Supporting women to access family law supports during COVID-19
June 25/20 Update:
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.
Please note: This information applies to the Superior Court of Justice, including the Unified Family Court. If you live in a district where family matters are dealt with by the Ontario Court of Justice, please see our June 18th update below. This update deals with family court only.
- The Superior Court of Justice will have 56 courtrooms across the province ready to open by July 6, 2020. A list of which courthouses expect to have at least one courthouse available by this date can be found in Annex A of the June 25th Notice to the Profession, for which a link appears below.
- A second round of openings will take place by September 15 and a third by November 1, 2020.
- Some hearings will take place by July 6th: trials and other urgent hearings that were scheduled to be heard over the past few months will be given top priority.
- Direction about what matters will be heard in person is being set regionally, so it is important to be in touch with the courthouse in your area for the most current and accurate information about what is happening in your community.
- Anyone requiring duty counsel services should contact LAO at 1-800-668-8258 before their court date to find out what, if any, in-person services are available at their courthouse.
- At this time, only litigants, witnesses and counsel are guaranteed they will be able to get into the courthouse for a matter being dealt with in person. Family members and other supports will only be permitted in the courthouse “where absolutely necessary.”
- The Ministry of the Attorney General expects to have a Guidebook for Court Users available on its website by July 6th.
For more information: https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/notice-june-25-2020/
June 24/20 Update:
What court re-opening looks like across Ontario: A snapshot as of June 22, 2020
Here’s what we know right now:
In Ontario, there are more than 200 court locations across the province, including:
- 29 fly-in courts
- 53 satellite courts
- 74 base courts
- 682 courtrooms
These include Ontario Courts of Justice as well as Superior Courts of Justice (which include Unified Family Courts).
The present goal of the provincial government is to have 149 courtrooms operational for in-person proceedings by July 6th. This will include:
- in medium courthouses, 81 courtrooms will open: 2 OCJ and 2 SCJ per site
- in large courthouses, 20 courtrooms will open: 3 OCJ and 2 SCJ per site
- in extra-large courthouses, 36 courtrooms will open: 4 OCJ and 2 SCJ per site
- in mega courthouses, 12 courtrooms will open per site
Because every courthouse is unique, each site will have a specific recovery plan, designed to meet the needs of that site.
Virtual court operations will continue indefinitely as the use and role of virtual courts is yet to be defined as we look ahead post-pandemic.
A virtual tour of the mock-up at the Brampton court will be available soon, so we can all see what one courthouse looks like.
Components of ensuring COVID-19 safety in Ontario’s courthouses include:
- protective barriers in public-facing spaces such as filing counters as well as in courtrooms and interview rooms
- enhanced cleaning protocols
- physical distancing requirements and markers in public spaces such as elevators, waiting rooms and washrooms
- hand sanitizer units throughout courthouses
June 18/20 Update:
- This information applies to the Ontario Court of Justice. If you live/work in a community that has a Unified Family Court or if the case you are involved with is in the Superior Court of Justice, this information may not apply to you. We will post information from the Superior Court of Justice as soon as we get it.
- This information is specifically about family court. Information about the reopening of criminal courts can be found at the link below.
- Court reopening begins on July 6
- Projected completion date is November 1st
- In other words, not all courts are opening on July 6
- Even where a courthouse opens, not all courtrooms may be open
Which OCJ courts will be open for family matters on July 6?
- Central West: Brampton, Brantford, Milton, Orangeville
- Northeast: North Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury
- Northwest: Thunder Bay
- Toronto: 311 Jarvis, 47 Sheppard
- West: Chatham, Guelph, Owen Sound, Sarnia, Windsor
- Arrive early due to screening requirements
- Follow updates at ontariocourts.ca/ocj
- Know what is happening in your jurisdiction: it will not be the same everywhere
- Don’t know yet whether support people will be deemed necessary and permitted in courthouse
What will be heard in person?
- Child Family and Youth Services Act: trials, summary judgment motions, settlement conferences, trial management conferences and combined settlement/trial management conferences
- Family Law Act/Children’s Law Reform Act: urgent trials, focused hearings, settlement and/or trial management conferences
- Judges to decide what matters will proceed in person
- Urgent matters, case conferences and other family law matters will continue to be dealt with remotely
- New applications, unless urgent, will not be heard at this time
June 16/20 Update:
Ontario’s courts are returning to in-person operations as of July 6, 2020. What this will look like is still being worked out. We do know that how courts manage in-person appearances will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, depending on the capacity of each courthouse.
The Ministry of the Attorney General is leading the preparations, and is working closely with public health officials to consider such issues as protocols for entering the courthouse, food services, washrooms, air quality, accessibility, enhanced disinfecting, proper social distancing signs and use of hand sanitizer, plexiglass barriers, gloves and masks.
We will post updated information here as it becomes available, so stay tuned for more news over the next two weeks.
In the meantime, for more information, please see this article on The Lawyer’s Daily: Everything is on the table as Ontario eyes a return to the courts, says attorney general
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)