Information for Self-Represented Litigants regarding Family Court Operations

Are family courts open?

Yes. Even though court events are not taking place in the courthouse, family courts are still open.

Regardless of where you live, you can make an urgent request to the Court relating your family law case. This can include, for example, requests for orders relating to your safety or the safety or well-being of one of the children. In some circumstances, it can also include requests relating to your financial circumstances.

In addition to urgent requests, the courts are also hearing requests that are made with the agreement of both parties. This may include a change to support payments because of a change in your circumstances.

Additional steps can be taken in many jurisdictions. For example, case conferences are available in most areas in the province, although they may only be able to address limited issues. In several areas, you can submit some motions that will be reviewed in writing (for example, a request for financial disclosure).

How do I figure out what kinds of events are taking place where I live?

Information about what steps can be taken in each region is available in the regional notices to the profession, which are available here.

You should also review the province-wide notice, which is available here.

Please refer to the regional notice regarding what documents need to be filed for each request or event, as these may be somewhat different from what is normally required under the Family Law Rules.

Please note that, for the time being, all events continue to be held either virtually or in writing. This means that you will not need to attend court in person, but you will need to arrange for telephone or video access to participate in the event.

What to expect in a family event held by telephone or video

Although you won’t be present in a courtroom, the procedure in a remote conference will be similar to what generally happens in court. You may want to review the Court’s guide to procedure for family cases to understand the purpose of each step in a court case.

You will want to prepare in advance to make sure you are able to participate in the event. If you are taking part in a telephone or video conference, you should read the Court’s Best Practices for Remote Hearings.

I don’t have a court case started yet. Does that matter?

Possibly. If you do not have a court case started yet, an application or motion to change will generally need to be started. These are documents that need to be issued by the court.  Your regional practice direction may provide directions regarding how to issue these documents in your region. If they do not, you can contact your local court office for further directions.

If your situation is urgent, you may be able to file your urgent request even before an application or motion to change has been issued. A lawyer is in the best position to help you in those circumstances.

I don’t have a lawyer. Where can I get help or find more information?

As a result of COVID-19, increased summary legal advice is now available from Legal Aid Ontario over the phone for family matters. Anyone can use this service to get legal advice and information. To use this service call 1‑800‑668‑8258.  Please note that these services are limited in scope and requirements still apply regarding legal aid certificates.

With support from the courts, the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) has set up a temporary emergency family law referral telephone line. You can call this service if you have a family law issue and you:

  • don’t have a lawyer
  • don’t know if your issue is urgentfor the court to deal with it
  • don’t know your next steps if your matter is urgent

If this is your situation, the referral service will help you get 30 minutes of free legal advice and information from a family law lawyer. To use this service, call 416-947-3310 or 1-800-268-7568.

If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, some lawyers also provide “unbundled services” or “limited scope retainer” services. This means you pay a lawyer to help you with part of your case, for example:

  • Legal advice: meeting with a lawyer to get advice on what your legal options are
  • Preparing documents: a lawyer prepares your documents, for example, a court application or a separation agreement
  • Appearances: a lawyer represents you in legal situations, for example, at a court hearing, or at a case conference
  • Coaching: a lawyer guides you through the court process, or explains how to prepare your materials or present your position

The Family Law Limited Scope Services website has a directory of family law lawyers in communities across Ontario that provide limited scope or unbundled legal services.