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Ontario seeks to simplify family law with new legislation

Friday, September 25, 2020 @ 1:36 PM | By John Schofield


The Ontario government has unveiled new legislation it says will make it “easier, faster and more affordable” to resolve family legal matters.

If passed, the legislation — dubbed the Moving Ontario Family Law Forward Act, 2020 — will help make Ontario’s complex family law system easier to navigate by modernizing language, simplifying appeal routes and improving the online child support service, according to a Sept. 24 government news release.

Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey

“Comprehensive action to advance family law is a critical part of any conversation around moving our justice system forward for Ontarians,” Attorney General Doug Downey said in the news release. “We’re proposing common sense changes to simplify Ontario’s family law system, allowing parents and guardians to spend less time on paperwork and court appearances and more time making plans to support and care for their children.”

Released Sept. 24 as Bill 207, the proposed legislation will not replace the Family Law Act (FLA), but will amend parts of the FLA, the Children's Law Reform Act, the Courts of Justice Act and some other parts of legislation related to family law.

It promises to make the family law appeals process more understandable by clarifying when and how to appeal family law cases, to help families reach final decisions faster in difficult cases and to make the appeals process more consistent no matter where a trial is heard.

It is also designed to align Ontario’s family laws with federal changes to the Divorce Act. Those changes include modernizing language around the terms custody and access, so they are consistent, clearer and more streamlined.

In addition, according to the news release, the new legislation will allow 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.

In the arbitration field, the government is removing the requirement for family arbitrators to file arbitration award reports with the Ministry — a change it says will save time and money.

Efforts are also underway to expand the dispute resolution officer program to Kitchener and Welland. Dispute resolution officers are senior family lawyers appointed by the Superior Court of Justice to work with families and guardians to determine their issues and help them work towards a settlement.

The news release notes that the family law changes embodied in the legislation were arrived at through consultations with parents, child protection advocates, family lawyers, arbitrators and mediators.

The news was welcomed by Frances Wood, chair of the Ontario Bar Association’s family law section and a founding partner of Wood Gold LLP.

“The Ontario Bar Association has been a strong advocate for changes that streamline and remove barriers to the family law system to increase the public’s access to the help they need from lawyers,” she was quoted as saying in the government release.

“We commend the attorney general,” she added, “for offering clarity and equal application of laws to married and non-married spouses by responding to our call for consistency between provincial and federal laws following changes to the Divorce Act.”

Sam Misheal, chair of the Federation of Ontario Law Associations’ family law committee, also commended the government for its effort to simplify and streamline appeal routes for family law cases and to make the justice system more accessible for Ontarians.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact John Schofield at john.schofield@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5891.