Edmonton, Alberta.1069 Initially the FCS had two stages, the first was crisis intervention which explored the possibility of reconciliation and the second was mediation once the parties had decided to go for divorce. The majority of cases were reported to be at the second stage. A pilot custody mediation project was begun in 1985. As the mediation services have increased, counselling services have decreased to 5% of the services offered.1070 Since 1991 there has been a custody mediation service throughout the province of Alberta.
Custody Mediation Project
10.17The custody mediation project deals with cases where custody or access is in issue in the Court of Queen’s Bench or Surrogate Court. The objectives are to:
“determine whether closed mediation can achieve a reasonable rate of settlement relatively promptly ... and where an open assessment is necessary, to provide expert opinion to the court on issues of custody and access”. 1071
10.18If closed confidential mediation does not resolve the dispute, the mediator recommends an “open assessment”. The assessor takes over from the mediator and interviews the parties, the children and any other relevant persons. All relevant social, educational, medical, psychological and psychiatric information is included in the report. The assessor is a psychologist or a social worker with a minimum of a Masters in social work (MSW). Communication is not confidential and can be used by the assessor to prepare a custody assessment report. This is admissible in evidence. The assessor can make a recommendation on custody or access. If the parties accept this recommendation then the case settles but if not then it goes for hearing. The parties have to pay for the assessment unless they receive a subsidy from Legal Aid.
10.19The court counsellors also employ mediation, counselling and negotiation skills to assist families in resolving disputes over children.1072 The orientation seminar is optional and besides explaining the custody mediation programme, it provides material on the needs of children, their reaction to divorce and options for parenting. In that sense it is a combination of an information session and a parent education programme.
10.20The Edmonton Judicial District now operates “Parenting After Separation” seminars sponsored by the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Family and Social Services pursuant to a Practice Note issued by the Chief Justice of that court. Lawyers assist the
1069 Alberta Law Reform Institute, Dispute Resolution: A Directory of Methods, Projects and Resources, Research Paper (July 1990: No.19), 48.
1070 Research Paper (1994: No.20), at 21.
1071 Family Conciliation Services, Further Amended Description of the Edmonton Custody Mediation Project.
1072 Alberta Law Reform Institute, Court-Connected Family Mediation Programs in Canada, Research Paper (May 1994: No.20).