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On November 1, 2010, the government implemented a new set of Rules that govern how Albertans will resolve their civil legal problems. The goal of the new Rules is to “maximize the Rules’ clarity, usability and effectiveness and to contribute to a fair, accessible, timely and cost effective civil justice system.”
The Rules place the responsibility on the parties to manage their dispute. This responsibility includes good faith participation in at least one dispute resolution process before the matter can go to trial. This is in keeping with government data that indicated only 1.85% of legal actions commenced in Alberta go to trial. The main dispute processes available are mediation, judicial dispute resolution (JDR), and collaborative law meetings (used primarily in family law).
Mediation is a process where a trained mediator (often a lawyer or psychologist) facilitates the communication between the parties. Mediators work with the parties to identify the roots of the dispute, the interests of each, and possible solutions. Through the mediation process, the parties often arrive at a resolution they can both live with.
In a JDR, a Judge facilitates a meeting aimed at arriving at a resolution. In most cases, the Judge will not make a decision at the end of the JDR. Thus, in most JDRs the onus is still on the parties to resolve their own issues.
Collaborative meetings are where two parties and their lawyers sit down, after the exchange of all relevant information, to work on resolving their legal problems. This process is unique because the lawyers make an agreement that if the process breaks down they cannot be the lawyers who take the matter to court. This means everybody at the table is invested at arriving at a resolution. The collaborative meetings and the collaborative process itself are flexible enough that, when needed, financial advisors, psychologists (divorce coaches), and child specialists can all be brought to the table as team members.
When you have a dispute with your spouse, business partner or the guy who did a horrible job building your deck, the vast majority of the time you do not need to go to court. Humans are natural problem solvers and social creatures and, as a result, most of us have developed skills that allow us to resolve our differences without third party decision-makers. Thus, this new emphasis on dispute resolution makes sense, as people cannot go to trial until they have tried a process that supplements their existing problem solving abilities.