Is the Court still hearing family law cases during the pandemic?
April 14, 2020 By: Emma Costain Read Time: 3 minutes
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Please note the court system’s response to COVID-19 is continuing to evolve. The information in this blog post is current as of April 14, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many parts of our society to be put “on hold” indefinitely. Our court system is no exception; like other institutions, its operations have been dramatically reduced, and the focus is on providing the most essential services.

While things are far from “business as usual,” we cannot put a pause on justice – especially for an unknown amount of time, and for those who need immediate assistance. Like in a hospital setting, the Court is triaging which cases it will hear, with urgent matters being prioritized, and a limited number of other matters going ahead.

Regular court operations are suspended

Effective March 17, 2020, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice suspended all regular operations. In other words, all criminal, civil, and family matters were adjourned until further notice.

In Ottawa, all family law matters set for short motions, long motions, conferences, first court dates, and trials in March, April, and May were adjourned, with new dates to be set in June.

Despite the suspension of regular operations, the Court will still hear urgent matters.

You can read the Notice to the Profession, the Public and the Media Regarding Civil and Family Proceedings (released on March 15, 2020) here.

The Court will still hear urgent and other specific family law matters remotely

Despite the suspension of regular operations, the Court will still hear urgent matters. More recently, it has also expanded the scope of operations to include other select family law matters, which are being heard remotely (by teleconference or videoconference) rather than in person.

Ultimately, the presiding judge is the gatekeeper for determining whether a matter is “urgent,” but urgent family law matters will include the following:

  1. 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);
  2. 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;
  3. dire issues regarding the parties’ financial circumstances, including the need for a non-depletion order; and
  4. 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.

As of April 6, 2020, the Court will also hear a limited number of other family law matters. You can read the updated notice here. The types of matters being heard vary depending on the judicial region.

In Ottawa and the rest of the East Region, the Court will hear the following family law matters in addition to urgent matters:

  1. consent motions under Rule 14B of the Family Law Rules;
  2. motions for procedural issues and disclosure under Rule 14B of the Family Law Rules;
  3. Case Conferences for a maximum of two pressing issues; and
  4. select Settlement Conferences if it appears resolution is probable, the issues are focused, and the conference can be accommodated.

We are still here to help

The legal system is continually evaluating how to adapt to the new situation. These are uncertain and unprecedented times, but our family law lawyers are working hard to provide guidance to clients on new and existing matters. Our offices remain open (virtually) and we are committed to serving our community during these challenging times.

If you need assistance with a family law issue, do not hesitate to contact us.

Nelligan Law gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Grace Tran, Student-at-Law, in writing this blog post.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2020 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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