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Family Law Rights of Appearance Pilot Program Helps Increase Access to Courts

For many families involved in family dispute resolution, getting access to the courts can be difficult. Whether it’s an issue of cost, a lawyer’s availability, or even getting time in court, many Ontarians face barriers to court access.

A Family Service Legal Review by the Ontario Ministry of Attorney General estimated that almost 60% of Ontarians do not have representation in family courts. Typically, only fully-trained licensed lawyers can represent clients in a court of law. But a new Family Law Rights of Appearance Pilot Program aims to provide families with more available and affordable court access for family dispute resolution.

The Pilot Program launched on January 17, 2022, through the efforts of the Law Society of Ontario in partnership with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

The program allows eligible “lawyer licensing process candidates” (Permitted Candidates) like law students and articling students – to appear in court in lieu of a lawyer, in some cases without needing advance permission from the court.

What is the Goal of the Family Law Pilot Program?

The aim of the pilot is to save court time and costs, reduce costs to clients, and provide the right level of representation for the complexity of the case. For example, filing court papers does not necessarily require a trained lawyer to be present.

In addition, the measures will help address a backlog of family law cases due to COVID-19.

Who can Appear on your Behalf for Family Law Matters during the Pilot Program?

Permitted Candidates include articling students or students engaged in a work placement through the Law Practice Program (LPP/PPD) or Integrated Practice Curriculum (IPC) program. LPP/PPD and IPC is an articling equivalency offered by select Ontario universities.

When can Permitted Candidates Appear or your Behalf?

There are two groups of appearances under the Pilot Program. Some cases required advance permission for the Permitted Candidate to appear in court for family dispute resolution on behalf of the client, while others do not.

Full details are available from the Rights of Appearance page on the Law Society of Ontario website;

Advance Permission not Required

The Family Law Pilot Program allows Permitted Candidates to appear on behalf of the client for many simple court matters, provided a trained lawyer is available to stand in should the case become more complex.

Most of these appearances are straightforward and uncontested. They provide the student with experience in court procedure, while reducing overall costs by not requiring a lawyer for these simple matters.

Instances include:

  • First appearances.
  • Simple, procedural, uncomplicated or unopposed orders like Rule 14B motions for consent orders or requests regarding service and extension of timelines.
  • Many steps in Motion to Change related solely to child support.
  • Contested adjournments.
  • Appearances to settle disputed orders.
  • Motions relating to financial disclosure.

Advance Permission and Accompaniment Required

Permitted Candidates can appear in more complex family dispute resolution matters with advance permission for the court. In these cases, a supervising lawyer must also be present to support them.

The goal is to provide law students with exposure to more complex legal matters, while still supporting the client with appropriate legal expertise.

Instances include:

  • Matters related to child abduction or wrongful retention.
  • Anything that finally disposes of a matter, including motions for summary judgment, except as otherwise provided above.
  • Certain conferences like settlement conferences, trial scheduling or trial management.
  • Focused hearings or trials.
  • Case with allegations of family violence.

Expanded Opportunities for Law Students

In the past, Kelly D. Jordan Family Law Firm has only occasionally hired articling students and summer students given the limited amount of work that they can perform.

Kelly Jordan applauds the Family Law Pilot Program, saying “This initiative will provide incentive to small or solo firms to take on students. Not only does this give back to the profession by mentoring those who are committed to a career in family law, it increases representation for low-income clients by providing greater access to the family law justice system.”

One Step in a Greater Family Law Action Plan

The Family Law Pilot Program is one step in a more inclusive Family Law Action Plan proposed by the Law Society of Ontario to improve access to justice for family dispute resolution and family law.

If you’d like to discuss family law matters, or how these changes affect your case, contact the Kelly D. Jordan Family Law Firm for more information.


Law Society of Ontario – Rights of Appearance

Law Society of Ontario – Family Law Action Plan

Ontario Superior Court of Justice – Province-wide Notice to the Profession Regarding Family Law Cases

The Lawyer’s Daily – LSO, courts launch Family Law Rights of Appearance Pilot Project to assist A2J