Understanding the value of alternative dispute resolution

The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice recently released a report evaluating different dispute resolution methods in family law matters. The report was based on a survey that asked family lawyers for their views on the usefulness of collaborative settlement processes, mediation, arbitration and litigation to resolve family law disputes. The results indicated that family lawyers overwhelmingly found collaborative settlement processes and mediation to be very useful for a variety of disputes, particularly those involving care of children, child or spousal support, and division of property. In most cases, litigation was seen by a majority of family lawyers to be only somewhat useful, except where there was an urgent problem involving a risk to an adult or a child, or in cases involving allegations of family violence or abuse, where a majority agreed it was very useful. However, lawyers also reported that litigation was more than twice as expensive as other methods, and took almost twice the amount of time to resolve a dispute.

 Interestingly, the report found that despite the perceived advantages of alternative dispute resolution methods, litigation was still frequently used, and it recommended further study to answer why lawyers still heavily relied upon litigation given these findings.

 This report provides yet more support for A2JBC’s efforts to shift to a justice system that is centred on users, and one where justice system actors work collaboratively. It also underscores the importance of the A2JBC Presumptive Consensual Dispute Resolution initiative which is developing a model for provision of legal services to families experiencing legal issues that encourages mediation and negotiation, leaving the court as a final arbiter only if these efforts have failed or are otherwise inappropriate in any particular case. Consistent with the A2JBC Triple Aim, the initiative is being monitored to consider whether it is achieving improved population access to justice; improved user experience of access to justice; and improved affordability.

 Manitoba’s Family Law Reform Committee has also recently recommended a three-year pilot project that would direct family law matters to appropriate forms of mediation first. The stated aims for the project include reducing the complexity, time and expense of resolving family law matters, as well as improving how disputes are resolved.

 What are your thoughts on the need for alternatives to litigation, like mediation, when resolving legal disputes? How do you think we can encourage more people to use those alternatives to address matters?

 If you have any ideas, or your own innovation story involving alternative dispute resolution methods, share it with us at [email protected].