Turning to out-of-courtroom options to resolve family-related legal disputes may be less costly and less time consuming, but those options are not readily available in the Prince George area.
With the Family Law Act now in force as of Monday, couples going through separation or divorce are being encouraged to turn to mediators and parenting coordinators as an alternative to the traditional route of time before a judge.
"We believe that out-of-court dispute resolution is generally better for families," said Justice Minister and Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond in an email. "Not only is dispute resolution usually more affordable, it also usually leads to more effective solutions."
But visits to the websites for three organizations that govern the professions in B.C. suggests service providers in Prince George are hard to come by.
Just one member of MediateBC is based in Prince George while there are four local members of Family Mediation Canada, all working out of the provincial government's Family Justice Centre in the Plaza 400 building downtown.
As for parenting coordinators, none are living in Prince George according to the B.C. Parenting Coordination Roster Society's list of members.
MediateBC executive director Kari Boyle is hoping that as demand grows so will supply.
"I'd like to think that this Act by itself will help to raise public awareness about this important tool," Boyle said. "If there are people and families who are calling for it, then more people will come and get the training they need."
BCPCRS member and Vancouver lawyer John-Paul Boyd said he expected there would have been training-related funding announcements to go along with putting the Act into play, "but maybe the consumer will drive this."
While face-to-face contact is important, Boyd also said most of the work is done through other means.
"What I've noticed is that I need to meet people at least once and I really like to meet their kids at least once but after that initial meeting, I'm finding that almost all of my work is done by telephone and by email and you can do it by Skype as well," he said.
In November, MediateBC released guidelines for practicing from a distance, although Boyle said there are members willing to travel.
"It depends on the time and the complexity of the matters also, but it is possible to come to a resolution in mediation after one or two sessions," Boyle said.
She urged couples to do their homework when looking for a mediator and make sure the person they find is qualified to do their job.
Couples who turn to mediation can generally get their disputes resolved "from stem to stern in four months and maybe in two or three mediation sessions, depending on the amount of documents which have been disclosed and the complexity of the problem," said Boyd. "And it so much cheaper than a five or a 10-day trial in court where you're represented by counsel."