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Alberta's family law: between federal and provincial courts

Even though litigation arising from marriage or relationship breakdown is fairly common in Alberta, the two different levels of court that deal with these issue employ different procedures and have different powers - leading to confusion  Unlike many other provinces, Alberta does not have a unified family law court. What this means is that some family law issues are dealt with in the Provincial Court of Alberta and others in the federal Court of Queen's Bench. The Provincial Court can deal with parenting , custody and support issues pursuant to the Alberta Family Law Act.  The Court of Queen's Bench can deal with these issues, the Family Law Act as well as the Alberta Matrimonial Property Act and Divorce Act.  An action can be initiated In one court and then transferred to another.  As well, a decision made by a Judge of the Provincial Court can be appealed to a Queen's Bench Justice.

Alberta Premier Dave Hancock has long been an advocate for a unified family court, but there does not appear to be much movement in that direction. Even though the province was first asked to look into a unified family court back in 1999, there continues to be questions about which bench will be in charge of family law issues.

This is why many believe a unified family law court would best fall under the jurisdiction of the Court of Queen's Bench. The federal government has also made it clear that it would lend its judges to a unified family court; however, the federal government has only recently added two more positions to the judiciary since 1996, notwithstanding that Alberta's population has increased by 60% since then.

it is also noteworthy that Provincial Court Judges focus on family law while Queen's Bench Justices are called upon to determine disputes relating to all areas of law - family, criminal, civil, surrogate, etc.

With a divided family court, a combination of provincial and federal legislation, and a shortage of judges, it is no wonder that family law can be so confusing. 

Source: Edmonton Journal, "Hancock says having single family court could help cut justice system backlogs," Karen Kleiss, May 27, 2014

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