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Family Law during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Court Closures

On March 17, 2020, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice closed all courts, save and except for urgent matters, and on March 20, 2020, the Ontario Court of Justice also closed. As a result all family court appearances, including trials, conferences and motions, that were scheduled between March 17, 2020 and May 31, 2020 have been adjourned.

The court has also requested that members of the public, including lawyers and self represented parties, not attend the courthouse unless it is absolutely necessary to file materials for an urgent motion. In some jurisdictions, including London, the courthouse has closed completely as a precautionary measure to allow time for thorough cleaning.

However, urgent family law matters continue to be dealt with by the court despite closures by way of urgent motions. The court has advised that urgent family or child protection matters include:

•           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);

•           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;

•           dire issues regarding the parties’ financial circumstances including for example the need for a non-depletion order;

•           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.

Parties wishing to bring an urgent motion are being directed to email their materials to the family court trial coordinator. The trial coordinator will then provide the motion materials to a triage judge, who will determine if the matter meets the test for urgency. If a matter is determined to be urgent, the motion will be scheduled and the motion will proceed as a teleconference.

The closing of the court is unprecedented and it has undoubtedly left many people with family law matters concerned. If you require assistance with a family law matter, please contact a member of the McKenzie Lake family law team.

Practice direction for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice:  https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/covid-19-suspension-fam/