An article in Volume 57 of the Osgoode Hall Law Journal, “COVID-19, the Shadow Pandemic, and Access to Justice for Survivors of Domestic Violence“, explores the various issues that have arisen during the pandemic for women who must deal with an abusive partner or ex-partner. The authors, Jennifer Koshan, Janet Mosher and Wanda Wiegers, review 67 court decisions to “find very little awareness overall of the heightened risks for survivors during COVID-19”. They conclude that the pandemic has exposed the lack of understanding about violence against women in the legal system and offer suggestions for areas of improvement.
Download the article: https://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3605&context=ohlj
Two important messages from the Ontario Court of Justice regarding court protocols:
General message in response to the second state of emergency:
Scheduling of family court matters in the OCJ:
Effective January 11, 2021, when documents are submitted to the court in electronic format, the document name must indicate the following information:
1. Document type (including the form number in family cases),
2. Type of party submitting the document,
3. Name of the party submitting the document (including initials if the name is not unique to the case), and
4. Date on which the document was created or signed, in the format DD-MMM-YYYY (e.g. 12-JAN-2021).
Below are sample document names:
Expert Report – Defendant – Loblaws Inc. – 13-MAR-2021
Financial Statement Form 13.1 – Respondent – A. Wong – 21-NOV-2021
11b Application – Defence – Nathanson – 12-JAN-2021
Recent changes to SCJ document filing processes
There have been some minor changes to the most recent SCJ Consolidated Provincial Practice Directions related to filing documents in family court. A summary of the changes appear below. If you wish to read the full document, you can find it at: https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/consolidated-notice/#3_Filings
1. Parties are to provide the court with paper copies of all documents once court operations resume, so women who file online or by email should keep a complete original of all documents for this purpose.
2. Family court documents can be filed, and fees paid, online: https://www.ontario.ca/page/file-family-court-documents-online
3. During suspension of the Court’s in-court operations, the Court will accept filings by email at the specific email addresses indicated in a Region’s Notice only for those matters that are “urgent” or have been identified to be dealt with in this document or a Region’s Notice.
4. Lawyers and parties, when filing court documents, are encouraged to file a draft order stating the result they are seeking from the court.
5. Where lawyers and parties deliver materials by email, subject to direction from the Court, they undertake to file the same materials in paper format, and pay the requisite filing fee, at the court when regular court operations resume. This includes preparation of the family court’s Continuing Record.
6. For matters that are not “urgent” or have not been identified to be dealt with in a Region’s Notice, lawyers and parties are discouraged from physically attending courthouses to file documents in person.
7. Limited applications can also be filed electronically through the Ministry of the Attorney General’s portal for filing simple and joint divorce applications.
8. Judgements, endorsements and orders are effective as of the date they are made, unless the judgement, endorsement or order states otherwise.
9. Where a draft order is filed online, the registrar can issue the order electronically and email it to the person who requests it. Attending the courthouse to have an order issued and entered is not recommended at this time, unless it is time sensitive, such as a family court restraining order or an issued order is needed to start an appeal.
Legal Aid Ontario Update
LAO has announced that, as part of its COVID-19 response, it will now provide “eligible family law clients with document preparation for motions to change custody, access and child support arrangements.”
“LAO’s summary legal advice lawyers who are assisting clients will also assess their eligibility for document preparation. If clients qualify, they will be referred to a legal aid lawyer for this service by phone or video call. To reach a summary legal advice lawyer, clients can call 1-800-668-8258 from Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
LAO has also announced that, as of the end of the year, the Family Law Information Program (FLIP) will no longer be supported on current web browsers. Clients who have been using FLIP to complete the Mandatory Information Program requirement must turn to their court for clarification about what their next steps should be.
Ontario Court of Justice Update
In its November 17th Notice to the Profession and the Public, the Ontario Court of Justice announced that family law matters will resume on November 30th in Elliot Lake. Kirkland Lake, Red Lake and Sioux Lookout.
First appearance court/first court date before a clerk will no longer be waived as of November 30th, but they will be held remotely. As of November 30th, affidavits of service must be filed.
September 3/20 Update:
We have gathered together links to current information about a number of important issues related to the operation of the Superior Court of Justice (SCJ) as of September 2nd.
Please note: If you work in a community where family court operates as part of the Ontario Court of Justice, this information may not be accurate for you.
Also, wherever you work, you need to check with your local court, because some of the information in this update is about processes that are not yet available in all court jurisdictions.
- The September 2, 2020 notice to the profession and litigants with matters in the SCJ provides information about online document sharing and electronic filing: https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/supplementary-notice-september-2-2020/
- The SCJ has produced a guide for unrepresented parties in a family law case that may be helpful to you and your clients: https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/info-self-represented-litigants-family/
- Your clients may also find these etiquette tips helpful if they are attending remote hearings:https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/remote-hearings/
- By way of reminder, this July 21st Notice to the Profession provides information for those who are unable to attend court hearings in person:https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/in-court-hearings/
- Below is a Notice to the Profession about changes to the Family Law Rules:
NOTICE TO PROFESSION
CHANGES TO THE FAMILY LAW RULES
IN FORCE AUGUST 1 & SEPTEMBER 1, 2020
Please note that O. Reg. 373/20 has amended the Family Law Rules and court forms as follows:
Effective August 1, 2020:
- Under rule 1.2:
- Parties must redact all identifying financial account numbers and personal identification numbers from a document before filing it with the court, but after serving it on the other party (for example, social insurance numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc.).
- Parties must ensure that the unredacted version of a document is accessible at every hearing and provided to the judge upon request.
- Under subrule 6(2), parties can use email for regular service of documents (but not special service) without needing the other party’s consent or a court order.
- Under rule 1.2:
Effective September 1, 2020:
- The forms that must be completed and filed to start a motion to change or to respond to a motion to change have been updated:
- Form 15: Motion to Change has been amended.
- Form 15B: Response to Motion to Change has been amended.
- Form 15A: Change Information Form has been revoked.
- Previous versions of Forms 15 and 15B will be accepted for a short grace period until December 1, 2020.
- The forms that must be completed and filed to start a motion to change or to respond to a motion to change have been updated:
Please note that this explanation is not intended to be a substitute for reading the Family Law Rules and these amendments in their entirety.
August 27/20 Update:
This is the link to the online version of the screening people must complete before entering a courthouse.
Once it has been completed, the person needs to either print out the result or take a screen shot of it to show at the courthouse door. As we have posted previously, people can also do this screening in person when they arrive at the courthouse.
August 13/20 Update:
For the most recent information about how the Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ) family courts are operating, please see: https://www.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/covid-19/covid-19-family-matters/
August 10/20 Update:
Filing court documents online
For detailed information about how to file family court documents online, please see the following Government of Ontario website, which provides information for both the Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice about how online filing works, what documents you can file online, getting help, how to file online and what happens after you submit: https://www.ontario.ca/page/file-family-court-documents-online
Family Responsibility Office COVID-19 update
The Family Responsibility Office (FRO) has shifted from core services with reduced staff to being fully staffed through temporary remote work and in-office physical distancing measures. FRO’s in-person service counter remains closed. We have taken this approach to continue to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of our clients and staff.
Please note that while we are fully staffed, some of our service levels depend on court processes, which may continue to be impacted by the stages of reopening court services.
We remain committed to providing high-quality service and your FRO contact will be available by phone to assist you. Privacy measures are in place to protect private and personal information.
FRO client inquiry line:
Agents are available Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Automated case information is available 24 hours a day.
Clients may also access basic case information using FRO Online, a self-service tool. To register for FRO Online, clients need to call us.
For more information, visit ontario.ca/FRO
August 4/20 Update:
As of August 5th, in some court jurisdictions, people involved in a family court case can file documents at every step of a case (whether the case is a new or an ongoing one) electronically. This new service is called Family Submissions Online. Filing fees can be paid by credit or debit card.
While in-person filing is still available, electronic filing is encouraged and preferred when the service is available in the community.
Check with your court to find out whether this service is available in your community.
Anyone wishing to file this way requires a ONe-key ID to use the portal. The link to the website to obtain the ID is: https://www.one-key.gov.on.ca/iaalogin/overview.jsp.
July 28/20 Update:
Two new pieces of information about court operations:
1. The Ontario Court of Justice has released a guide for self-represented litigants in its courts during COVID-19, which you can find at:
2. All courthouses that opened for in-person operations on July 6th are using active screening protocols for COVID-19. This applies to anyone entering the courthouse. The screening can be done ahead of time online (see below for links to forms in English and in French) or verbally or on paper in person at the courthouse. The screening result must be given to the courthouse designated entrance monitor before the person can enter the courthouse. For the screening forms, please see:
July 27/20 Update:
Chief Justice Morawetz of the Superior Court of Justice has said, in a July 21 Notice to the Profession, that the courts are expected to accommodate those who have health- or family-related reasons for not wanting to attend court appearances in person. He notes that people should not be required to disclose personal details in order to be accommodated. Requests to have a matter dealt with virtually or in writing should be made to the judge or local trial coordinator at the time the hearing is requested and before it is scheduled:
July 21/20 Update:
As Ontario’s courts begin to reopen in-person services and operations, there is a lot of confusion about just what that looks like.
We encourage you to use the website below, which contains good, easy to understand information about the basics of what is happening in the courthouses across the province. If you need or want more detailed information, the resources that appear at the end of the website will take you to it.
- Most court proceedings and services continue to operate remotely
- Regardless of what you read provincially, check with your courthouse, because many decisions are being made regionally
Visit for courtroom updates: www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-reopening-courtrooms
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)