What is the Dispute Resolution Program and Why is it Compulsory?

The Dispute Resolution Officer program was first introduced in Calgary in 2001 as a pilot project.  It is now, and has been for many years, mandatory in both Calgary and Edmonton prior to any child support application being brought at the Court of Queen’s Bench level.  This means that you need to attend a DRO prior to having your child support application heard in court.

A Dispute Resolution appointment is a one-hour meeting with both parties, their counsel (if they have been retained), and a senior family lawyer who acts as the Dispute Resolution Officer.  The senior lawyer must have a minimum of 10 years of experience in the area of family law so that they are able to properly assist the parties in making a resolution regarding their child support issues.

The senior family lawyer, or officer, uses a mediation approach to deal with the issues surrounding child support, including:

  1. the potential issues of income
  2. section 3 support amounts
  3. defining section 7 expenses
  4. the share of the expenses that is to be paid by each party, and
  5. yearly recalculation issues.

This is mandatory and must be booked prior to a court application for child support being filed and attended prior to child support applications being heard in court.  You do not, however, need to have an application filed to book an appointment as this process can be used to amend orders on a consent basis.

The Dispute Resolution appointment is done on a “without prejudice” basis, which means that the entire meeting stays confidential unless the parties reach an agreement.  If an agreement is reached, either the parties’ lawyers will write it up as an agreement or consent order, or if there are no lawyers involved, the officer may be able to assist in getting the consent before the courts.

At no time can the officer be called to court to testify on behalf of either party as to what occurred in the meeting, nor can the parties use any of the information or negotiations stated in the meeting in any future court proceedings.  This enables and encourages both parties to use this process to try and resolve the issues and not to have offers used against them if things are not agreed to.

These meetings have been shown to have a success rate of approximately 70% and the program has become compulsory based on the success of these outcomes.   This process helps parties with one of the most significant areas of conflict: money.

Benefits of the DRO Program:

  1. All of the people who can agree do not need to have a judge make an arbitrary decision regarding their lives.
  2.  People gain the ability to have some control over the results.
  3. Parties who do not have legal representation are able to have an experienced family lawyer ensure that whatever agreement they do want to enter into for child support is compliant with the rules, and includes all additional information and clauses that are currently required to make the order enforceable.

As an officer with approximately 14 years of experience, I believe in the success of this program in allowing parties to better understand the child support issues, to take control over as many aspects of child support as possible, and to move this matter forward in a more relaxed and cost effective manner.

About Author

Debra J. Price

Lawyer, mediator and arbitrator with over 25 years of experience