Court Cases & Orders

Wednesday’s Video Clip: The family courts and rules – The basics


Most people will have no reason to become familiar with the workings of the Ontario Family Law system. Exposure to the justice system is usually a result of necessity, such as a separation or divorce, with its resulting property, support and child custody issues. As a result, most people do not know how the Family Court system works.

This video will provide a brief and basic review of the Ontario Family Courts, and the Rules that people are expected to follow.

First let’s start with 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.

The court that will hear your 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.

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 of Ontario. 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.

Next let’s look at the Family Law Rules

All court proceedings – whether federal or provincial – are subject to specific court rules that govern the procedure before the court. All Family Law proceedings in Ontario are governed by a single set of Family Law Rules. the Family Law Rules set out the following:

• those specific Acts and Courts to which the Family Law Rules apply;

• the consequences of not following the Rules or obeying an Order;

• where (in what court and region) a case or application may be started

• how and when documents are to be served;

• 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; and

• the rules relating to costs;

There are specific Forms in the Family Law Rules. These include the specific Forms to be used in an Application relating to a divorce, Financial Statements and a form to calculate Net Family Property.
The Mandatory Information Program is discussed by our associate lawyer Wendy in another one of our law videos.

We hope you have found this video helpful. If you require further information about the family court or the rules of the court please give us a call or visit our website at


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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the founder of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers and is the firm’s senior partner. At Russell Alexander, 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. We have locations in Toronto, Markham, Whitby (Brooklin), Oshawa, Concord, Lindsay, and Peterborough.

For more information, visit our website, or you can call us at: 905-655-6335.