In Canada, family law is governed by federal and provincial laws (statue and case law) that deal with family related legal issues, including marriage, separation and divorce, custody and access, child protection, division of property, support and adoption. The area of family law often includes financial negotiations, inheritance issues and the drafting and interpretation of prenuptial contracts and separation agreements.
Primarily statute-based, family law is largely codified within statues including the federal Divorce Act, which applies to married people residing in Canada. Issues such as the division of family property, child protection and custody and support matters between people who are not married are governed by statutes which vary from province to province.
Family lawyers represent clients in court and in settlement negotiations and they prepare prenuptial, separation, divorce and custody agreements in the appropriate circumstances. Family lawyers are trained to resolve disputes between parties through a number of dispute-resolution mechanisms, including litigation (bringing a matter to court and asking a judge to make a determination) and negotiating with opposing counsel. Some lawyers are also trained in mediation (assisting the parties, in a non-partisan manner, to reach agreements on the issues).
In recent years, some Canadian family lawyers have received training in Collaborative Family Law. Collaborative Family Law is a process in which the parties and their lawyers make a formal commitment to resolve the dispute using an interest-based model rather than a ligation model. Clients engage lawyers to reach a settlement, but if the process breaks down, the lawyer must withdraw from the case. The collaborative process relies on principled negotiation techniques.
Oftentimes, a family lawyer helps clients through the most difficult time in their lives. In the middle of family legal disputes, clients’ emotions tend to run high especially in cases of physical abuse or adultery. A good family lawyer not only possesses extensive knowledge of the law but also exceptional “people skills” and the ability to help clients navigate the complex legal realities of transitioning families.