Family law Ontario – Dispute Resolution Avenues

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What kind of disputes are covered by family law? What are different avenues of resolving family law disputes? What is court structure in Ontario regarding family law disputes?

This lecture is taught by Amer Mushtaq, LL.B., M. Engineering , B.Sc. (Hons.), who is the Principal and Founder of Formative LLP.   Through his YouTube channel, YouCounsel, Amer shares practical advice from his years of legal experience to help anyone access justice and achieve their goals.  Subscribe today to learn more.


Show Notes:


Lecture Slides:

Welcome to YouCounsel.

In today’s lecture we will explain to you what are some of the disputes/issues that are the domain of family law in Ontario.  And, then, what are some of the avenues through which you are able to resolve these disputes in Ontario.

We begin with our usual disclaimer that this lecture is not legal advice.  If you have any specific questions regarding your issues you should contact a family law lawyer or a paralegal or the Law Society of Ontario for a referral.

What are some of the disputes that are the domain of family law? Essentially, Family Law deals with the rights and obligations of spouses, parents and children.  Those are the 3 parties—if they have any issues with respect to each other’s rights and obligations—that will be considered a family law issue.  Some of the examples of these issues are prenuptial agreements, marriage agreements, cohabitation agreements (cohabitation agreements are when you are living as a couple, as common law not just as roommates), separation agreement, mediation and arbitration agreement (again in the context of these issues), separation and divorce matters, child custody and access issues, child support, spousal support, family law property division, trust issues, restraining orders, issues of domestic abuse and adoptions.  These are some of the examples of issues.  If you have those issues then you should know that these are family law matters and will be dealt with under the Family Law Rules.

Now what are some of the avenues of resolving family disputes?  There are a few ways that you can resolve these disputes.

  1. Number one obviously is by direct negotiation. In this case the parties talk to each other directly and come to an agreement.  Then that agreement they write it up, they sign it and then they follow it.  They don’t need involvement of any 3rd party or courts or anyone else to resolve their issues.
  2. A lot of times it is unlikely because the relationship is soured and it is not possible for parties to have direct negotiations. So if they are unable to resolve issues directly they can always go to mediation. A mediator is a person, often a retired judge or a senior lawyer or a psychologist or a social worker.  Any of these people could be a mediator.  Their goal is to be neutral and objective and help parties come to a resolution.  Oftentimes a lot of mediations are successful in family disputes.
  3. Third approach is called collaborative family law. Essentially, in this approach the parties make a commitment to each other that they will collaborate with respect to the resolution of their issues.  They will talk to each other and come to mutual agreements. Sometimes collaborative family law matters may result in no resolution and that’s possible.  When you engage in collaborative family law and if there is no resolution and you have to get into a court (get into litigation), then you will have to change your lawyer.  You have to find another lawyer. The collaborative family lawyer will no longer represent you.
  1. Fourth option is arbitration. This is an option where parties hire someone like a retired judge or a senior person who is considered an arbitrator. There are specific rules and regulations for how an arbitration is conducted.  This is not a court process.  This is a process that is outside of the court system.  Parties hire—they pay the arbitrators fee they hire an arbitrator and then the arbitrator listens to the case and provides a decision.  An arbitrator’s decision is binding.  It is enforced by courts or it is as good as a decision that you get from a court.  

The advantages of arbitration process (arbitral process) is that it is more expedient.  You are able to retain an arbitrator quickly, you can have your matter resolved quickly. The obvious disadvantage is because you are paying for the process and you’re paying for the arbitrator, oftentimes the process is expensive.

  1. And, if none of those 4 avenues work for you, then you can always go to court and have your family law dispute resolved in court.

What is the court structure for family law in Ontario? There are three different kinds of courts in Ontario that deal with family law matters.

  1. Number one is called Family Court, which is a branch of Superior Court of Justice but it’s called Family Court;
  2. Number 2 is Ontario Court of Justice; and
  3. Number 3 is the Superior Court of Justice.

 and we will discuss one by one what each of these court do.

  1. Family Court: There are 25 Family Courts across Ontario from Barrie, Belleville, Bracebridge, Brockville, Cayuga, Cobourg, Cornwall, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, Lindsay, L’Original, London, Napanee, Newmarket, Oshawa, Ottawa, Pembroke, Perth, Peterborough, Picton, Simcoe, St. Catharines, St. Thomas, Welland. The list is here. But there are 25 Family Courts in Ontario. The advantage of family courts is that they deal with all our family law matters.  Everything that I just explained to you—could be a dispute relating to family law—they’re all under the jurisdiction of family court. It’s a one-stop-shop. You can go to family court and get those resolved. 
  2. If you don’t have a family court in your municipality, if you’re not in one of these municipalities, then a family matter is divided between Ontario Court of Justice and Superior Court of Justice.  There is some overlap but there are some things that a Court of Justice will not do and some things that a Superior Court of Justice will not do.  You need to have a clear understanding that if you don’t have a family law court in your region (in your municipality), then you need to have an understanding of whether your matter is with the Ontario Court of Justice or Superior Court of Justice.
  3. What does Ontario Court of Justice do? It deals with matters relating to custody, access, child and spousal support, adoption and child protection applications, enforcement of child or spousal support in a domestic contract, and spousal support either it’s in a domestic contract or a court order.

In all of these scenarios you are able to go to Ontario Court of Justice and seek relief. What Ontario Court of Justice does not deal with is divorce and division of property matters. These are 2 important issues but if your issue relates to divorce or division of property then you won’t be able to get relief from Ontario Court of Justice because they do not have jurisdiction.

  1. Superior Court of Justice: What are the issues that Superior Court of Justice deals with? Obviously, divorce and division of property because Ontario Court of Justice does not deal with it. Claims relating to family home, trust claims and claims for unjust enrichment, child and spousal support, custody and access, applications and appeals relating to family arbitration.

If you had engaged an arbitrator and a decision was made and you are dissatisfied that it was not a just decision/a just resolution, you have the ability to appeal that decision with the Superior Court of Justice.  Superior Court of Justice does not deal with adoption matters or child protection matters.  It deals with child protection matters only when there is an appeal but otherwise it does not deal with all of these issues.  

Once you have that basic understanding, then if you go into court you are able to choose which court to go to. You need to know: number one whether your specific dispute—does it come under the umbrella of family law issues.  I hope that you have some basic understanding of that. I hope you have some clarity on what are the different options that you can exercise to resolve your dispute and if you have to go to court, then you need to figure out which court you have to go to so that your dispute is in the right court and you’re not wasting your time and money in the wrong court and then you are able to get your issue resolved expeditiously.

Thank-you for watching.

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