How COVID-19 is Affecting Family Court in Ontario

May 13, 2020 Blog No Comments »

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of things on hold for families in Ontario, and unfortunately this includes important matters and decisions by Ontario’s family courts. For the foreseeable future, these courts are operating mainly by videoconference and they are only hearing cases involving urgent matters.

Urgent matters are those that are related to:

  • Anything related to child or parent safety;
  • Anything that is directly related to the wellbeing of the child. This includes medical decisions as well as situations in which orders concerning custody are being broken;
  • Financial issues that affect child support; and
  • Urgent matters involving child protection. [i]

Unfortunately, these restrictions have left many newly separated or divorced couples in limbo on a number of other issues that the court does not consider to be urgent. This includes matters such as spousal support, child custody, and division of matrimonial property.

With the accumulating backlog, we are unsure when cases will be heard by Ontario family courts. Not only will this increase the financial burden to families, but it can also lead to a great deal of mental stress for families who cannot resolve these issues in a timely fashion.

Alternative dispute resolution processes

With the courts refraining from hearing non-urgent cases at this time, more people are turning to alternative processes such as mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law.

Collaborative divorce for example is where both parties agree that the divorce will be handled in a mediation rather than in a court. Each party along with their lawyers then work together until they come up with an agreement that is fair. Not only is this far less expensive than settling a divorce in court, but it is usually much more amicable as well – which is extremely important when there is going to be shared custody of children.

In order to maintain social distancing, these alternative dispute resolution processes can be done entirely online through a videoconferencing platform. When necessary, each party can be put in a different virtual room with their lawyer, and a mediator can move between rooms as the negotiations process.

In the case of an online arbitration, a private judge would be hired to hear both sides of the dispute before making a decision.

Signatures and notarizations

Whether families choose to wait for the courts or whether they choose an alternative dispute resolution process, COVID-19 has necessitated a number of changes when it comes to things such as signatures on documents and notarizations – much of which can now be done remotely.

One such example is the BC Supreme Court which now allows for affidavits to be sworn to via an online videoconference by people who are in self-isolation. And in Alberta, they established an online filing system for court documents.

And as self-isolating measures continue both courts and mediation processes will be forced to rely on documentation and signing methods that do not require in-person interactions.

Do you have a family law matter? Contact me today.

If you require assistance with a family law matter during COVID-19, I am here to help. Contact my office today to schedule a telephone or videoconference consultation.

[i] https://www.legalaid.on.ca/faq/covid-19-faqs-family/

 

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