New Brunswick Family Court Pilot Project
Pilot of an alternative model for Queen's Bench Family Division to increase efficiency, promote alternatives to court, and expedite high-conflict parties.
Court of Queen's Bench, Family Division
Access to Family Justice Task Force, led by Justice Raymond Guerette of Campbellton, was appointed in February 2008 and mandated to make recommendations that would lead to:
- more timely access to justice in resolving family law disputes
- expanded use of alternatives to family courts to resolve family law issues
- increased access to legal information and legal assistance in family law matters, especially for the poor, single parents and First Nations people.
Report at 2
Following a release of the Task Force's Report, an implementation committee was formed to implement the recommendations contained in the Report.
One such recommendation is the implementation of an alternative model for the Court of Queen's Bench, Family Division, based on the Ottawa Family Court pilot project, which is planned to be piloted in the Fall of 2009.
- To increase the efficiencies of all Court matters that touch the lives of children, especially those in child protection.
- To identify those families who would benefit from professionals who could assist them to settle their issues.
- To identify high-conflict parties early and move them to trial expeditiously, while giving them access to justice through case conferencing while they wait for their court date.
Report at 47
As part of the pilot, "all cases entering the judicial system would first appear before a quasi-judicial official appointed under the Judicature Act. This official, referred to in the Ottawa model as a family case management master, would then determine the appropriate services and immediate remedies required. (News Release'')
Recommendations of the Task Force for the Family Court Pilot Project include:
Masters (appointed individuals with at least 10 years of practical family law experience) would play a key role in the project and be responsible for the efficient flow of cases through the judicial system.
The Court system will be accessed by parties through:
- a private lawyer,
- Domestic Legal Aid, or
- The effects of separation and conflict on children. A short video similar to For the Sake of the Children will be shown. Clients will be advised that any of them who intend to file for motions or a trial involving children will be required to complete the For the Sake of the Children course prior to receiving a court date.
- The basic principles of support and division of property.
- The various methods of dispute resolution - mediation, collaboration, arbitration, negotiation and litigation.
Report at 48
- Resolved: Those couples who have resolved their issues will meet with a master to finalize their order and sign it with the Master.
- Mediation: Those couples who believe they can make progress in mediation will be moved to another area and wait to see a mediator. They will each spend 15-20 minutes with the mediator to ensure that they can continue in this process and then will book their sessions with the mediator. Mediation will be paid for on a sliding scale dependent upon their annual income.
- Case conference: Those remaining couples will have a case conference with a master or a judge who will attempt to assist them in reaching a settlement. If one is reached, they will wait until the order is prepared and they will sign it. If not reached, the master will give them further direction on a method of dispute resolution that the master feels is suitable for their case. The master will identify high-conflict cases at this stage.
Report at 48
Mediation: Will be voluntary. Clients will continue in it to completion or switch into the court stream if it fails.
Court stream: In this stream, clients will have access to justice in two distinct ways:
- Motions: Clients have the opportunity to file a motion and be heard as needed on substantive issues, such as interim relief.
- Case conferences: Procedural issues will be handled by case conferences upon the request of either party. The judge or master who heard their triage meeting will continue to assist them by way of case conference. Case conferences are informal meetings. They are mostly for procedural issues and have the responsibility to ensure that the file is court-ready. A judge or master may order costs against any party who does not follow the procedural rules. Substantive issues such as immediate changes to access and enforcement of access may also be resolved at this stage.
Report at 48-49
At the settlement conference stage, the parties may choose one of two routes:
- Classic settlement conference: The same as is currently in place under Rule 50, with two modifications: a. Settlement conferences will occur early in the life of a court file - within two or three months of the initial filing of the originating process; b. The applicant's settlement brief will be due 30 days prior to the settlement conference and provided to the respondent, with the respondent's brief due 10 days later (20 days before the conference).
- Binding settlement conference with a judge of their mutual choice. The decision of this judge is final and is not open to appeal.
Report at 49