What does “family” mean in our distance mediation service?

If you’ve been following my posts, you know by now that our distance family mediation service provides family mediation using technology to allow people to participate in mediation without having to be in the same place.  People inquiring about our service sometimes find our use of the word “family” to be confusing.  For example, families looking for help with parent-teen problems or disputes about wills within their family can be disappointed to learn that our service does not deal with those types of conflicts.

So, what does “family” mean in the context of our service?  I asked Erin Shaw, lawyer and consultant for our Distance Mediation Project, to explain:

Mediate BC Society’s distance mediation service provides services to people dealing with problems arising from separation and divorce.  These encompass issues related to:

  • Parenting responsibilities (custody and guardianship):  e.g., Who has the responsibility for making decisions affecting the children and who do they live with?
  • Access:  e.g., For parents who do not have custody, when do they spend time with the children?
  • Child and spousal support:  e.g., Will one spouse pay money to the other spouse for support of the children or for the spouse?
  • Division of property:  e.g., How to divide real estate, cars, RRSPs and other assets, as well as who is responsible for paying debts?

Family mediators, including those on the distance mediation team, are specially trained to deal with these kinds of cases.

The laws governing these conflicts are found in the BC Family Relations Act and the federal Divorce Act.  You might wonder why there are two statutes dealing with family law and why they cover some of the same things. Family law is complicated in Canada because of the way our Constitution divides the power for making laws between the provincial (BC) and federal (Canada) governments.  While both BC and Canada can make laws about certain areas of family law (e.g. guardianship, custody, access and support) only Canada can make laws related to divorce and only the BC can make laws about property.

The whole thing is made even more complicated by the fact that we have two levels of court – a Provincial Court and a Supreme Court – with overlapping but different powers.  Both courts can make orders about certain areas (e.g. guardianship, custody, access and support), but only the Supreme Court can make orders for divorce or for the division of property.

All this makes deciding on what Act you need orders under and what court you need to go to very complicated (too complicated, in my view).  A lawyer can help you figure it out and the Legal Services Society has also produced some helpful information about how to choose: http://www.familylaw.lss.bc.ca/resources/multimedia/choosing_Court_FactSheets.asp.

There may be mediators on both the “civil” and “family” mediator rosters that could help resolve disputes between family members that do not arise from separation or divorce.  You can check out mediator profiles and see if they have relevant experience in Mediate BC Society’s Directory of Mediators.

Thanks, Erin, for the helpful explanation!  You can find more information about family law (law dealing with separation and divorce) on these two excellent websites:

Photo credit: “Alone” by kinouN

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