Six Things to Know During the Alberta Family Court Closure due to COVID-19
Camille Boyer, Calgary Family Lawyer
On March 15, 2020, Alberta Courts announced a suspension of sittings, effective immediately. Except for a few very limited exceptions, the Court will not be hearing any family law matters. Alongside a number of other closures in the province, including schools and daycares, this most recent step to combat the rapidly spreading virus may leave family law litigants with a number of questions about their family law case.
When will the Courts reopen?
According to the Alberta Courts announcement, there is no set date yet for when the Courts will reopen. However, the current closure is set to remain in place until at least March 27, 2020, and Alberta Courts will provide a further update on the situation before March 25, 2020.
What are the exceptions to the closure?
The Alberta Courts announcement lists the following exceptions to the closure for family law matters:
- where there is a risk of violence or immediate harm to one of the parties or a child;
- where there is a risk of removal of a child from the jurisdiction; or
- Emergency Protection Order reviews.
The announcement also indicates that urgent matters which are not an emergency but that do need to be addressed in a timely way will be addressed as part of the reduction. Litigants are directed to contact the Courthouse in their jurisdiction to arrange for scheduling of their hearing, if appropriate.
What if I have Court already scheduled during the closure?
Any family law matters currently scheduled between March 16, 2020 and March 27, 2020 have been adjourned sine die. What this means is that the date previously scheduled has been cancelled, but there has not been a new date set for the hearing. Once the Court re-opens Court bookings, the parties will be able to reschedule their Court dates.
Can I file a new Application, or pick a new date for one that has been affected by the closure?
Unless your matter meets one of the exceptions to the Court closure, you will not be able to set a date. If your matter was scheduled to be heard during the closure, you will not be able to reschedule it at this time. Alberta Courts’ announcement states that no new bookings will be accepted during the current closure between March 16, 2020 to March 27, 2020 (except for emergencies and urgent matters).
What if I have something that needs to be filed?
Filing deadlines and processes are unaffected by the Court closure at this time. In the event this changes, Alberta Courts will release a new announcement. One possibility is that the Courts could revert to online or fax filing, only, to further reduce the amount of persons required to attend the Courthouse.
If I don’t meet one of the exceptions, how can I ensure my family law matter is dealt with as soon as possible?
While settling your divorce matter out of Court is often touted as a cost effective and efficient manner of keeping maters out of Court, it is certainly not your only choice during a Court closure. However, settling your family law matter, or attempting to do so through settlement proposals, negotiations or mediations with the other side may be a very attractive option in these uncertain times, as it is truly unclear at this point how long the Court closure will last.
Mediations can take place remotely and many mediators, including those at Crossroads Law, are set up to mediate via video conference. Mediations are still taking place and this can be a great alternative to resolve family law disputes during the COVID-19 closures.
If settling is not an option in your family case, or has been unsuccessful, there is also the option to attend at mediation/arbitration or strictly arbitration via telephone or video conference. The other side would of course have to agree to this process, but they too may be eager to have matters resolved rather than wait out the current Court closure.
Crossroads Law continues to be an industry leader in electronic and remote legal services and dispute resolution. We realize that attending at Court or your lawyer’s office is not always convenient – or, as is currently the case, is not possible. The family lawyers at Crossroads Law are prepared to attend at mediations, arbitrations, and other remote appearances by telephone or video conference. We also offer consultations with new or current clients by telephone, as well as online scheduling for your consultation. If you are looking for a remote mediation for your family law matter, Crossroads Law offers this service via video conference as well.
Take care and remember to wash your hands.