JP Boyd on Family Law Editorial Manifesto
An editorial manifesto for a new public legal education resource
by John-Paul Boyd, Updated for 2019
When Courthouse Libraries and I first started talking about this project, there were some core values that I wanted the wiki to maintain. I’d never thought about these things before, but when we started talking about how the wiki would look and operate, I realized that there were certain qualities of my old BC Family Law Resource website that should be preserved. From these came a set of guiding principles for the editorial tone of what is now called JP Boyd on Family Law. My hope is that this resource will continue to:
- be free
The information should be available at no charge, without restriction and without expectation of reward.
- be written in plain language
The information in this resource provides should be as accessible as possible, save that it mustn't ever be inaccurate. It should use colloquial, everyday language. It should avoid lawyer’s jargon. It should use humour to lighten up the subject matter, and metaphor to better explain it.
- be up-to-date and accurate
The information should be timely and accurate, within the limits of reason and practicality.
- be opinionated
The information shouldn't just describe the law and the available legal options, but be prescriptive and recommendatory, when being prescriptive and recommendatory is appropriate. To some extent this will be an expression of policy and preference, but if a particular course of action is ill-advised although available, the resource should say so.*
- promote good behaviour in justice processes
The information should promote the overall functioning of the family justice system by promoting behaviours, choices and strategies that are helpful and facilitate the resolution of disputes while discouraging those which do not, in particular, behaviours that degrade the efficiency of court registry services, chambers and trial processes, as well as mediation, arbitration and parenting coordination processes.
- promote alternatives to litigation
The resource should not focus on litigation as the sole or presumptive means by which family law disputes are resolved. It should discuss out-of-court dispute resolution options with the same degree of emphasis as in-court dispute resolution.
- be available for saving, sharing, reusing and redistributing
The information should be shareable and be shared. Copying and redistribution should be encouraged on the conditions that the source of the information be identified and that any subsequent reuse not be for a commercial purpose. Readers should be easily able to access, copy, save and store the information in the formats that best meet their needs.
- be helpful
Above all, the information provided in this resource should be helpful. It should be practical and pragmatic. It should provide other resources, like court forms, charts and checklists, where they would be useful to readers. It should provide links to other websites, where those websites are reputable and offer a benefit to readers.
*The bit about this resource being opinionated, prescriptive and recommendatory needs a bit of an explanation. Writing as an individual I have always felt free to express my views on things through my website, although I took care to ensure that my employers wouldn't be tarred with, or too upset about, my opinions. As a result, rather than trying to provide a legally complete, politically neutered website that in trying to say all things for all people wound up saying nothing, I have felt free to use the forbidden terms “should” and “shouldn’t.” I have said that parenting coordination can be expensive (it can), that grandparents will have a hard time getting parenting time over the objections of a parent (they will) and that the cost of resolving a legal dispute through trial can be prohibitively expensive (it is). There is value, I think, in being able to say “yes you can make an application for an order restraining the children from having their hair cut on Wednesdays, but you shouldn’t because it’s not worth the time, the money, the conflict or the anxiety.” I hope that readers learning what they can do, will also learn what they oughtn't do.
Finally, in reading the 2012 report of the Family Justice Working Group of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, I accidentally gained further insight into the purposes of my website. In a discussion about court-provided information programs, the working group commented that:
“Beyond the obvious value of orienting and helping to organize the parties, these programs are premised on two ideas. The first is that information is essential to a fair resolution. The second is that information is a dispute resolution tool, or put in the negative, misinformation can generate and prolong disputes. … Early information has been demonstrated to be sufficiently effective in reducing conflict and expediting resolution that many provinces have elected to make it mandatory.”
I took two principles from this. First, that access to accurate legal information is essential to the fair resolution of family law disputes. Second, that accurate legal information is itself a tool to promote the resolution of family law disputes. That was kind of what I had always had in mind for my website, and I hope continues to guide the development of this resource in the future.
I hope that readers will find this resource useful as they navigate the minefield that is family law, and that the contributing editors will enjoy updating and expanding its contents, and contributing to the legal capacity of all British Columbians.
Normally referred to as the "Supreme Court of British Columbia," this court hears most court proceedings in this province. The Supreme Court is a court of inherent jurisdiction and is subject to no limits on the sorts of claims it can hear or on the sorts of orders it can make. Decisions of the Provincial Court are appealed to the Supreme Court; decisions of the Supreme Court are appealed to the Court of Appeal. See "Court of Appeal," "jurisdiction," "Provincial Court" and "Supreme Court of Canada."
A court established and staffed by the provincial government, which includes Small Claims Court, Youth Court and Family Court. The Provincial Court is the lowest level of court in British Columbia and is restricted in the sorts of matters it can deal with. It is, however, the most accessible of the two trial courts and no fees are charged to begin or defend a court proceeding. Small Claims Court, for example, cannot deal with claims larger than $25,000, and Family Court cannot deal with the division of family property or matters under the Divorce Act. See "judge" and "jurisdiction."
A person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. See "barrister and solicitor."
A court proceeding in which one party sues another for a specific remedy or relief, also called a "lawsuit" or a "case." An action for divorce, for example, is a court proceeding in which the claimant sues the respondent for the relief of a divorce order.
A central office, located in each judicial district, at which the court files for each court proceeding in that district are maintained, and at which legal documents can be filed, searched, and reviewed.
The testing of the claims at issue in a court proceeding at a formal hearing before a judge with the jurisdiction to hear the proceeding. The parties present their evidence and arguments to the judge, who then makes a determination of the parties' claims against one another that is final and binding on the parties unless appealed. See "action," "appeal," "argument," "claim," "evidence" and "jurisdiction."
A dispute resolution process in which a specially-trained neutral person facilitates discussions between the parties to a legal dispute and helps them reach a compromise settling the dispute. See "alternative dispute resolution" and "family law mediator."
A dispute resolution process in which an arbitrator hears the evidence and arguments presented by the parties to a legal dispute and makes an award which resolves the dispute and is binding on the parties. See "alternative dispute resolution" and "family law arbitrator."
A child-focused dispute resolution process used to resolve disputes about parenting arrangements and the implementation of a parenting plan set out in a final order or agreement. See "alternative dispute resolution" and "parenting coordinator."
The processes used to conclusively resolve legal disputes including negotiation, collaborative settlement processes, mediation, arbitration and litigation.
Under the Divorce Act, the schedule of a parent's time with their children under an order or agreement. Access usually refers to the schedule of the parent with the least time with the child. See "custody."
A term under the Family Law Act which describes the time a guardian has with a child and during which is responsible for the day to day care of the child. See "guardian."
In family law, the natural or adoptive father or mother of a child; may also include stepparents, depending on the circumstances and the applicable legislation; may include the donors of eggs or sperm and surrogate mothers, depending on the circumstances and the terms of any assisted reproduction agreement. See "adoptive parent," "natural parent" and "stepparent."
A mandatory direction of the court, binding and enforceable upon the parties to a court proceeding. An "interim order" is a temporary order made following the hearing of an interim application. A "final order" is a permanent order, made following the trial of the court proceeding or the parties' settlement, following which the only recourse open to a dissatisfied party is to appeal. See "appeal," "consent order," "decision" and "declaration."