The Child-centred Family Justice Strategy:
Survey on the Practice of Family Law in Canada 2004-2006

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 ensure that family law, the court system, and the legal and social services that support the implementation of the law meet the needs of families undergoing relationship breakdown. As stated by the Minister of Justice at the time, the objectives of the CCFJS were 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 contentious cases should 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. In some areas it is necessary to collect baseline data against which future progress can be measured.

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 project replicates a study conducted by CRILF in 2004 during which baseline information of the practice of family law in Canada was obtained. The purpose of the current project was threefold: (1) to obtain current information on the characteristics of cases handled by family law lawyers; (2) to obtain feedback from both lawyers and judges concerning family law issues based on their knowledge and experience; and (3) to examine trends in family law cases and practice over a two-year period from 2004 to 2006.

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 Kananaskis, Alberta July 10-13, 2006. Data collection consisted of two components: (1) a survey completed by conference participants; and (2) two 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 Kananaskis (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 Kananaskis 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 donated by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family and included one waiver of the registration fees for the year 2008 National Family Law Program, 10 copies of the book entitled, Canadian Child Welfare Law: Children, Families and the State (Thompson Educational Publishing, 2004), as well as other miscellaneous prizes. The draw was held during the final conference dinner on Wednesday, July 12th.

Surveys were distributed at the time of registration to 395 conference attendees. Completed surveys were returned by 164 participants, including 3 of the French surveys, resulting in a response rate of 42 percent. The response rate in 2006 was higher than the response rate obtained in 2004 (34 percent), thus providing a more representative sample of the conference attendees in 2006. 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 were filled by a sign-up on a first-come-first-enrolled basis on two topics: (1) access enforcement and related issues; and (2) the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. Workshops were held on Monday, July 10th from 12:15‑1:30 p.m. and Wednesday, July 12th from 11:45 a.m.‑1:15 p.m. A box lunch was provided to each participant. Each workshop had two facilitators and two recorders. The facilitators for both workshops were 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. The first workshop, on access enforcement, generated more interest than available places; approximately 52 participants attended that workshop. Approximately 40 participants attended the workshop on the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines.

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 Alberta, likely due to the location of the conference in Kananaskis. For this reason, comparisons between the 2006 and 2004 surveys should be interpreted with caution since some of the differences may be due to the different demographics of the two samples.

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