Court of King’s Bench of Alberta Justice Denise Kiss became interested in family law while in law school and, once she began working with family law clients, she quickly came to understand the financial and emotional stress experienced by parents going through separation or divorce.
Justice Kiss — who was appointed to KB in Edmonton on June 1, 2020 — also learned that many parents did not seem to appreciate how damaging it was for their children to be caught in the middle, or exposed in any way, to the disputes and tension between their parents.
She also found the conduct of the parent litigants often stemmed from legal advice they received, or lack thereof, which was a by-product of many of them not having the financial resources to retain counsel, or the ability and knowhow to easily access available resources.
“I am not sure I consider any of the cases or matters I was involved in over the years to be particularly ‘ground-breaking,’ or cases which changed or developed the area of family law in any significant way,” says Justice Kiss.
“For the most part my focus was on achieving reasonable settlements for parties going through separation or divorce in the most amicable, cost-effective manner possible,” she says.
“I always had an interest in cases involving children, particularly custody disputes, and, as it is generally accepted now that conflict between parents has a significant, long term, negative impact on their children, I made every effort to develop and maintain skills that assisted clients in working towards a negotiated or mediated settlement that avoided the further polarization, stress and conflict associated with family litigation.”
Justice Kiss worked with youth while still a teenager and began studying criminology in anticipation of working with those who came into contact with the criminal justice system.
However, while volunteering as a probation officer for troubled youth, she realized a common theme was they mostly came from broken homes, and many had very disturbing memories of their parents’ separation or divorce and could recall how powerless they felt at the time.
As a result, she began believing that, in certain circumstances, children in family law disputes needed to have their voices heard by the Court as well, and she represented children in a number of high conflict family matters over the years.
Justice Kiss graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Arts (Special) in Criminology with Distinction in 1987, and then earned a Bachelor of Laws from the U of A’s Faculty of Law in 1991. She also attended the Université Canadienne en France in Villefranche, France in 1989, taking a spring session course in Intermediate French.
Justice Kiss articled with the Court of Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal and Milner Fenerty, Barristers & Solicitors in 1991 and 1992. She was admitted to the Alberta Bar on November 27, 1992.
Justice Kiss began working as an associate with Rand Moreau, Barristers & Solicitors in 1993 and almost immediately restricted her practice to family law. In 1994, she became a partner at the firm, replacing KB Chief Justice Mary Moreau after her initial appointment to the Court, and the firm became Rand Kiss, Barristers & Solicitors. She remained at this firm, which had several further name changes over the years (to Frohlich Rand Kiss, Barristers & Solicitors in 1996 and finally to Rand Kiss Turner LLP, Barristers & Solicitors in 2004) until 2019. At the time of Justice Kiss’ 2020 appointment, she was practicing with the family law firm of Bruyer & Mackay LLP.
While Justice Kiss continued to appear before every level of Court in Alberta during her years at the Bar, her practice also evolved to include mediation and collaborative family law.
The Edmonton-based jurist believes her most significant contribution to the law and pursuit of justice in Canada has been in ensuring that people who could not necessarily afford to hire a lawyer have had legal representation, particularly when their dispute related to child custody issues. She represented many such clients on a pro bono basis, was on the Legal Aid Roster throughout her years of practice and served on the Legal Aid Appeal Committee for many years as well.
Justice Kiss says her 27 years as a family law lawyer, combined with her personal life experiences, provided her with many opportunities to learn from and work with Canadians from across Canada, of all ages and with many different ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs.
That, along with her mother instilling in her from an early age an enthusiasm for learning about this country, has led to her gaining an appreciation and insight into the variety and diversity of Canadians and their unique perspectives.
As well as maintaining a busy full-time practice and raising a family, the married mother of two always managed to find time to volunteer with a variety of groups.
Fun fact: Justice Kiss was a lifeguard and swimming instructor with the City of Edmonton Parks and Recreation Department for 10 years when she was a student.