Supporting women to access family law supports during COVID-19
Luke’s Place Support and Resource Centre wants everyone supporting women fleeing abuse to have up-to-date information about what family law services and supports are available across Ontario at this time.
May 7/20 Update:
The Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice have announced that the earliest date by which the courts may be open and conducting regular business is July 6th. Be prepared for this date to change as it gets closer.
April 6/20 Update:
As of Monday, April 6th, family courts in Ontario will be dealing with slightly expanded matters. Courts remain closed for regular operations, but in addition to urgent matters, courts in most locations will also hear:
- Requests for consent orders submitted by 14B motions under the Family Law Rules
- Case conferences with a potential limit on the number of issues that can be addressed at the hearing
Email service of court documents is permitted without consent or a court order.
Communication with court staff and trial coordinators is to be by email. The subject line of all emails should identify the level of court, the type of matter (i.e. family), the file number (or say NEW if there is no file number) and the type of document being emailed.
Judgments, endorsements and orders are effective as of the date they are made unless they state otherwise.
For specific information about changes in your court location, please see the Regional Notices at:
On Thursday March 19, we met with Chief Justice Morawetz of the Superior Court of Justice and senior family law judge Justice Stephenson as well as their senior staff to discuss the importance of women fleeing abuse being able to access the court quickly. It was a positive and constructive meeting, and we continue to work collaboratively to share information and strategies.
Here are key points for you to share with your clients:
- Ontario’s courts have suspended their regular operations
- Filing counters remain open with reduced hours (10 a.m.-12 noon and 2:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.), but this could change at any time
- Documents for urgent matters only can be filed electronically: https://www.ontario.ca/page/file-divorce-application-online
- Duty counsel services are being provided remotely by Legal Aid Ontario. How this is being done will vary from one court jurisdiction to another. For more information: https://www.legalaid.on.ca/news/covid-19-update-on-our-client-services/
- Information and Referral Coordinator services will be available electronically. Download the IRC contact list now
- There will be some flexibility and understanding that not all documents being filed will be as professionally put together and as complete as is usually required. As long as affidavits contain detailed evidence, this should be acceptable
- Urgent matters that will be heard by the court include: custody, access, child protection, failure to return children, restraining orders, exclusive possession of the matrimonial home and, especially when the financial situation may preclude a woman from being able to get to a safe place, support
- Triage judges are in place at each family court to determine which cases are urgent
Accessing family law advice and assistance
Virtual Legal Clinic
Luke’s Place is opening its Virtual Legal Clinic (VLC) to women using any VAW service in any part of Ontario in order to increase access to family law support for women fleeing abuse. The VLC connects a woman with a family law lawyer via a web-based video conferencing program, for a summary legal advice consultation.
We have modified our protocols for using the VLC so that women can access a consultation whether or not they are in a shelter. Appointment requests must come through a VAW/woman-serving organization.
If you would like your clients to be able to access the VLC, please contact us at: Kathryn@LukesPlace.ca and/or 905-728-0978 ext. 230.
Other special legal services
LAO’s Client Lawyer Service Centre can be reached at 1‑800‑668‑8258, for summary legal advice about a family law issue.
Please note that, for the time being, financial eligibility requirements for summary legal advice are being waived.
The Law Society of Ontario has opened a new help line for people requiring urgent legal assistance: 1-800-268-7568 or 416-947-3310
Family Court Support Worker services
If your agency is not responsible for delivering the Family Court Support Worker program, you may want to refer clients with family law issues to the service in your community. FCSWs provide support and assistance to survivors of domestic violence throughout their family court case. This includes safety planning, assistance with collecting evidence and preparing court documents and court accompaniment.
You can find the agency delivering the FCSW program in your community at: https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/ovss/family_court_support_worker_program/service_providers.php
Social distancing? Safety planning for women living with an abusive partner
Finding family law support across Ontario
Best Practices and Etiquette in Remote Hearings from the Superior Court of Justice
Family court survival workbook for women
Legal information, news and strategies for women and their advocates
Information about other legal issues relevant to the COVID-19 crisis (e.g. housing, employment)