Resolving Family Law Matters: The Processes Available

Resolving Family Law Matters: The Processes Available

For those dealing with a family law or child welfare matter, one of the greatest causes of anxiety is not knowing what processes and procedures are available. Regardless of the exact nature of your legal issue, you have options in how to resolve your matter. Broadly speaking, matters can be resolved by consent or through an adversarial process. The balance of this article canvasses some of the different resolution paths available to family law and child welfare parties.

Adversarial Processes


Trial is the most common and well-recognized adversarial process. While trials do regularly occur in both family and child welfare matters, most legal matters of this nature are resolved without resorting to this mentally and financially draining exercise.

Briefly, a trial itself involves parties or their counsel making opening statements and then calling on witnesses to give oral evidence in direct and cross-examination, followed by closing arguments by the parties.


Arbitration is another adversarial method of resolution. Arbitration entails a senior lawyer acting as an impartial decision making under the authority of the Arbitration Act. In Arbitration, the Arbitrator reviews the evidence presented and makes a binding decision just like a Judge or Justice would at a trial. Arbitration can involve a process similar to trial but may also entail more condensed and stream-line processes. The exact process of Arbitration will be determined at the outset when the parties sign the Arbitration Agreement.

Regular and Special Chambers

When interim relief is required, or when smaller issues need to be adjudicated (and a full trial or arbitration process is not warranted), the parties can attend either regular or special chambers. Regular chambers is an oral hearing where the parties make brief verbal submissions (usually about 10 to 15 minutes each) while Special Chambers is an oral hearing where the parties may make longer submissions (usually 30 to 90 minutes). In both hearings, the parties file Affidavits (sworn documents detailing the facts relied upon by each party) and other documents in advance and limit their oral submissions to legal argument.

Consent Processes

Exchange of Offers

Often one of the first consent processes explored by individuals party to a proceeding is the exchange of offers, including formal settlement offers. Generally, in such an instance, a party will send a comprehensive written offer to the other party about how to resolve the claim. Such offers are generally ‘without prejudice’, so the other party cannot rely on any concessions or statements made by the offeror. In such instances, it is not unusual for offers to be ‘countered’ back and forth.

Settlement Meetings and Mediation

In some cases, it may be more appropriate for parties to meet in person to discuss and attempt to settle their matter. Settlement meetings – meetings with the parties and their counsel – are a common settlement process whereby the parties attend together in a private boardroom to try and reach an early and efficient resolution to a matter. Parties can also agree to Mediation, which entails a settlement meeting with the parties and their counsel and an impartial senior family law lawyer acting as a mediator.

JDRs (Judicial Dispute Resolution) & EICCs (Early Intervention Case Conferences) 

JDRs and EICCs are confidential and without prejudice oral conferences led by a Judge or a Justice: the conferences are generally 1 to 2 hours but can be shorter or longer depending on the presiding Judge or Justice.

The parties appear before the Judge or Justice and attempt to resolve the matter or in the very least, narrow the issues for trial. Submissions in such conferences are often less structured than trial and the parties themselves are often directly engaged in the conference, though not under oath.

Often in EICCs and JDRs (though not always), the Judge or Justice will advise the parties how he or she might decide the matter if it proceed to trial which can help ‘push’ the parties to resolution. At EICCs, the Judge or Justice may also issue a procedural Order to move the matter towards resolution if the adjudicator determines it is appropriate to do so.

Choosing the Right Process or Series of Processes

The right process for an individual’s particular matter, or the right series of processes, will vary depending on many factors. The complexity and urgency of the matter, the means and needs of the parties (both financially and emotionally), and other factors including the parties’ personalities, their counsel or lack thereof, and whether the matter is ‘high conflict’. These factors should guide an individual’s decision about what process to pursue.

When speaking with your counsel, be sure to ask questions about the anticipated benefits and consequences of choosing one procedure over another. Also contemplate the ‘next step’ – what do you do if mediation fails, or your settlement offer is rejected? Have an idea of how you want to proceed if your first chosen process fails because this will help reduce delays in moving your matter forward.

If you have any questions or concerns about family law procedure and what procedure is best for your specific circumstances, you can set up a consultation by calling our office at 587.440.3070 or by using the Contact form on our website. Our office is set up to work virtually and we can assist you with any family or divorce issues you may have during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The above procedural information does not constitute legal advice. EBL Family Law is not liable for any reliance on the above information.