Court Cases & Orders

Navigating Changes to Final Orders in Family Law: Understanding Motions to Change

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Life’s constant evolution can sometimes necessitate changes to previously made court orders, especially in family law, where circumstances affecting child or spousal support, as well as parenting arrangements, can shift significantly. Recognizing this, the legal system provides a structured method for requesting these changes through what is known as a Motion to Change.

Initiating a Motion to Change: Starting in the Right Court

The process begins by filing your case in the appropriate court, determined by the level of court that issued the final order you seek to change. If your order originated from the Superior Court of Justice or its Family Court branch, your motion must be filed there. Conversely, orders from the Ontario Court of Justice require filing your motion in the same court. Moreover, cases involving parenting issues mandate that the motion be started in the municipality where the child resides, as per Rule 5 of the Family Law Rules.

Identifying the Parties Involved

A Motion to Change must include all parties involved in the initial court application, maintaining their original designations as applicant and respondent, irrespective of who initiates the new proceedings. The party filing the motion is referred to as the moving party, a crucial designation that clarifies roles within the process.

Preparing Your Motion

The preparation of your motion depends significantly on whether the other party agrees to the changes. If there is mutual consent, Forms 15C and 15D cater to changes agreed upon by all parties, including specific forms related to child support adjustments. In instances of disagreement, Form 15 is utilized, necessitating commissioning by a legal professional or a court clerk to verify the truthfulness of its contents. Essential to every motion is the inclusion of the original order being contested, alongside any other relevant documentation dictated by the specifics of the requested changes.

Changing Parenting and Support Orders

Requests to alter parenting orders require a Form 35.1 Affidavit, detailing the proposed changes to decision-making responsibility or parenting time. Changes to support orders necessitate filing a Form 13: Financial Statement to reflect current financial circumstances accurately. Special or extraordinary expenses for a child must be substantiated with proof, such as receipts.

The Importance of Confirming Assignments

In cases where support payments have been assigned to a governmental body due to the receipt of social assistance, a Confirmation of Assignment form must be completed. This ensures all parties with a financial interest in the support payments are duly notified and have the opportunity to participate in the proceedings.

Filing and Serving Your Motion

Once prepared, documents must be issued by the court, receiving a file number and official validation. Serving the motion on the other party, and any assignees if applicable, requires adherence to specific procedures outlined in the Family Law Rules, ensuring all involved parties receive the necessary paperwork to respond appropriately.

The Path Forward

The filing of a Motion to Change marks the beginning of a potentially complex legal process aimed at updating court orders to reflect new realities. Whether through mutual consent or contested proceedings, the objective remains the same: to ensure that the orders governing child or spousal support and parenting arrangements are fair and reflective of current circumstances.

For individuals navigating the intricacies of changing a final court order, the journey requires a detailed understanding of the requisite forms, procedural rules, and the importance of comprehensive documentation.

Susanna Crichlow, Associate Lawyer

By approaching the process with thorough preparation and, when necessary, legal assistance, parties can work towards achieving modifications that best serve the evolving needs of their families.

In the process of seeking a change to a final court order through a Motion to Change, understanding the procedural steps involved is crucial for navigating the family court system effectively. This includes knowing what to expect during the initial stages of your case, such as the First Appearance and the case or settlement conference, as well as understanding the role of Dispute Resolution Officers (DROs) and the pathways to reaching a final decision on your motion.

The First Appearance and Case Conference

After filing a Motion to Change, the first significant step in many jurisdictions, particularly those within the Family Court Branch, is the First Appearance. This court date may be automatically scheduled and serves as the entry point into the court’s consideration of your motion. Following this, a case conference with a judge or a Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) is typically the next step.

Subrule 15(24.1) of the Family Law Rules specifies that the judge at the first appearance is tasked with determining the most effective process for achieving a swift and fair resolution of your motion. This early stage is pivotal in setting the tone for how your motion will be addressed and can significantly influence the speed and outcome of your case.

The Role of Dispute Resolution Officers (DROs)

In some courts, Dispute Resolution Officers (DROs) play a critical role in the initial case conferences for Motions to Change. DROs are not judges but are experienced family lawyers appointed by the Regional Senior Judge to facilitate these conferences. Their goal is to streamline the resolution process by:

  • Assisting parties in reaching agreements on disputed issues
  • Aiding in the acquisition of a consent order if an agreement is made
  • Helping parties prepare for a judge’s review by ensuring the case is organized and financial documents are exchanged promptly.

The DRO program operates in several locations, including Toronto, Barrie, Brampton, Durham, Milton, Newmarket, Hamilton, London, St. Catharines, Kitchener, Kingston, and Welland. Their involvement can be instrumental in resolving issues early in the process, potentially avoiding the need for more extended court proceedings.

Moving Toward a Final Decision

If the issues at hand are not resolved during the conference phase, the motion to change progresses to a motion hearing before a judge. Here, decisions are made based on the written evidence submitted by both parties. Depending on the complexity and specifics of the case, a trial or a focused hearing may be necessary to resolve the matter fully.

This step is crucial as it represents the judicial system’s formal mechanism for altering existing orders to better reflect current circumstances and ensure fairness. It underscores the importance of thorough preparation and clear presentation of evidence and arguments in support of the motion to change.

Navigating the process of changing a final court order through a Motion to Change involves several critical steps, from the initial filing and case conference to potentially concluding with a trial or focused hearing. Understanding these steps, including the strategic use of Dispute Resolution Officers, is essential for effectively managing your case and achieving a resolution that reflects your changed circumstances. For individuals undergoing this process, staying informed, seeking appropriate legal advice, and preparing diligently for each phase of the process are key to navigating the complexities of family law with confidence.

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.