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Technology and the law – Changing the Approach to Family Law in Ontario

In the past year, the Ontario government has proposed or passed broad changes to the Ontario Courts System and Family Law in Ontario. If passed, the changes will have a great effect on family law in Toronto, and throughout the Province.

Online Filing and Online Access to Court Documents

On November 5, 2021, the government announced details of an initiative to transform the Ontario Court system through the new Courts Digital Transformation initiative for the Superior and Ontario Courts of Justice.

The proposed solution will allow lawyers, case workers and the general public to:

  • Digitally access court information online 24 hours a day.
  • Securely file over 500 types of court documents remotely.
  • Pay court fees online securely.
  • Obtain court records more quickly and easily.
  • Schedule court matters and appearances online.

In particular, online filing services will be expanded for civil, small claims and family law proceedings. The initiative is one part of the Ontario government’s drive to “bring the paper-based court system into the 21st century.”

Easier Access to Courts, Quicker Case Resolution

Along with many other jurisdictions, Ontario experienced a backlog of cases as courts closed down during the onset of the Covid pandemic. This accelerated the need to modernize the court systems. Since the first lockdown in March 2020, more than 275 courts were equipped with technology for remote hearings.

In March, 2021, the government announced a multi-year plan called Justice Accelerated which includes, among other proposals, a call to invest in new technology and overhaul court procedures to help resolve cases more quickly.

Permanently allowing virtual witnessing of wills and powers of attorney and improving technology for both in-person and remote court appearances are part of the plan. Increased opportunities for self-service and upgraded security and accessibility measures are also included.

Moving Ontario Family Law Forward

Late last year, the Ontario Government also passed Bill 207, also known as Moving Ontario Family Law Forward Act, 2020. The Act received Royal Assent on November 20, 2020 and was passed into law, amending parts of the Family Law Act, the Children’s Law Reform Act, and other family law legislation.

The most significant changes addressed how post-separation parenting decisions are made, particularly for survivors of family violence. The Act expanded the definition of family violence to include sexual, psychological and financial abuse, and included it directly in the best interests of the child test.

In addition, the Moving Ontario Family Law Forward Act streamlined the family law appeals process and aligned language regarding “custody and access” with changes to the Federal Divorce Act to help ensure consistency in the law.

On the technology side, the Act also allows parents and caregivers to obtain certified copies of child support notices from the online child support service so support amounts can be more easily managed or enforced outside the province.

What does this mean for you?

The many changes – both proposed and passed – should address the backlog of family law cases and other court proceedings in Ontario, allowing for quicker decisions on child protection, adoption, custody, access, child support, and spousal support. Since many of the technological and procedural changes also affect the Superior Courts, decisions regarding divorce and separation of property may also be handed down more quickly.

It could also ease the work for lawyers in family law firms, reducing the overall cost of court cases.

“Any efforts to streamline family justice are applauded by the family law bar,” says Kelly D. Jordan, Principal Lawyer with Kelly D. Jordan Family Law Firm in Toronto. “While the pandemic denied many family law litigants access to courts in a timely manner, the silver lining of this cloud is that important reforms have been initiated as a result – making the family legal system better for Ontario families.”

Want to know more? The Kelly D. Jordan Family Law Firm team can assist you in all aspects of family law, including fertility law, marriage, separation and divorce agreements, family dispute mediation, and wills and estates.

Contact us today.