Guiding Principles and Best Practices for Family Court at the Ontario Court of Justice
The purpose of these principles and practices is to provide general guidance to Judges, Local Administrative Judges and Regional Senior Judges of the Ontario Court of Justice when scheduling family matters. They are intended to inform decision-making around scheduling and are meant to supplement and complement the Family Law Rules. They should not be considered a substitute for the Rules. These guidelines should be taken into account when assigning judicial resources.
Guiding Principles for family law
The following Guiding Principles are for the majority of family cases. There will always be exceptions that require Courts to deviate from the Guiding Principles.
- Contested family law and child protection matters whose outcome would affect the well-being and day-to-day physical, emotional and/or mental health of children should be considered matters where time is of the essence. Scheduling of these matters should reflect this. Judicial time should be made available so these matters will be completed in a timely fashion. Family and child protection schedules should reflect this principle as much as possible. However, geographical and local limitations to scheduling of family and child protection matters should also be recognized.
- The Family and Child Protection court schedules need to be transparent, available and reflect accessibility to the public and the professional users of the Court. The schedules should indicate the day of the week, the type of court (eg Child Protection, Domestic) and the judge(s) who will be presiding. Ideally, the schedules should be available six (6) months in advance of the matter.
- Every Court Appearance should advance the case in some way towards resolution of issues.
- Child Protection adjournments must be judicially managed and reasons should be provided to ensure that unnecessary adjournments are not made.
- The Bar and the public have a right to expect that the Family Law Rules will be respected and applied on a consistent basis.
- When necessary, trial management judges should address all purposes as outlined in rule 17 of the Family Law Rules regarding trial management.
- When a Child Protection trial is set, it should be set for continuous days.
- If the dates set for Child Protection trials are insufficient, dates for continuation must be given priority.
Best Practices for family law
- Wherever warranted by the size of the jurisdiction, there should be a Family Local Administrative Judge and a Criminal Local Administrative Judge at each courthouse. The two Local Administrative Judges should work collaboratively. If it is not possible to have two Local Administrative Judges, the Local Administrative Judge should regularly consult with family judges at the court regarding scheduling matters. The needs of the family litigants, including the amount of time required for family and child protection cases should be assessed on a regular basis.
- Consistent with the Regional Senior Justice’s policies, the Local Administrative Judge should direct the Trial Coordinator’s scheduling of family matters.
- Dedicated Court time or specific days for each of Child Protection and Domestic matters should be set aside where practical, depending on the number of users in a court location.
- There should be effective, pre-trial management (up to date of trial), including using Notices to Admit and Agreed Statements of Fact.
- There should be a proper recording of what occurred at each appearance in the Endorsement.
- There should be effective trial management. The goal of trial management is to resolve issues or move the issues in a case towards resolution.
- Realistic and achievable timetables should be provided by parties for long trials.
- Long trials exceeding ten days must be brought to the Local Administrative Judge’s attention and appropriate time should be scheduled for these trials.
Effective Case Management
- Findings (for example: Statutory findings under the Child, Youth and Family Services Act and parentage findings) should be made early in the process.
- If the parties cannot agree that a child is in need of protection, the Case Management Judge shall move the issue quickly toward resolution or trial.
- Every appearance should be a meaningful appearance. It should have a specific purpose and should result in some advancement towards resolving issues in the case. During the appearance, Judges should indicate the issues that will be dealt with on the next date and the amount of time allocated for the next appearance in their Endorsements. Parties should be encouraged to appear on time and be prepared.
- Child Protection adjournments should be proactively judicially managed and reasons should be provided to ensure that unnecessary adjournments are not made.
- Parties should use emails, conference calls, and fax machines for those matters that can be dealt with by consent, whenever possible.
- All of the services and supports available at the court for family matters should be utilized to resolve matters, including Duty counsel, First Appearance Court, Family Law Information Centres, and mediation.
- Effective case management should involve assigning a single judge to a case, whenever possible.
- Family bench/bar/family resources meetings should be held on a regular basis. For family scheduling issues, bench/bar/family resources meetings should be held at least twice a year. The judiciary should use this opportunity to consult with representatives of the professional users and support-services providers of the court.
- Audit or Update courts before trials should be encouraged in court locations where it would further the timeliness of the court process.
- Effective trial management by the judiciary is important. Trial Management Conferences should either resolve issues or move the issues in a case towards resolution.
- For long trials which have been scheduled for more than ten (10) days, judges should ensure that counsel files a day-by-day plan to ensure that the trials are completed in a timely fashion.