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Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Family Courts are Back (In-Person)!

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Family Courts are Back (In-Person)!

“In-person advocacy and participation will remain an essential feature of our justice system.” 

Those are the words that resonate most from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (OSCJ).  In its latest notice to the public and the legal profession, the OSCJ has signalled its readiness to resume in-person hearings in most Family Law matters, including divorce proceedings.  This is in keeping with the recent province-wide easing-up of COVID-19 restrictions.

In “Guidelines to Determine Mode of Proceeding in Family [Matters]”, which take effect April 19, 2022 there are a long list of principles and edicts that help to determine the mode of proceeding in a Family dispute before the OSCJ.   These are accompanied by overarching “presumptive methods” that govern how a Family proceeding will unfold, including those that are urgent.

In addition to above-quoted principle that in-person advocacy and participation remains essential to justice, some of the key points are the following:

  • Virtual proceedings have their benefits, but the OSCJ recognizes the importance of in-person hearings and interactions.
  • The OSCJ retains the discretion to make the final determination on how any particular matter proceeds.
  • Hybrid options will be considered.
  • Access to technology is a recognized consideration, since it plays into access to justice.
  • The participation of self-represented litigants is also a factor in the courts’ determination.

The Notice also observes that while remote hearings may still proceed, there may be statutory, security-based, or other impediments to having them, not to mention a participant’s personal circumstances.

The OSCJ is not alone in making these very encouraging strides. The Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ) has issued similar, newly-announced guides on scheduling Family matters for hearing on or April 4, 2022.  The OCJ is the court that handles Family Law disputes that do not include divorce, which is under federal jurisdiction.  (These matters include custody, access, child and spousal support, adoption and child protection).

Among other things – and per the expert advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health – the guides set out that capacity limits on OCJ courthouses can now be eased.  This allows for “increased access” and a return to in-person hearings in many scenarios.  However, the use of video and phone hearings (or some combination of all three) will still continue for some proceedings.

The OCJ has provided a chart that illustrates the requirements, accommodations, and options at various stages.  There are also dedicated rules covering court filing protocols, and witnesses.

These OSCJ and OCJ announcements also remind stakeholders that they are still required to comply with the public health and safety precautions that remain in place.

This is all big news for both Family Law participants, and their representatives.   It’s finally back to business-as-usual (or as close as we can come, to the “usual”), for all!

For the full text of the OSCJ and OCJ Notices, see the following:

From the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (OSCJ)

From the Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ)

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.