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Family Law Reform In Ontario

Archived Backgrounder

Family Law Reform In Ontario

Ministry of the Attorney General

Since 2008, Ontario has taken a number of steps to improve the family justice system to make it faster, more affordable and less confrontational through a series of reforms. Increasing access to justice for Ontario families is a priority for the province. We want families to be able to solve their challenges quickly and with better access.

Legislative Reforms

The Family Law Act was amended to, among other things:

  • Better protect those who lived together in a relationship for less than three years by making them eligible to apply for a restraining order.
  • Better protect victims of violence by making breaches of restraining orders an offence under the Criminal Code. This offers better protection for victims because of the stricter bail conditions available under the Code.
  • Provide a clear test for judges to consider before a restraining order is granted. 
  • Impose annual financial disclosure obligations to reduce family court cases and help ensure that parties pay fair and appropriate child support.
  • Clarify how and when pensions are divided when marriages break down by creating a simple way to find out the value of the pension benefits to which spouses are entitled, and allow pension plans to pay out the non-member spouse's share.

The Children's Law Reform Act was amended to:

  • Better protect victims of violence by making breaches of restraining orders an offence under the Criminal Code. This offers better protection for victims because of the stricter bail conditions available under the Code.
  • Provide a clear test for judges to consider before a restraining order is granted. 
  • Require parties to provide detailed, sworn information for judges to consider when determining the best interests of the child in custody and access decisions, including information about domestic violence.

Process Reforms

Ontario is also strengthening and improving access to justice by making the family courts easier to use, more focused and more affordable. Improvements to family justice will:

  • Provide more information to families up front about the steps they need to take and the impact on children when relationships break down
  • Enhance opportunities to identify challenges, ensure early disclosure and provide community referrals to better support families in reaching resolutions
  • Improve access to legal advice as well as less adversarial means of resolving challenges such as mediation and collaborative family law, and
  • Streamline and simplify the steps involved for those cases that must go to court.

In January 2010, Brampton and Milton became the first two sites to implement these family justice reforms. Implementation teams, made up of local judges, lawyers, mental health professionals, Legal Aid Ontario staff and other community members started meeting in February 2010.

In March 2010, the Attorney General formed an Expert Advisory Group made up of lawyers, mediators, mental health professionals and domestic violence advocates to provide advice on how to best implement the four pillars of family justice reform provincewide.

Mandatory Information Program: Courts in Brampton, Milton and Toronto piloted the new program delivered by volunteer local lawyers and mental health professionals. The program provides information about the effects of separation on children and options other than court that are available to resolve disputes, often faster and for less cost. Recently, the Attorney General announced the expansion of the program to 17 additional court sites by April 2011 and provincewide by summer 2011.

Dispute Resolution Officers: At Superior Court of Justice locations in Toronto, Brampton, Milton and Newmarket, these officers meet with parties in cases involving motions to change final orders and help identify, narrow or resolve challenges in a case. If a settlement cannot be reached, they will ensure all paperwork is in order so that cases can proceed to a meaningful appearance before a judge.

Information and Referral Coordinators: Originally available in 17 Family Court locations, the coordinators function as a point of contact for families as they enter the Family Justice System and help direct and connect potential litigants to services in the community that assist with family breakdown, including counselling and support services and alternatives to litigation. This program will be expanded to all courts by summer 2011.

Family Mediation Services: Currently available in 17 Family Court locations, these services provide family law clients across the province with quick resolution to a number of challenges such as:

  • custody
  • access
  • child and spousal support
  • possession of the matrimonial home
  • equalization of net family property.

This program will be expanded to all courts by summer 2011.

Ontario Court Forms Assistant: This is a free online program that prompts users with a series of plain language questions and automatically fills in the court form based on their answers. It contains 11 civil and family court forms and since its launch in May the site has received over 65,000 hits.

Legal Aid Ontario Family Law: Legal Aid Ontario has been working alongside the province to support further family justice reforms. Since the province's $150 million investment in Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) in September of 2009, LAO has transformed its family law service delivery model, making basic legal advice available by telephone, and increasing access to duty counsel for family law clients in both the Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice.

In Brampton and Milton, LAO is piloting innovative responses to family law clients including on-site mediation and triage of eligible clients to match their service to client need.

Legal Aid Ontario also launched four new Family Law Service Centres in the Greater Toronto Area, located in Toronto, North York, Brampton and Newmarket.

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