An interesting article written by John-Paul Boyd summarized data which was collected 6 years ago in Alberta about the nature of divorces in Alberta:

Alberta report snapshot of nature and scale of family disputes | John-Paul Boyd
Alberta report snapshot of nature and scale of family disputes
@ 08:26 AM | By John-Paul Boyd

A new report from the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family analyzes data collected by the federal Department of Justice from Alberta divorce files in 2011, focusing on timelines in the divorce process, parenting orders and child support orders. The report reaches a number of interesting conclusions, especially when the data is analyzed by gender and by the mention of family violence.

Slightly fewer than 15 per cent of the 328 files reviewed contained at least one mention of family violence. However, the ground of marriage breakdown cited in 97.9 per cent of all files was separation, followed by mental cruelty in 3.1 per cent of files and adultery in 2.8 per cent of files. (There is some overlap in these numbers as more than one reason can be given for marriage breakdown.) Physical cruelty was given as the ground of marriage breakdown in only one file.

The average length of time passing between the date of separation and the filing of the divorce claim was 2.6 years, and the average time between filing and date of the divorce order was 1.2 years. In files mentioning family violence, the time between separation and the commencement of a divorce action was only 1.4 years, while the average time between filing and the divorce order was somewhat longer, at 1.7 years.

Cases mentioning family violence were also much more likely to include an interim order, with 27.1 per cent of those files having at least one interim order, compared to 2.9 per cent of files not mentioning violence. Cases mentioning violence were more likely to be started by women (77.1 per cent of cases compared to 64.2 per cent of cases not mentioning violence), while the parties to such cases tended to be slightly younger and have lower incomes than in cases not mentioning violence.

In 69 per cent of cases, the first order on file granted the primary residence of the eldest child to the mother; fathers received that child’s primary residence in 10.6 per cent of cases, and the child’s primary residence was shared in 14.2 per cent of cases. In terms of decision-making, however, the first order on file in 30.8 per cent of cases granted sole decision-making authority for the eldest child to the mother, while fathers received sole decision-making authority for that child in 6.9 per cent of cases and decision-making authority for that child was shared in 62.3 per cent of cases. The differences in the arrangements made with respect to the second eldest child were marginal.

As mothers were more likely to have their children’s primary residence, they were much more likely to receive child support (92 per cent) than to pay it (8 per cent). On average, women provided support to 1.45 children, and paid support in the annual amount of $4,286. Men supported 1.69 children, and paid support in the average annual amount of $15,246. The significant discrepancy between the amounts paid by women and men is largely attributable to differences in income.

Most mothers in the files reviewed earned between $1 and $60,000 per year, while most fathers earned between $30,001 and $150,000 per year, and the income of the highest-earning man ($878,353) was almost twice that of the highest-earning woman ($465,500).

The most common arrangements for access were unspecified but generous contact with the children (59.1 per cent), followed by contact on a set schedule (23.8 per cent) and contact as the spouses may agree (23.5 per cent). Unspecified contact was granted more often in cases not mentioning family violence than in cases mentioning violence (62.9 per cent compared with 37.5 per cent), and specified contact was more likely to be granted in cases mentioning violence than in cases not mentioning family violence (39.6 per cent compared to 21.1 per cent). Supervised contact was relatively rare, and was required in only 1.4 per cent of cases not mentioning violence and in 12.5 per cent of cases mentioning violence.

There are some important limitations to the data collected by the Department of Justice. First, it appears that many of the files reviewed sought divorces by desk order, as 75.9 per cent of cases only had one order in the court file at the time of data collection and 95.7 per cent of those orders were final orders. Second, the people gathering the data were instructed to oversample files that were more complex than usual, by making sure that every third or fourth file they reviewed was “thicker.” As a result, the institute’s findings cannot be generalized to apply to all divorce files in Alberta, or those anywhere elsewhere in Canada.

Nevertheless, the conclusions of the institute’s analysis of this data are relevant and significant in the present climate of inquiry and innovation in matters relating to access to justice. Sadly, the data reviewed is six years old, and very little has been done to properly examine the more than 2,000 data points that could be coded for each file and the countless correlations that may exist between them, in both Alberta and the other jurisdictions subject to the department’s review.

The work of the Department of Justice’s divorce file review was pioneering in many ways, and likely constitutes the only comprehensive baseline data available on family justice processes in Canada. Given the imminent obsolescence of the data gathered, it is imperative that the federal, provincial and territorial governments commission research to thoroughly investigate the data presently in hand and undertake a new round of data collection to update that data and identify any changes over time.

As was noted by the Family Justice Working Group of the national Action Committee on Access to Justice, “we have surprisingly little empirical information about the nature and scale of family disputes … or about the adequacy of the justice system’s response.” We need this data to rationally respond to the demands of litigants without counsel and plan a coherent strategy to improve Canadian’s access to family justice, or the success of the present efforts toward family justice reform will be immeasurable and therefore indeterminate.1

1 The Lawyer’s Daily (July 24, 2017)

Deborah Todd Family Law Victoria
Deborah A. Todd