Family lawyers in Kamloops are applaudiing new training and practice standards that apply to family dispute resolution in B.C. as of Jan. 1.
The standards are part of the province's new Family Law Act and are particularly focused on screening for family violence. No standards existed prior to the legislation, which was enacted last March.
Domestic violence has been the only crime category to show an increase in the city in recent years.
"I think it's been something overlooked for years and it's finally come forward,' said lawyer Graham Kay.
With the legislation, the provincial government is heeding calls from the public for more emphasis on mediation rather than turning to family court, said David Paul, who practices family law as well as mediation.
He's a keen advocate of mediation as a means of avoiding lengthy, costly and often frustrating court proceedings.
"Often times these processes can be far more effective for families," Paul said. "They can be highly effective if they're done appropriately by a family mediator."
Being of paramount importance in family dispute resolutions, children fare better with mediation because they don't see their parents going head to head in adversarial positions.
"It's not divorce that destroys children," Paul noted. "It's how the parents behave with each other."
All dispute resolution professionals are required to undergo a minimum of in-depth training on how to identify, screen for and manage family violence or power imbalances. They must also be equipped with a minimum level of family-related experience and training in their area of practice, as well as undergo ongoing training.
"I think they will be able to (identify risk of violence) because they've had to take specific training and will do ongoing training as required," Kay said. "I have confidence in their abilities to screen for family violence and set up appropriate safety conditions."
Lawyers who act as family law mediators, parenting co-ordinators or arbitrators have to meet similar training and practice standards under new rules governed by the Law Society of B.C.
"It's a very good process and I applaud these changes, and I support them in terms of my experience.
"I'm a firm believer in the rule of law and I believe everyone should have their day in court, but it's not the only option and for family law, it's not the best option," he added. "There has to be a change in the mindset such that court isn't the only place to resolve conflict."
His own practice has taught him that there is a better way.
"Over the past 21 years I've been a mediator, I can think of maybe two matters that didn't resolve."
Paul has regularly upgraded his training and didn't have to prepare for the new standards as a result. He can also serve as an arbitrator, known as a "med-arb," assuming responsibility for imposing a resolution if the parties choose to proceed in that manner.
Parenting arbitrators have the ability to set child visiting terms when there is no agreement, preventing the need for the parties to appear before a judge.
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