Episode 48 (En anglais): Family Law Reform Part I: The Right to a Good Life

– Mar 2022

***The “Adaptive Loop” graphic discussed in the podcast is displayed under the summary. More documentation and resources can be found on bottom page.

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Episode 48 (En anglais): Family Law Reform Part I: The Right to a Good Life
Broadcast Date: March 10, 2022


In Canada and many common law jurisdictions, there has been a longstanding concern about the family justice system. People who work in the system, families who turn to the family justice system for help, and reports about system reform speak about the crisis in family justice. We are hearing that it is not working for families and in fact, can do more harm than good.

In this first episode of a three-part series on “Family Law Reform,” CIAJ’s Executive Director and lawyer Christine O’Doherty is inviting Diana Lowe, QC, lawyer and justice system consultant at Re-imagining Justice to discuss:

  • the nature of concerns about the family justice system
  • recommendations to improve the system
  • why we need a culture shift or paradigm shift

Family Law Reform Series (next episodes):
Episode #49: Family Law Reform Part II: Brain Science, Adverse Childhood Experiences, and Resilience – With guest Nicole Sherren, PhD (Principal Consultant & Founder, R2P Solutions) and Diana Lowe, QC (lawyer and justice system consultant, Re-imagining Justice)
Episode #50: Family Law Reform Part III: It’s All About the Children – With guests The Honourable Justice Rodney A. Jerke (Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta) and Diana Lowe, QC (lawyer and justice system consultant, Re-imagining Justice)

Adaptative Loop:


  • Diana Lowe, QC, lawyer and justice system consultant, Re-imagining Justice

Diana Lowe, QC is a lawyer with 35 years of experience which includes legal practice, research and reform of the civil and family justice systems in Canada, and most recently as Executive Counsel to the Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. Since retiring from the Court in late 2020, Diana has established a consulting practice – “Re-imagining Justice”. She continues to support the Reforming the Family Justice System (RFJS) initiative in Alberta, and also works with other jurisdictions interested in justice system transformation.

The RFJS is a multi-year, multi-sector collaboration, designed to effect system-wide change in the family justice system in Alberta, based on brain science and Adverse Childhood Experiences. The RFJS is seeking to shift the focus in family justice matters away from adversarial, legal responses, to making supports available to assist families with the social, relationship, parenting and financial issues that arise in family matters. The outcome collaborators are seeking is family well-being, which they define as “Helping Families Thrive”.


  • Christine O’Doherty, Lawyer and Executive Director, CIAJ

Christine O’Doherty has been CIAJ’s Executive Director since 2017. A bilingual lawyer experienced in professional, labour and commercial law, she has contributed to developing and implementing effective government relations and public affairs strategies for a number of major organizations. Ms. O’Doherty has taught at the Faculté de pharmacie de l’Université de Montréal for 14 years, where she was responsible for the implementation of the soft skills curriculum for graduate and undergraduate students. In her spare time she writes fiction.


Family Justice Reform: A Review of Reports and Initiatives, Prepared by Erin Shaw, Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, April 15, 2012.

  • Quote from p. 4: “The perception that the various family justice reform efforts made to date have fallen short of the mark is reasonably common, as is the concomitant suggestion that something more “drastic” or fundamental is required to bring the necessary changes to family justice.”

Meaningful Change for Family Justice: Beyond Wise Words, Final Report of the Family justice Working Group, Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, April 2013.

  • Quote from pages 5-6 of this report underlines the urgency for change:

“With family separation occurring on a large scale, and in the context of dramatic social change, it is not surprising that justice systems across the Western world have been struggling to meet the challenge of responding to the complex and growing needs of families. The many reports from around the common law world reflect a remarkable consistency in the conclusions reached about what does and does not work in family justice systems.

The problems identified in the reports that precede this one were distilled in the background paper prepared for the FJWG as follows:

    • There is a built-in tendency for adversarial process to polarize spouses and exacerbate conflict;
    • Parental conflict can be very harmful to children;
    • Conflict tends to protract process, which already tends to be complex, costly, lengthy and unpredictable;
    • Justice systems need to do a better job of providing integrated services and multidisciplinary responses to the many “non-legal” dimensions to issues that arise when families are restructuring; and
    • The complexity of family breakdown and the relative inaccessibility of the courts results in many family law problems remaining unaddressed and unresolved.”

Reaching Equal Justice Report: An Invitation to Envision and Act, Canadian Bar Association, November 2013:

Justice for All: The Report of the Task Force on Justice, April 2019

Access to Civil & Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change, Report of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, October 2013

  • This report called for a new way of thinking, which it referred to at page 6 as “a culture shift
  • This type of transformational change was also discussed in Beyond Wise Words, which spoke at p.8 of concern about insufficiency of reforms to date: The language of “drastic change” and “fundamental overhaul” corresponds with calls made in earlier reports for a “paradigm shift” and for a family justice system that is ‘fundamentally different from what we have known in the past.

The Water of Systems Change, John Kania, Mark Kramer, Peter Senge, FSG, June 2018
Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Donella H. Meadows, Edited by Diana Wright, Sustainability Institute, 2008
What is Access to Justice, Trevor C.W. Farrow, Osgoode Hall Law Journal 51.3 (2014): 957-988

Documentation related to ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences)

ACEs and Outcomes
ACEs infographic (Robert Woods Johnson Fdn)
John M. Bryson, Bill Barberg, Barbara C. Crosby & Michael Quinn Patton (2021) Leading Social Transformations: Creating Public Value and Advancing the Common Good, Journal of Change Management, 21:2, 180-202
Re-imagining the Family Justice System: an introduction to Alberta’s Reforming the Family Justice System initiative, Diana Lowe, QC, September 2021, Vol. 51 Family Law Journal 1156

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