Dispute resolution for families

Options for resolving family disputes outside of the courts.


Parents or guardians who are involved in a dispute might wish to avoid going to court. It is often less expensive and quicker to try to resolve disputes out of court. There are several services which can help parties reach an agreement.

Family mediation

Family mediation gives parties an opportunity to meet with a neutral mediator to resolve disputes outside of court.


In arbitration, the parties who have a dispute will go to a neutral third party — the ‘arbitrator’ — to reach a decision that can be enforced like a court order is.

An arbitrator:

  • will work with parents to see if they can reach an agreement
  • can make a decision that is legally binding, if they do not reach an agreement

Parenting coordination

A parent coordinator is a professional, such as a psychologist or social worker, who has been hired by the parties who have a dispute.

A parenting coordinator:

  • can help reach agreements about day-to-day parenting issues
  • will make decisions if the parents can’t agree
  • cannot change custody or make large changes to access schedules

Collaborative family law

Collaborative family law is a situation where the parties and their lawyers work together, rather than working against each other as opposing parties.

Collaborative family law allows:

  • parents to have control over their own decisions
  • parents to agree, in advance, to work toward a settlement
  • lawyers to agree not to go to court throughout the process

If parents choose to go to court, they will have to begin the process over with different lawyers.

To begin this process, talk to a lawyer.

Judicial Dispute Resolution

Judicial Dispute Resolution (JDR) is when a judge meets with the different parties and their lawyers to discuss issues that are not resolved.

The purpose of a JDR is to resolve disagreements so you don’t have to go to trial. Be aware that JDR meetings often have waiting lists.

A JDR is:

  • a pre-trial settlement meeting
  • mediated by a judge
  • confidential
  • run informally in a conference room
  • a voluntary process
  • an opportunity for parties to discuss possible solutions

If a settlement is reached, the judge is able to grant an order. In some cases, the JDR will be a ‘Binding JDR.’ In a Binding JDR, the judge can make a decision and grant an order based on that decision.

JDR is available in the Court of Justice and the Court of King’s Bench in Alberta.