Fortunately, the average person will have no reason to become intimately familiar with the workings of the Ontario Family Law system. Exposure to the justice system is usually borne of an unfortunate necessity, i.e. in the event of a separation or divorce, with its resulting property, support and child custody issues.
As such, most people are unfamiliar with how the Family Court system works. Here is a brief and basic rundown of the Ontario Family Courts, and the Rules that are to be followed when appearing before them:
The Family Law Courts
In Ontario, and there are essentially three different courts that can hear Family Law matters:
• the Superior Court of Justice;
• the Ontario Court of Justice; and
• the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice.
Which of these three courts will hear a particular Family Law dispute will depend on the location, and the nature of the dispute.
The Superior Court of Justice is the general court within the province; Family Law matters are just one of a broad array of legal topics that are heard before it. It decides disputes involving divorce, division of property, child and spousal support, and custody and access. (Its jurisdiction does not extend to hearing adoption and child protection matters, except on appeal.)
The Ontario Court of Justice hears disputes that fall under most provincial family-related legislation. These include disputes relating to custody, access, child and spousal support, adoption and child protection applications. (This court does not hear divorce matters (which are federal) or matters relating to the division of property).
Finally, the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice (sometimes referred to as the Unified Family Court) has been set up in 17 locations across the province. Since Family Law in Ontario consists of matters governed by both federal and provincial laws, and since this branch of court is authorized to hear both, it is accordingly called a “unified” court. Accordingly, in regions where the Family Court branch exists, the court hears all family law matters, including divorce, division of property, child and spousal support, custody and access, adoption, and child protection applications.
The Courts of Justice Act specifically provides that all judges of the Superior Court of Justice are also deemed to be judges of the Family Court.
The Family Law Rules
All court proceedings – whether federal or provincial – are subject to specific court rules that govern the procedure before the court. Effective July 1, 2004, all Family Law proceedings in Ontario are governed by a single set of Family Law Rules (O. Reg. 114/99).
Among the topics and procedure that is specifically governed by the Family Law Rules are:
• those specific Acts and Courts to which the Family Law Rules apply;
• the consequences of not following the Rules or obey and Order;
• setting out the governing principles that pertain to a court dealing with cases justly, and to managing cases;
• the rules that determine where (in what court and region) a case or application starts
• how and when documents are to be served;
• who the parties to a matter are to be;
• which matters are subject to the Mandatory Information Program;
• the rules relating to Financial Statements;
• the procedure around Case Conferences and Offers to Settle;
• the obligations surrounding disclosure of documents, questioning witnesses, and admission of facts;
• the rules relating to costs; and
• the making and enforcing of Orders.
There are also a dedicated set of Forms enacted under the Family Law Rules, which are to be used in proceedings before the various Family Law courts. These include the specific Forms to be used in an Application relating to a divorce, Financial Statements (for both support claims and for both property and support claims); the Net Family Property Statement; and the various Orders that may be granted by a court.
At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at www.RussellAlexander.com