Educational Resources

Navigating the Legal Landscape for Non-Traditional Families in Ontario

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

As Family lawyers, we understand the importance of advocating for the rights of all families – including non-traditional ones.  That’s because the social and legal landscape has evolved in recent years.  We now fully recognize the diverse relationships and structures that exist within our society.

This blog post aims to shed light on the legal issues faced by modern families in Ontario, particularly:

  • Same-sex couples
  • Polyamorous relationships
  • Cohabiting partners

We will explore the challenges they encounter in areas such as adoption, decision-making responsibility over children, inheritances, and other Family Law matters.

Recognition and Equality

But first, we need to acknowledge how far we’ve come.  Individuals who are in same-sex or polyamorous relationships, and those who are cohabiting partners, have long been marginalized in the legal system.

In recent years, however, significant strides have been made towards recognizing and affirming their legal rights.  Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005.  The law now grants equal rights and protections to same-sex couples in areas such as adoption, spousal support, and division of property.

Family lawyers are now keenly aware of these rights, and champion them to ensure equal treatment for all families.

Tip: When hiring a divorce lawyer or law firm, research their core values and messaging around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Do they showcase values in their social media and team environment that align with yours? Read the lawyers’ biographies to learn more about them. It’s important to hire not only a competent lawyer, but to work with someone you can trust and respect.

But regardless of the progress made in the past, non-traditional families still experience challenges several areas, including:

  • Adoption
  • Parenting plans and decision-making responsibility for children
  • Inheritances and Estate Planning
  • Obtaining protection of legal rights


One area where non-traditional families face challenges involves the adoption process.

Same-sex couples, for example, may still encounter hurdles when seeking to adopt a child.  Some adoption agencies or birth parents may harbour unspoken biases, even though Ontario adoption laws are gender-neutral and do not discriminate based on sexual orientation.

That’s why Family lawyers play a pivotal role in advocating for rights in these scenarios. They can identify and dismantle barriers preventing clients from unfair treatment.  This ensures families receive equal opportunities to provide a loving and nurturing home for a child.

Parenting plans and decision-making responsibility for children

If two parents in a non-traditional couple have decided to separate, the laws of Ontario establish guiding principles for courts to follow when making orders to protect the children.  These include creating parenting plans, and allocating decision-making responsibility between the parents.

This can be challenging for the courts at the best of times, but for non-traditional families there may be added complications.  For example, if one parent is biologically related to the child and the other parent is not, there may be concerns regarding the non-biologically related parent’s role in the decision-making process.

Again, this is where experienced Family lawyers can assist:  By navigating the legal complexities of parental disputes, and by advocating for a solution that ensures the best interests of the children are safeguarded.

Inheritance and Estate Planning

Next, non-traditional families may face unique challenges in matters of inheritance and estate planning.

Cohabitation arrangements and polyamorous unions are typically not subject to being documented – unlike formal marriages, where a license is obtained and a marriage certificate is issued.  Without any legal documentation as “proof” of the relationship’s existence, one cohabiting or polyamorous partner may be excluded from the other’s inheritance, or may not be otherwise protected financially.

Family lawyers can help with this situation, too.  They can provide guidance on creating wills, trusts, and other estate planning tools to protect the interests of modern families, and ensure their assets are distributed according to their wishes.

Obtaining Protection of Legal Rights

Adoption, child decision-making responsibility, and inheritance are just some of the few areas of particular concern to non-traditional families.  There are many others, that can include:

  • Access to health care decision-making
  • The recognition of parental rights in assisted reproductive technologies
  • Protections against discrimination in housing and employment

It’s the job of Family lawyers to stay informed about these evolving issues, and to keep an eye on the legal landscape.  More importantly, they must remain equipped to address these legal issues effectively.

By understanding these challenges and staying ahead of legal developments, Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers provides competent and compassionate representation, ensuring that non-traditional families receive the recognition and equality they deserve under the law.

Stay in Touch

Keep learning about the latest issues in Ontario family law! Subscribe to our newsletter, have our latest articles delivered to your inbox, or listen to our Podcast Family Law Now.

Be sure to find out more about the "new normal", by visiting our Covid-19 and Divorce Information Centre.

About the author

Russell Alexander

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