Rollie Thompson talks rules, discretion and reform in family law at Rand lecture

Author: Benjamin Pollard, J.D. Candidate, 2025

Posted on Feb 15, 2024

Category: Faculty , Alumni , Students

On February 1st, 2024, Rollie Thompson, K.C., Professor Emeritus at the Schulich School of Law and Counsel at Epstein Cole LLP, delivered the twenty-seventh Ivan C. Rand Memorial Lecture. One of Canada’s leading family law experts, Prof. Thompson shared insights into the evolution and contemporary landscape of family law in Canada. The event drew UNB students, faculty, and staff, as well as alumni, members of the judiciary, and the legal community, including the NB branch of the CBA, and the NB Law Society.

Rules, discretion and reform in Canadian family law

As Prof. Thompson highlighted, rules offer clarity, consistency, and certainty. Rules attempt to make all the policy decisions before the problems come, but they can also inadvertently perpetuate inequality and encourage evasion. Conversely, discretion allows for flexibility and individualized decision-making but risks inconsistency and subjective biases.

Drawing from landmark cases such as the 1975 Murdoch case, where public outrage spurred legislative action, the lecture underscored the pivotal role of societal consensus in shaping legal reforms. This sentiment was echoed in discussions surrounding property statutes, where entrenched presumptions aim to ensure equitable distribution and encourage settlement but have also disadvantaged certain parties, particularly common-law couples.

The lecture also examined the evolving landscape of the Child Support Guidelines and Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. The Child Support Guidelines, with their structured framework, revolutionized the practice of Family Law, providing certainty and continuity when it comes to child support payments. The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (co-authored by Prof. Thompson and Prof. Carol Rogerson) have played a similar role but for now, remain advisory and still subject to judicial discretion.

Prof. Thompson’s lecture offered a fascinating glimpse into the complex world of Canadian family law. It also provided a deeper understanding of the relationship between certainty and flexibility, and the roles that rules and judicial discretion play in the Canadian legal system as well as their impact on families navigating the legal system.

UNB Law would like to thank Prof. Thompson for delivering a thoughtful and informative lecture - and for generously taking the time to answer questions from the audience! A transcript of the lecture will be published in the 74th edition of the UNB Law Journal.