January 29, 2021
In this age of COVID-19, a change to the way that family law disputes are resolved is needed, more than ever.
It has now been almost one year since the pandemic turned our lives and the world as we know it upside down. For the first several months of lockdown, courts in Vancouver and other parts of B.C. were closed to all matters except for emergencies. Subsequently, the courts slowly began to open by holding hearings over the telephone. Courts are currently open but are still hearing almost all matters, except for trials, virtually or over the phone.
The initial closure of the courts resulted in an even greater backlog in the court system than we saw pre-COVID – those who know the court system know that it was severely backlogged before the pandemic, especially for family law matters.
Due to the court closures that occurred during the beginning of the pandemic, it is more challenging than ever for family law litigants to secure hearing dates, with those in certain registries having to wait months before they even have their initial hearing (also known as a judicial case conference, which is discussed more here) with a judge. Trial dates are typically booked at the initial hearing and are being booked a year or more in advance. Further, when litigants finally get before a judge, the inability to attend in-person can make the court process more confusing and challenging to navigate.
Our judicial system is facing a crisis caused by COVID-19.
Given the various challenges COVID has presented for those wishing to use the court system to resolve their family law disputes, I suggest that the pandemic has provided us with an opportunity. The opportunity is first seeking out alternatives to court as the default way of resolving family law disputes, as opposed to choosing court as the preferred process. There are various alternative dispute resolution processes available, including Collaborative law (described here); negotiation (more described here); and mediation (described here).
While many lawyers and mediators are currently offering in-person services, Collaborative law, negotiation, and mediation are frequently being done over Zoom and other virtual platforms. This also means that geographical barriers are broken down so that people living in parts of B.C. that may not have these services offered locally can easily access the services of a lawyer or mediator anywhere in the province.
These alternative processes all provide a way for families to take resolution into their own hands, which can be particularly empowering in an age where there are so many things we cannot control. Families are able to attain resolution on their schedule, without having to deal with court delays; on their terms, without having to leave the decision making up to a judge; in a more economical way, without the exorbitant costs associated with litigation; and, most significantly, in a manner that preserves relationships and shields children from the harmful adversarial process.
If you are interested to learn more about how you can resolve your family law issues out-of-court, please contact me here for a free consultation.