The Basics: The Family Court and Rules

Fortunately, the typical person will not need to become an expert on how the Ontario family law system operates. Exposure to the legal system typically results from an unfavourable instance. The family court system is therefore foreign to the majority of individuals. The Ontario family courts and the rules that must be observed while appearing before them are described in this succinct and basic overview.

The Superior Court of Justice, the Ontario Court of Justice, and the Family Court division of the Superior Court of Justice are the three courts in Ontario that have the authority to hear family law cases. The location and the type of issue the parties are litigating will determine which of these three courts will hear a particular family law case. Family law cases are only one of the many legal issues that are addressed by the province’s primary court, the Superior Court of Justice. It renders judgment in cases involving divorce, property division, child and spousal support, and parenting time and decision-making authority. The Ontario Court of Justice adjudicates matters including parenting, visitation, child and spousal support, adoption, and petitions for child protection. The partition of property or divorce cases, both of which fall within federal jurisdiction, are not heard by this court. Lastly, the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice, also known as the Unified Family Court, has been established in 17 locations around the province. It is referred to as a unified court because family law cases in Ontario are subject to both federal and provincial legislation, and this branch of court has the authority to hear both. As a result, in areas where the Unified Family Court is present, the court hears all family law issues, such as divorce, property division, child and spousal support, parenting issues, and child protection applications.

Federal and provincial court procedures are governed by particular court regulations that apply to all legal cases. A single set of Family Law Rules (O. Reg. 114/99) have been in effect in Ontario since July 1, 2003, and they apply to all family law cases. The following are some of the main focus areas and procedures that are particularly covered by the Family Law Rules:

  • The rules that specify where a case or application starts
  • How and when documents are to be served
  • Who the parties to a matter are to be
  • Which matters are subject to the mandatory information program
  • The consequences of not adhering to the Rules or obeying an order
  • Setting out the guiding principles that pertain to a court handling cases justly and to manage cases
  • The guidelines for financial statements
  • The process for case conferences and settlement proposals
  • The duties related to document disclosure, the examination of witnesses, and the admission of facts
  • The rules surrounding costs
  • The creation and enforcement of orders

Additionally, a specific set of forms that are to be utilized in proceedings before the various courts have been adopted under the Family Law Rules. The exact forms to be used in a divorce application, financial statements, the net family property statement, and the numerous orders that a judge may issue are among these.