Family Law / Divorce Library

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Family Court:
Alternative Dispute Resolution
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Alternative Dispute Resolution

There are several alternatives to court. Court can be frustrating, complex, slow, impersonal, incorrect, expensive when lawyers are involved, and the result is often increased animosity, which can make co-parenting even worse. In some cases, such as emergencies or impasse, court might be necessary. In most other circumstances, alternative dispute resolution may be more appropriate.

Courts an order that people participate in one of the non-binding processes. People must each agree before they're able to enter into one of the binding processes, because you're essentially giving up your right to a full trial (even though a full trial is usually a worse option).

Some of these processes cost money, so whether the process can be afforded should first be considered.


Arbitration (Binding)

Arbitration is essentially a private court. It tends to be much faster, less expensive than hiring lawyers to navigate the court system, and being able to select the decision-maker can result in much better outcomes.

The first step would usually be to agree who will be your arbitrator. You can choose an experienced family law arbitrator, whereas in court your judge will probably never have practiced family law, and could be new.

A directory of Albertan family law arbitrators can be found at:

Family arbitration will usually be conducted with relaxed procedural rules which mean that while you pay for the up-front cost of the arbitrator, the overall cost is usually much less than if you were to hire lawyers for a contested matter in court, even if you hire lawyers for the arbitration.

Arbitration usually results in a much faster decision. Timelines are usually built into the initial Arbitration Agreement. This is preferable to the courts, where fighting for years can result in chronic stress and poor co-parenting.

More information about family law arbitration can be found at

Collaborative Family Law

Collaborative family law is meant for people who want the least stressful separation, and have sufficient funds.

Each spouse/parent would hire their own lawyer in this process. Those lawyers must be Registered Collaborative lawyers. A directory can be found here:

In Collaborative family law, each spouse/parent agrees that they will resolve their dispute outside of court, will not threaten court, and will resolve their dispute face-to-face. If the process is unsuccessful, the spouses/parents each have to hire new lawyers, and can't use anything that they agreed to in the Collaborative law process. They have to re-start, which encourages them to come to a resolution during the Collaborative process.

Collaborative family law is structured as a series of settlement meetings with both spouses/parents and their lawyers present. The first meeting reviews a Participation Agreement together, so that everyone understands the rules.

Learn more about Collaborative family law at

Early Intervention Case Conference (non-binding)

An Early Intervention Case Conference (EICC) is essentially mediation with a judge. It can be ordered in the Court of King's Bench at Family Docket Court see (Applications).

Similar to JDRs (below), the judge facilitates settlement discussions in order to encourage people to voluntarily come to an agreement. Because the judge heard confidential settlement discussions, they wouldn't make any decisions and would be excluded from making any decisions in the future.

Even if all issues in dispute can't be addressed, EICCs have a good track record of resolving at least part of the dispute, so that the remaining issues can be addressed more efficiently.

The major difference between an EICC and non-binding JDR is that an EICC is much shorter, typically only one hour, whereas a JDR is typically a full day. It is often very difficult to resolve very much in one hour.

More information about EICCs, including what needs to be filed in advance of the EICC, can be found at

Judicial Dispute Resolution (binding and non-binding JDR options are available)

Judicial Dispute Resolution (JDR) is either similar to mediation with a judge or arbitration with a judge, depending on whether a non-binding or binding process is chosen.

In a typical, non-binding JDR, the judge would act as an independent facilitator to encourage everyone to come to a decision. The major difference between an EICC and non-binding JDR is that an EICC is much shorter, typically only one hour, whereas a JDR is typically a full day. Most separations need more than an hour to resolve. Court of King's Bench JDRs also require that written briefs be filed, rather than the simpler EICC Summary Forms. Because the judge heard confidential settlement discussions, they wouldn't make any decisions and would be excluded from making any decisions in the future.

In a binding JDR, the judge makes a very rough, unappealable, decision.

JDRs are offered by each level of court. Further information and booking processes can be found at:

Med-Arb (binding)

Med-Arb is a hybrid of mediation and arbitration. If a resolution isn't reached in the mediation component, then the mediator becomes an arbitrator, and can decide what will happen in relation to each remaining issue.

Med-Arb is seen as combining the strengths of both mediation and arbitration. In most cases, a resolution addressing everyone's priorities and concerns will be agreed upon in mediation. However, if it isn't, then you haven't delayed the process, as the independent facilitator can then address any remaining issues for which you're at an impasse.

Mediation (non-binding)

Mediation is a meeting, or series of meetings, with an independent facilitator. That independent mediator helps to keep the conversation on track, explore interests and concerns, and encourages brainstorming.

There are no legal requirements to call yourself a mediator. It is important to review your mediator's education and experience before selecting them. A list of family mediators with some mediation training can be found at Some of those mediators are lawyers, some are not. If your matter relates primarily to parenting then you may not need a mediator who is also a lawyer. In that director, lawyers who are mediators tend to have LLB or JD designations after their name, or work at a law firm (look for "Law" or "LLP" in the title of their workplace).

The Alberta Government also offers a free Family Mediation program where there is a dependent child and either party earns $60,000 or less per year. See

You can choose to represent yourself or have a lawyer represent you in mediation.

After you matter is resolved, you will still need to enter into a valid settlement Agreement.


Spouses/parents can negotiate a resolution at any time. If you negotiate a resolution, then you can proceed to create an Agreement, file the Divorce with each spouse's signature consenting to it's terms, or go to court to request a Consent Order (where both spouses/parents tell the Court that they agree to the terms).

There are many ways to negotiate a resolution. Some amicable parents are able to sit down at the kitchen table to address each issue. Videoconferencing can also be effective, such as through Zoom. Others exchange emails, letters, or even text messages, although that can sometimes leave room for misinterpretation, and it can be more difficult to address underlying concerns, priorities, and values. Others hire lawyers to negotiate, particularly where the matter is complex or they don't feel comfortable standing up for themselves. Sometimes those negotiations take the form of settlement meetings. A Four-way Meeting is where each spouse/parent, and their lawyers, meets in the same room or over videoconference, to attempt to resolve the dispute without sending slow and stressful letters.

The most effective style of family law negotiation is usually interest-based negotiation. This is where rather than simply making demands or blindly sending out offers, participants try to to figure out each other's concerns to see if those concerns can be reasonably addressed, discover each other's values and priorities to see if there can be trade-offs, brainstorm alternatives even beyond what a court might order, and implement other techniques such as joint fact-finding, including obtaining relevant documentation, jointly appraising property, or consulting a neutral expert. This style can often lead to better results than what a court can order.

How you negotiate might be affected by whether there are any Restraining Orders, Emergency Protection Orders, or family violence. It's important that everyone feel safe.

Parenting Coordination

Parenting Coordination is typically arbitration with an independent psychologist, but can also be with an independent lawyer. That independent Coordinator can make decisions, in order to resolve minor parenting disputes. Typically this isn't available for significant parenting decisions such as the basic parenting arrangement and whether someone should be permitted to relocate to a different province with children. However, it can address ongoing issues such as holiday and vacation schedules, exchanges, what topics are discussed around the children, children's extra-curricular activities, and similar ongoing issues. The objective being Parenting Coordination is that for those more routine decisions, they are typically better addressed by someone with expertise, at much lower cost than each retaining lawyers in court, and at a faster speed than having to go through court.

Directories of Parenting Coordinators with minimum educational standards are maintained by:

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Content by Ken Proudman of BARR LLP (Edmonton)

Last updated on March 18, 2023

Last complete review of all content on this page on January 21, 2023

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