The Practice of Family Law in Canada: Results from a Survey of Participants at the 2016 National Family Law Program

Lorne D. Bertrand, Ph.D.
Joanne J. Paetsch, B.A.
John-Paul E. Boyd, M.A., LL.B.
Nicholas Bala, L.S.M., J.D., LL.M.
Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family

October 2016

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Justice Canada or the Government of Canada.

Executive summary


The National Family Law Program (NFLP), a high-profile, four-day biennial conference organized by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, is the premiere national forum for members of the family law community to come together to learn about and discuss developments and issues in family law. It has, in the past, provided a unique opportunity for the Department of Justice Canada and the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family to obtain data on the experience and caseloads of family law lawyers and the judiciary.

The NFLP attracts hundreds of lawyers and judges from across the country, and was most recently held in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador between 11 and 14 July 2016. Recognizing that both the Department of Justice Canada and the Institute had an interest in surveying participants at the 2016 NFLP, the Federation asked the two groups to work together to maximize responses and minimize the burden on their participants.

Accordingly, the Department of Justice Canada contracted the Institute to administer and analyze a survey on current issues in the practice of family law in Canada.


Two electronic surveys were developed using FluidSurveys, a Canadian-based online survey service—one for lawyers and one for judges. The purpose of the surveys was to obtain current information on the characteristics of cases handled by family law practitioners in Canada, and to obtain information from both lawyers and judges concerning current family law issues.

Invitations with links to the surveys were distributed to conference registrants on 7 June 2016, followed by a reminder on 20 June 2016. During the conference, representatives from the Department of Justice and the Institute jointly presented preliminary data from the surveys to conference attendees. Another reminder to complete the surveys was distributed by email on 14 July 2016, and the surveys remained open until 3 August 2016.

A total of 458 delegates registered for the conference in St. John’s. Surveys were received from 217 participants, resulting in a response rate of 47.4%. This report examines the results of the lawyers’ and judges’ versions of the NFLP 2016 Survey on the Practice of Family Law in Canada.

Highlights of survey findings

Demographic information

Case characteristics


Children’s views

Custody and access

Child support

Spousal support

Family violence

Support enforcement and interjurisdictional support orders

Unified family courts

Limited-scope retainers