The Child-centred Family Justice Strategy: Baseline Information from Family Law Practitioners

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Purpose of the Project

In December 2002, the Department of Justice Canada announced its plan to proceed with the Child-centred Family Justice Strategy (CCFJS). The CCFJS is intended to encourage an approach in which family law, the court system, and the legal and social services that implement the law meet the needs of families undergoing relationship breakdown in a way that promotes the interests of children. In order to meet these needs, the CCFJS will include new funding to support family justice services, increase the number of judges appointed to Unified Family Courts, and reform legislation dealing with custody and access. As stated by the Minister of Justice, the objectives of the CCFJS are to:

  • minimize the potentially negative impact of separation and divorce on children;
  • provide parents with the tools they need to reach parenting agreements that are in the child's best interests; and
  • ensure that the legal process is less adversarial; only the most difficult cases will go to court.

The performance of the CCFJS is being monitored by the Department of Justice Canada using the Results-based Management and Accountability Framework. In order to accomplish this, a series of initiatives is being undertaken to assess the different components of the Strategy. For some issues, baseline data are being collected so that future progress can be measured. This project is one such initiative.

The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) conducted this research project on the current state of the practice of family law in Canada with funding from the Department of Justice Canada. The purpose of the project was twofold: (1) to obtain current baseline information on the characteristics of cases handled by family law lawyers in Canada; and (2) to obtain feedback from both lawyers and judges concerning family law issues based on their knowledge and experience.

1.2 Methodology

Data collection for this project was held in conjunction with the National Family Law Program of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in La Malbaie, Quebec, July 12-15, 2004. Data collection consisted of two components: (1) a survey completed by conference participants; and (2) workshops conducted with smaller groups of conference participants on specific topics.A project advisory committee was established at the beginning of the project to identify issues to be addressed in the survey and workshops, review the draft survey, and decide on the format and content of the workshops in La Malbaie (please see Appendix A for a list of the project advisory committee members).

1.2.1  Survey

The survey was distributed to participants at the conference in La Malbaie with the conference materials given during registration (please see Appendix B for a copy of the survey). The draft survey was reviewed by members of the Department of Justice Canada and the project advisory committee prior to being finalized. The survey was translated into French by the Department of Justice Canada, and was available to conference participants in either English or French. Respondents were asked to return completed surveys to the Registration Desk anytime during the conference. As an incentive to complete the survey and increase the response rate, respondents were also given an entry form for a draw. The draw prizes were two waivers of the registration fees for the year 2006 National Family Law Program. There were also ten smaller prizes (i.e., five $50 gift certificates to Tim Hortons and five $50 gift certificates to Chapters). The draw was held during the final conference dinner on Wednesday, July 14th.

A total of 343 surveys were distributed to conference participants. Completed surveys were returned by 117 participants, resulting in a response rate of 34 percent. One survey completed in French was received, and the rest were in English. Qualitative data were coded and both quantitative and qualitative data were entered into an SPSS data analysis program.

1.2.2  Workshops

The workshops were intended to gain more in-depth information from a smaller group of lawyers and judges concerning specific family law issues. Workshops included the following topics: (1) parenting arrangements; and (2) family violence. Workshops were held on Monday, July 12th and Tuesday, July 13th from 12:00-1:30 pm. Each workshop had two facilitators and two recorders. Facilitators for the workshop on parenting arrangements were Julia Cornish (private practitioner in Halifax) and Ron Profit (private practitioner in Charlottetown); the workshop on family violence was facilitated by Marie Gordon (private practitioner in Edmonton) and Nick Bala (law professor, Queen's University). CRILF staff members Joanne Paetsch and Lorne Bertrand were recorders for both workshops. The workshops began with a brief introduction of the issue by the facilitators, and the balance of the workshop was spent discussing the issue and participants' professional experiences. A list of questions was prepared by CRILF to assist the facilitators in guiding the discussion. Approximately 55 participants attended each workshop.

1.3  Limitations

Certain limitations to the data presented in this report may affect the ability to generalize the findings to the legal community as a whole. Specifically, it should be kept in mind that participants in the project do not represent a random sample of individuals in the Canadian legal community. Attendees at the Federation of Law Societies of Canada's National Family Law Program likely consist of lawyers and judges who are among the most engaged in and knowledgeable of family law. Therefore, the responses obtained cannot be generalized to all Canadian legal professionals.

In addition, the sample is not geographically representative of lawyers and judges across Canada. For example, there was a higher proportion of respondents from Ontario, likely due to the location of the conference in central Canada.

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