Alberta remains one of only four Canadian jurisdictions where family law matters are divided between the lower and superior courts, while the other nine jurisdictions have some kind of unified family court.
In Alberta, court cases related to the division of matrimonial property and divorce are typically heard in the Court of Queen's Bench, which is Alberta's superior court. When divorce and matrimonial property are not an issue, family law matters such as child custody, access and support can be heard in either the Court of Queen's Bench or in the Provincial Court of Alberta - Family Division.
This can create confusion and even duplication of court processes, as a party initiate a claim for parenting and support in the Provincial Court but can be forced mid-stream to move to the Court of Queen's Bench. Also, some inefficiencies may result if parenting and support are dealt with in the Provincial Court while division of property through a claim in constructive trust/joint family venture (for unmarried spouses) or for division of matrimonial property is pursued in the Court of Queen's Bench.
Efforts are currently underway to find a family law process that is more streamlined, and the creation of a unified family court in Alberta is one option being considered. However, establishing a unified court would be a complex legal process given that the Provincial Court is funded and appointed by the provincial government while the Court of Queen's Bench is funded and appointed by the federal government. Consequently, a unified family court in Alberta is not expected in the short or even the medium term.
The current court system can be quite confusing to spouses and parents seeking court intervention. Parties who wish to have a judge rule on a divorce or other family law matter are often overwhelmed by what can be an intimidating, complex and inflexible process. It is no wonder, then, that many people choose to resolve their disputes through alternative, out-of-court methods.
For example, we recently discussed how spouses with or without children can use the collaborative law process to come to an agreement in a non-adversarial setting. Mediation and arbitration are two other increasingly popular methods of alternative dispute resolution.
As for streamlining family court proceedings in Alberta, the Calgary Herald has more on the issue.