In effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench has suspended most court appearances for an undetermined period of time. The exception to the suspension are matters that are of emergency or urgent in nature.
In relation to family matters, the Court will only address matters if one of the following applies:
- There is a risk of violence or immediate harm to one of the parties or a child;
- There is a risk of removal of a child from the jurisdiction; and
- Emergency Protection Order reviews.
If a family matter was previously scheduled to be in court but is not an emergency, it will be adjourned sine die (this means the application is still filed and ready to proceed at the courthouse but there is no set date for when that will happen) or cancelled. Matters that are currently adjourned sine die or cancelled include all non-emergency Family Chamber’s Applications, Family Special hearings, Early Intervention Case Conferences, JDR’s (Judicial Dispute Resolution Process), Pre-Trial Conferences, Case Management bookings and Trials. This means that parties engaged in family law matters are currently unable to seek the assistance of the Court/Judicial system. This may leave families in limbo for an undetermined period of time if your matter is not considered an emergency. Once the Courts have recommenced sittings, it could be a period of weeks or months before your matter is heard given the volume of matters that need to be rescheduled.
The Provincial Court of Alberta has also implemented a COVID-19 Pandemic Plan, which directed that all regular family docket matters be adjourned using a 10-Week Guide. For example, if a matter was scheduled to be heard during the week of March 16, 2020 to March 20, 2020, it will be rescheduled to be heard during the week of May 25, 2020 to May 29, 2020. It can be assumed that these rescheduled dates are subject to change in the future if the courts have not reopened to the public by then. Until a matter can be heard, all Interim Orders are automatically extended. With respect to trials, a Judge will determine whether or not it will proceed. All pre-trial conferences that were previously scheduled will be heard via telephone conference call. Matters of urgency, including Emergency Protection Orders or Mental Health Warrants, are still scheduled to proceed in duty courtroom 1208.
Although the Court of Queen’s Bench is not sitting at this time and the Provincial Court of Alberta has a limited hearing schedule, families may consider utilizing Alternative Dispute Resolution processes, including mediation and arbitration to address ongoing family related issues. Engaging in mediation and/or arbitration can ensure that family matters continue to move forward as efficiently as possible throughout this unprecedented and unpredictable time. We are available and able to connect with you through telephone and other electronic communication methods including Zoom and Skype. Although there has been a disruption to our judicial system, this does not mean that your matter has effectively stalled. We encourage you to consider alternative dispute resolution processes to address any issues that may be resolved without the necessity of the Court. Any agreements reached in mediation can be incorporated into a Consent Order. The Courts are currently granting Consent Orders via email.
We are hopeful that the Courts will implement a process whereby matters can proceed via videoconference or some other manner even if the courthouse is not open to the general public. However, there has been no indication that this is a near possibility. In the meantime it is important for parties, and their legal counsel, to be creative and flexible in creating and accessing alternative methods by which legal disputes can be addressed and resolved.
Our office remains open to assist you with your family related matters. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding the information above. We will provide further updates as this situation unfolds.