Aftershocks: COVID-19 and the "new normal" for family lawyers.

September 1, 2020By Erika Hagen

When the world feels like it is off its axis and everything is changing at an unprecedented pace, sometimes it helps to remember what has NOT changed as we grapple with what has. Things that have not changed:

  1. Families continue to require compassionate and thorough assistance to get their lives in order following a separation.

  2. Technology continues to be both the bane of our existence and our saviour.

  3. Access to justice continues to be a challenge.

  4. The mundane remains mundane. We still calculate guideline incomes the same way. We continue to require the same financial disclosure we always have. We continue to draft thorough and detailed Agreements, Affidavits and other materials. We do our best to tackle our inboxes and voicemails in as timely a fashion as we can. The list goes on. None of this changes whether we are working in the office or remotely, whether we are meeting with clients in person or via video-conferencing, nor whether we are working with children underfoot or accessing childcare.

    That being said, my practice has changed considerably. Initially my workload decreased - overnight my calendar all but emptied. The courts understandably took time to grapple with the practical and technological challenges that the pandemic posed for their operations. Some clients themselves required some time to find their "new normal." There were many short-term changes, new policies and new procedures. However, the practice now seems to be finding its "new normal" too, and so I wish to highlight some of the lasting (or hopefully lasting) changes to the practice and at the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench.

    Family Docket

    The Court of Queen's Bench took the "pause" necessitated by the pandemic to introduce Family Docket. This is a new procedure and a mandatory pre-requisite to nearly all other types of procedures. It allows families to get their foot in the door without first needing to start proceedings. The judge spends a few minutes on each case to understand what the major issues are, offer procedural direction, and attempt to shepherd the file towards the lowest-conflict avenue available. It is conducted online via Webex. We can view it as yet another thing we have to do before we can get to the type of hearing we want. However, I am seeing the benefit for clients of being able to go to Court without having to file a Statement of Claim, Family Law Claim or Application in order to get the advice and direction...

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