A Dispute Resolution Officer ("DRO") is a senior family lawyer. To apply to become a DRO, one has to have practised family law for at least 10 years.
DROs, usually, still practice family law and they volunteer their time to assist those that require their help. Anyone can book a 1 hour session with a DRO. The session is free and can be used to assist with issues such as custody and access/parenting, child support, spousal support or division of property.
It is not a requirement that an Application has to be contemplated before a session with a DRO is booked.
In Calgary, it is mandatory to have to have a session with a DRO if one is the Applicant in a claim for child support and if the Application is proceeding in the Court of Queen's Bench. Typically, the Applicant would schedule a Court hearing for a day or two after the session with the DRO. The Court Clerks will not allow the Application for child support to be filed without a session with a DRO having been booked.
While is it possible to ask a Justice to grant an exemption for having to attend a session with a DRO, they are usually reluctant to do so unless the Application is of an emergency nature, or the Respondent lives far enough away from Calgary so as to render the session impracticable. However, as most DROs are willing to have people attend via telephone, it is quite rare for a Justice to grant an exemption simply on the basis that the Respondent cannot attend the session "in person."
It is possible to book a session with a specific DRO, or one can simply take the next available DRO.