Two Things I’ve Learned in 2015 About Ontario Family Proceedings
The past year has seen the usual stream of Family Law cases coming out of the Ontario courts. Not atypically, they feature acrimony, bitterly-disputed issues, and an undertone of intense human emotion running through it all.
Nothing new there.
But in reading the cases I have noticed two strong trends in the jurisprudence in 2015:
1) Self Representation is Still Not a Good Idea
Forgive the pun: But self-represented family litigants simply don’t do themselves justice. Although Ontario courts strain to assist such parties – by providing on-the-spot assistance, giving them leeway, and exercising patience at their inadvertent ignorance of legal procedure – the end result is almost always a proceeding that is longer, costlier, and feels less fair and just than if there had been experienced legal representation helping one or both parties along.
As in years past, the family cases are replete with instances in which courts comment on the upsurge in self-represented litigants, but at the same time express judicial impatience at the lack of knowledge and organization of these individuals, and the resulting delay and extra cost of the proceedings.
In one 2014 case called Martin v. Sansome for example, the case went all the way to the Ontario Court of Appeal because one of the parties, who was self-represented, felt that the judge was biased against him and that he did not receive a fair hearing as a result. (Among the complaints was that the judge had been clearly impatient and annoyed with him, and at one point indicated that he was an “idiot”).
The same trend continues unabated throughout 2015. A good example is found in a case I wrote about previously called De Cruz-Lee v. Lee, where the court went on at length to lament all the disadvantages and hidden costs of one litigant’s unwise choice to represent herself in relatively simple proceedings.
2) Judges are Becoming More Candid
In this blog over the past year(s) I have chronicled some of the more surprising comments and opinions offered by judges in the context of their rulings in Ontario family law cases. Gone is some of the judicial reluctance to offer sheer opinion, to express frustration, or to convey dissatisfaction – whether it’s with delays in the judicial process, with the backlog of court cases, or with the conduct of litigants. Some judges have been more candid about these kinds of flaws in the system, or have been more openly disapproving about litigants’ strategic tactics.
Maybe judges are seeing a deterioration of conduct and due process, or maybe they are simply less reticent to speak up. Either way, it has made for some interesting – and sometimes very surprising reading this year.
For the full text of the cited decisions, see:
Martin v. Sansome (2014), 118 O.R. (3d) 522, 2014 ONCA 14
De Cruz-Lee v. Lee, 2015 ONSC 1900 (CanLII)