Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario’s (“FDRIO”) 2023 Annual Conference. FDRIO is a not-for-profit organization that provides certificates, networking and advocacy for professionals working in the area of family dispute resolution.

FDRIO aims to educate and elevate the field of family dispute resolution and those involved with it. They advocate for policies and practices that are aligned with the interests of the families that it serves and have a focus on collaboration and accountability. Not only do they set high standards within the realm of family dispute resolution, but they actively seek to exceed those standards.

This year, the theme of the annual conference was “Delving Deeper” which represents the idea that professionals need to dig deep and search for creative solutions to problems. The conference covered a vast array of topics such as complex financial issues, dealing with high conflict personality disorders in dispute resolution, safeguarding mental health for family dispute resolution professionals, and the uses of AI in family dispute resolution.

The conference began with a keynote address from Justice Gertrude Speigel, moderated by Lorne Wolfson. Justice Spiegel and Mr. Wolfson had a very engaging discussion regarding pre-trials and settlement conferences. Throughout her career, Justice Spiegel has had incredible success with assisting parties to achieve settlements.

Over the years, Justice Spiegel has found that being provided with the opportunity to settle their matters facilitates parties’ access to justice. She commented that in her opinion, access to justice was not just about going to trial. Rather, it was about the parties being provided with the opportunity to tell their story to someone in a position of authority.

Due to this understanding, Justice Spiegel’s standard practice during settlement discussions is to first hear the position and perspective of the parties directly from the parties themselves. In her experience, the stories being told by the parties are not always centered around the issues that would actually be tried by a court but are instead a way for parties to explain their stories and help them process their feelings about the matter. After being provided with an opportunity to explain their positions, Justice Spiegel said she has found that parties are more prepared to discuss a settlement.

On a broader note, Justice Spiegel commented that she felt the issue at the core of many litigious matters, specifically within her experience in estates, family and commercial law, was the breakdown of a relationship. In this context, Justice Spiegel noted that she generally found the parties in estates matters were more upset than those in family law matters, likely due to the length of time the relationship had pre-existed. In estates matters, parties are often bringing in experiences and feelings that run back to childhood, whereas with family law matters, the relationships only run back to around the date of marriage. This is a very interesting perspective and is something we should keep in mind when dealing with our clients as it may help us to better understand their positions.

Justice Spiegel’s perspective on settling and her methods to help parties achieve a settlement made for an excellent and thought-provoking discussion.

Thank you for reading!

Darien Murray


This reflection post was originally posted to the Hull and Hull Website