Family Court History
The Family Court branch of the Superior Court has undergone a number of necessary changes in order to meet the unique and pressing needs of families in need and children in crisis in Ontario.
In the 1970s, it was widely recognized that the shared jurisdiction in family law matters between the federal and provincial governments was impeding access to the courts for litigants. Consequently, a 3-year pilot project was initiated in Hamilton-Wentworth in 1977 where the federal and provincial jurisdictions over family matters were unified into one single court. The pilot was eventually made permanent in 1984.
1995 Geographic Expansion
After substantial consultation, the Family Court was re-formed as a branch of the Ontario Court (General Division) under the Courts of Justice Statute Law Amendment Act, in 1994. At that time scheduling and assignment within the Family Court branch was the responsibility of the Senior Family Judge of the Court, while the Chief Justice retained overall operational authority for the entire court. At this time the Family Court branch was extended to four additional locations: London, Barrie, Kingston and Napanee.
However, the Family Court branches continued to require the participation of judges from the Ontario Court (General Division) to meet the ever-increasing caseload in family law proceedings. As a result, a further evolution in the administrative structure of the Family Court was required.
The Fully Integrated Model
Proclaimed in 1999, the Courts of Justice Amendment Act adopted the fully integrated model of the Family Court, in which the Chief Justice has scheduling and assignment authority for all judges of the Superior Court, including those who are also members of the Family Court.
One judge of the Family Court is appointed as the Senior Judge of the Family Court. The Courts of Justice Act lists the specific duties of the Senior Judge of the Family Court, including the responsibility to advise the Chief Justice on all Family Court matters within the province. The Senior Judge of the Family Court is also a member of the Council of Regional Senior Judges.
1999 Expansion and Recent Developments
The Ontario Court (General Division) was re-named the Superior Court of Justice in 1999.
In 1999, following restructuring, the Family Court expanded to 12 additional sites:
Various Court support services have been developed collaboratively between the Ministry of the Attorney General and the judiciary to support and enhance the unique environment of the Family Court. These include the development of significant court support services such as Family Law Information Centres, mediation services, voluntary parent information sessions, supervised access exchange facilities, duty counsel, and other additional complementary resources to assist families in crisis and children in need.
As of July 1, 2004 all family proceedings in Ontario are governed by the same Family Law Rules.
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