Court Process of Alberta Parenting Cases (Child Custody)
You'll enter the court process if you want a parenting order to clarify who has what powers and responsibilities when it comes to parenting your child.
Both the Court of King's Bench and Alberta Court of Justice handle cases for parenting arrangements, decision-making responsibility, child support and guardianship. If you want to end your marriage, you must go to the Court of King's Bench and follow the divorce process.
Ideally, parents reach a full agreement, then ask the court to make an order reflecting it in Step 1 below. If you don't agree when you start your case, you can continue pursuing an agreement throughout the court process. The process will jump to Step 6 if you reach an agreement.
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Possible: Go to Family Docket Court or an intake appointment
Before or shortly after you start a case in the Court of King's Bench of Calgary or Edmonton, you must go to Family Docket Court online — unless you have a full agreement with the other parent or you're applying for an urgent order without notice, a protection order or a restraining order.
Before you start a case in the Alberta Court of Justice of Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer or Grand Prairie, you must book and attend an intake appointment with a family court counsellor (FCC). You're exempt if you have a lawyer or if you're only asking for child support.
All parents who have FCCs in their courts should consider going even if the intake is not required. FCCs can — for free — help you figure out how to resolve your case and connect you to resources for your family. They can also help you fill out the forms to start your case.
The intake appointment will address:
- The safety of you and your child
- Alternative methods of resolving your case
- Resources that can help you (e.g., Parenting After Separation and Parenting After Separation for Families in High Conflict courses)
- The impact of conflict on your children
- The court process
Step 1: Start your case
If you don't have an agreement, start your case by filing a claim under the Family Law Act. Either you or an adult who is not involved in your case must serve (give) copies of your forms to the other parent to officially begin your case.
You can request interim orders now so you can get official parenting arrangements sooner. Ask for an interim order on an urgent basis if there's an emergency. Interim orders are replaced by final orders at the end of a case. Some parents leave the court process after getting interim orders since the orders don't expire.
Possible step: Go to a caseflow conference
If you live in Calgary, Edmonton or Grand Prairie, you might have a caseflow conference. If you live elsewhere, you'll go right to Step 2.
A caseflow conference is a private, informal conversation among the parents and a caseflow coordinator. Lawyers attend, too, if either parent has one. You'll talk about what you're asking for, ways to reach an agreement and services that can help, like mediation. You may even negotiate an agreement.
When going to a caseflow conference, bring a proposed parenting agreement to show your ideal arrangement for raising the kids. If you're discussing child support, bring financial documents and any child support information given to you by the FCC.
If you reach an agreement, the coordinator will prepare it for the judge to sign as a consent order.
If there's no agreement, the caseflow coordinator will help you decide the next step in your case. You may decide to take some time to get legal advice, go to mediation or take a parenting course. If you prefer, you can ask the coordinator to set a Docket Court date instead.
The court can refer your case back to a caseflow conference at any time.
Step 2: Attend Docket Court
During Docket Court, which is different than Family Docket Court, a judge will briefly go over your case to figure out what the next step should be. This session may happen online.
If attending in person, bring a pen and paper to take notes and write down any dates the judge gives you. Also, bring copies of the documents you filed. You can file your Affidavit of Service at this time if you haven't already and the respondent is there in person.
First, you'll check in with the judicial court clerk. The clerk will ask if you have a lawyer and if you've reached an agreement since starting your case. You should attend Docket Court even if you have an agreement so you can get a consent order the same day.
Once you're checked in, you'll wait for the clerk to call your case. It's an open court, so others will be able to listen to your conversation with the judge. You won't have much time in front of the judge. They will ask some basic questions about your case.
If you have an agreement, the process will jump to Step 6 after this.
If there's no agreement, the judge can:
- Postpone the case to allow parents time to get legal advice, try mediation, etc.
- Grant an interim order
- Order parents to attend a caseflow conference or judicial dispute resolution
- Schedule another Docket Court date
- Schedule a trial
- Dismiss the application if they don't think the case should proceed or if it has not been properly filed (rare)
Step 3: Participate in discovery
Discovery is how each side gathers information from the other to support their case. You'll exchange financial documents, settlement proposals, your children's health records and more.
If you're in the Court of King's Bench, discovery may involve questioning. This is when witnesses answer questions outside of court while under oath. You or your lawyer will prepare these questions to ask the other parent and their witnesses. There is typically no questioning if the case is in the Alberta Court of Justice.
Possible: Judicial dispute resolution
Judicial dispute resolution (JDR) is a private settlement conference with a judge that may happen before the scheduling of trial dates. This is not the same judge who will oversee your trial.
JDRs in the Alberta Court of Justice last 60 to 90 minutes, while JDRs in the Court of King's Bench can last a full day.
After listening to each parent's side, the judge talks through ways to resolve the dispute and shares how they would rule in the case. If parents reach an agreement, the judge writes it up and the process skips to Step 6.
Step 4: Attend a pretrial conference
Most judges order a pretrial conference to ensure both sides are ready to proceed to trial.
If the judge determines your case is ready for trial at the conference, they will ask about your availability and schedule trial dates. The judge may give you some tasks to complete before trial, like providing up-to-date financial documents. The judge can cancel your trial if you do not comply.
If the judge determines your case is not ready for trial, they will make orders setting out what you must do to be ready. You may have to attend another pretrial conference before the court will schedule trial dates.
You may also try to negotiate the terms of a settlement during the conference. If you reach an agreement, the judge will write up the terms and you'll skip to Step 6.
Step 5: Go to trial
Trial is where each side presents arguments and evidence to support their case so the judge can make a decision.
Step 6: Get a parenting order
After the judge makes a decision at trial or approves an agreement, they sign the parenting order.
The judge can adjust an agreement to ensure it meets the child's best interests.
If you believe the judge made a legal or factual error in their trial decision, you have one month to appeal. If your case was in the Alberta Court of Justice, you'll file your appeal in the Court of King's Bench. If your case was in the Court of King's Bench, you'll file your appeal with the Court of Appeals.
Throughout your case
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