process that includes assessment, parenting education, and, where appropriate, an attempt at consensual dispute resolution prior to the court process.
The report also shows a 63% reduction in family court time in Victoria Provincial Court, resulting from decreases in cases, issues, adjournments, appearances and trials, which is attributed to the implementation of the model.
“The Early Resolution and Case Management Model in Victoria provides the opportunity for parties to a family law dispute to receive early information, support and assistance regarding their matter. The evaluation from Victoria demonstrates that this process results in a significant number of families resolving their issues through consent agreements or consensual dispute resolution without having to come to court,” said Melissa Gillespie, chief judge of the Provincial Court. “Our Surrey court location also has the Early Resolution and Case Management model and can benefit from the recommendations for improvement in the evaluation of the Victoria model.”
The model provides services to families in a less adversarial environment. It assists with family law matters, such as child and spousal support, parenting arrangements, contact and guardianship. The model also provides opportunities to access information, referrals (including legal advice) and resources, and has improved many participants’ understanding of the family justice process.
The Early Resolution and Case Management Model was developed by the Ministry of Attorney General, the Provincial Court and others as part of the new Provincial Court Family Rules. The model was first deployed as a prototype in Victoria in 2019; learning from the prototype was implemented in both Victoria and Surrey in December 2020.
The early resolution process applies only to family law matters under the rules. People seeking time-sensitive orders, such as priority parenting matters or protection orders, can have their matters heard quickly by proceeding directly to court on those matters.
The model requires anyone initiating a family law matter in Provincial Court in Victoria or Surrey to contact the Justice Access Centre (JAC) for a needs assessment with a family justice counsellor to assist them in identifying legal and non-legal issues, including screening for family violence. In addition to a needs assessment, parents will complete a free, online parenting education session and, if appropriate, will participate in at least one dispute resolution session. Family justice counsellors and child support officers at the JAC offer free dispute resolution services. Alternatively, people may hire private mediators or collaborative law professionals.
“Those parties that did proceed to court were better prepared and more focused, having narrowed the issues that needed resolution in court,” said Gillespie. “An additional benefit of this model is that it increases the time available for other scheduled matters to proceed. The court appreciates the time and effort that has been put into making the model work for families in British Columbia, evaluating it and looking to continuously improve it.”
Modernized court processes and enhanced opportunities for case management are making it easier for families to resolve their family law issues. To support these changes, the Province has updated court forms to use plain language, implemented a more conversational question-and-answer approach to make it easier to understand, and created an online forms service to provide a user-friendly option for creating and filing many types of family law forms.
The model supports earlier and more lasting resolutions, which reduces conflict and builds skills that can help prevent future conflict. Based on the successes of the Victoria and Surrey models, the model may be rolled out throughout the province as resources become available.
- The model is part of the Provincial Court Family Rules implementation. The rules help families clarify their issues and reduce conflict so they can work toward earlier resolutions outside of the court process where appropriate, make court processes and forms user-friendly and, where court appearances are necessary, make each appearance efficient and effective.
- Most clients surveyed expressed a variety of positive outcomes, and the vast majority supported the needs assessment and dispute resolution requirements.
To learn more about the Early Resolution and Case Management Model, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/victoria-early-resolution
To view the final evaluation report on the Victoria Early Resolution and Case Management Model, please visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/law-crime-and-justice/about-bc-justice-system/justice-services-branch/fjsd/victoria-model-evaluation-report.pdf
To learn more about the Provincial Court Family Rules, visit: https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/120_2020
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