COVID-19 and Family Law: Is the Court Open?

 In Family Law

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many government organizations and businesses to offer limited services. The Ontario courts are no exception. In this blog, I will review what services are available at the Ottawa courthouse as of today, March 20, during this pandemic and discuss how this situation might impact your family matter.

Superior Court

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice suspended all regular operations as of Tuesday, March 17, 2020. The Court has not announced when they will reopen.

As of the date of this blog, the Court will still accept document filings however, the situation may change and parties should consult with their lawyer for up to date information.

Most family law matters scheduled to be heard during the emergency period, including via telephone and video conference, have been adjourned. The Court will still hear urgent matters or events that are required to be heard by statute.

In family law, urgent motions are generally matters related to, among other things, abduction, threats, harm, or dire financial circumstances. Before hearing an urgent motion, the Court will want to see that the parties have attempted to resolve the issue at hand. In the case of COVID-19, the Court provided the following examples of family law and child protection matters that could be heard:

  • Requests for urgent relief relating to the safety of a child or parent (e.g., a restraining order, other restrictions on contact between the parties or a party and a child, or exclusive possession of the home);
  • Urgent issues that must be determined relating to the well-being of a child including essential medical decisions or issues relating to the wrongful removal or retention of a child;
  • Dire issues regarding the parties’ financial circumstances including for example the need for a non-depletion order; and
  • In a child protection case, all urgent or statutorily mandated events including the initial hearing after a child has been brought to a place of safety, and any other urgent motions or hearings.

What should you expect?

COVID-19 is an unprecedented situation for the Ontario courts.  Parties should reasonably expect delay for all non-urgent or non-emergency matters.

As a general note, parties should obey directions from public health agencies, such as social distancing and frequent hand washing, if required to attend a proceeding in person. Parties should consult with their lawyer to determine if they can attend a proceeding via video conference or telephone call. Parties should not attend Court unless necessary and should not attend Court if they are self-isolating and/or have been exposed to COVID-19.

Individuals looking for more information can also consult the “Notice to the Profession, the Public and the Media Regarding Civil and Family Proceedings” and “Advisory Notice to Lawyers, Litigants, Witnesses, Jurors, Media, and Members of the Public Regarding COVID-19”.

Your lawyer can advise you on how best to keep your matter moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mann Lawyers are able to assist clients navigating this unprecedented event. Please reach out to us should you require assistance.

This blog post was written by Kathleen Broschuk, a member of the Family Law team.  Kathleen can be reached at 613-369-0362 or at kathleen.broschuk@mannlawyers.com.

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