Family Law Reform In Ontario
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.
The Family Law Act and Children's Law Reform Act were 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 changes so that breaches of restraining orders are treated as 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.
- 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.
We are improving processes in family courts to:
- 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.
Mandatory Information Program: This program provides more information up-front about the options available and the impact on children when relationships break down. Courts in Brampton and Milton piloted the program and, by summer 2011, it will be expanded to all family court sites in the province. Most recently, Legal Aid Ontario launched an online information program which covers the same topics as an in-person mandatory information program.
Dispute Resolution Officers: At Superior Court of Justice locations in Toronto, Brampton, Barrie, 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: Coordinators serve as a point of contact for families entering the family justice system and help connect them with agencies in the community that can provide support services during family breakdown, including counselling and alternatives to litigation. This program will be expanded to all family courts by summer 2011.
Family Mediation Services: These services provide family law clients across the province with quick resolution to a number of challenges such as:
- 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 free, online program contains 11 of the most commonly used civil and family court forms. The easy-to-use system prompts users with a series of plain language questions and automatically fills in the court form based on their answers. Since its launch in May 2010, the site has helped people find information and fill in important court forms - over 35,000 Family Court forms have been completed or partially completed online. Almost 86 per cent of people using the assistant are representing themselves without a lawyer and the program helps them fill out the required paper work.
Legal Aid Ontario Family Law: Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has been working alongside the province to support family justice reforms. Since the province's $150 million investment in LAO in September 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 has also launched six new Family Law Service Centres in Toronto, North York, Brampton, Newmarket, Chatham and Sarnia.
Family Law Information Program: Legal Aid Ontario recently launched this program, providing families with information about the family court process, including legal and practical issues related to divorce and child custody. This helps families who are about to enter or are already involved in the family justice system.