Notice to the Profession and Family Law Litigants – Protocol for Family Matters in the Superior Court of Justice, Central East Region (Effective June 26, 2020)

The Superior Court of Justice is operating pursuant to the Notice to the Profession from Chief Justice Morawetz dated May 19, 2020. That Notice can be found at:  http://uat.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/notice-ce-family-matters/ Please review the Notice carefully in conjunction with this document.

This Notice replaces the Notices to the Profession for Central East Region issued on March 15, 2020, April 1, 2020 and May 19, 2020.

I. MATTERS BEING HEARD AT THIS TIME

    1. Where will Matters be Heard

  1. Certain court centres have been allocated one or two court rooms for child protection or family law matters requiring an in-person hearing. Other centres will have access to court room space on an ad hoc basis as it becomes available.
  2. All child protection and family matters shall presumptively be set for a videoconference hearing to be held by Zoom. If one party cannot utilize Zoom videoconference for any reason, the matter shall proceed by Zoom teleconference.
  3. Certain matters may be scheduled for in-person hearings at the courthouse by the assignment court judge or later by the judge who is setting the next date. The priority for in-person hearings is determined by the court and parties cannot obtain an in-person hearing simply by consenting to same.
  4. If a lawyer or party is not comfortable with an in-person attendance due to COVID-19 concerns, the hearing will proceed virtually.
  5. Even if a matter is set for a video or teleconference, there may be an option of an in-person attendance on short notice. Subject to all parties and counsel being comfortable attending in person, parties should be prepared to attend in court at their designated time in the event that in-person court time becomes available.
  6. Parties and counsel are not to attend at court on the July 6 or July 13, 2020 or other placeholder dates set in the previous Notice to the Profession. A protocol for setting new dates is set out below.
    1. Child Protection Matters being Heard

  7. All child protection matters will be heard other than trials until further notice.
  8. Priority in terms of use of the limited in-person court room attendances will be given to child protection matters particularly summary judgment motions, temporary care and custody hearings and settlement conferences in that order.  Priority for in-person attendances will also be given to these events in cases where one or more parties do not have the ability to participate by Zoom.
    1. Family Matters being Heard

(a) Family Law Conferences

  1. The requirement to demonstrate that a matter is urgent and/or pressing no longer applies.
  2. Parties and/or counsel can set a Case Conference or a Settlement Conference in accordance with the protocol set out below.
  3. No Trial Scheduling Conferences, or Trial Management Conferences will be set as no trials are being scheduled at this time. If parties had scheduled a Trial Scheduling Conference or a Trial Management Conference prior to the suspension of court operations, they can request a Settlement Conference for the purpose of attempting final settlement only.
  4. Initially three conferences will be set each day at fixed times: 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  Dates for Conferences and FRO matters will be available in July although not necessarily on the usual dates set in in each centre prior to the suspension of court operations.  Starting in August, it is expected that these events shall be held on the same days of the week as were originally set prior to the suspension of operations.
  5. Parties shall electronically file Conference Briefs, Financial Statements and copies of any applicable orders or agreements. Parties should assume that the court file may not be available for the Judge.  Fresh briefs are required for all matters due to the passage of time since the suspension of operations.
  6. Parties shall file by e-mail the day before the conference, a draft order pre-populated with the names of parties and counsel and the file number. This document shall be in word format.

(b) Family Motions

  1. There is no requirement for leave on the basis of urgency for motions.
  2. The only motions permitted are short/one-hour motions. There will be no long motions set at this time.
  3. Family motions that were previously scheduled and in which a case conference was already held, will be given a new date if requested using the written assignment court process outlined below.
  4. If no case conference has been held, the party seeking to bring a motion must first obtain leave based on r. 14(4.2) of the Family Law Rules for the motion by 14B even if the motion materials have already been filed for a prior date. This request cannot be combined with the request for a date via the assignment court process and leave must be obtained in advance.  This requirement for advance leave will continue to apply after the assignment court process is concluded and no motion can be scheduled through the trial coordinator unless a conference has been held or leave obtained in advance.
  5. There shall be a strict page limit for affidavits in support of motions. Affidavits shall not exceed ten pages of narrative and the total number of pages of exhibits shall not exceed ten pages.  Copies of relevant court orders are excluded from the page limit and should be included.  If a party believes that a longer affidavit is necessary, they must obtain leave in advance by 14B motion.
  6. Previously filed motion materials must be scanned and re-filed by e-mail. If the previously filed materials exceed the page limits set out above, the materials must be re-drafted to bring them into compliance or leave for longer materials must be obtained by 14B motion.
  7. Parties shall file by e-mail the day before the conference, a draft order pre-populated with the names of parties and counsel and the file. This document shall be in word format.
  8. All motions are to be heard in writing presumptively unless a judge determines otherwise.
  9. Family motions do not qualify for in-person court attendances at this time. Rather, counsel and parties are to be available to participate in a Zoom hearing in their time slot if the judge deems necessary.  A Zoom link will be provided, but parties and counsel will not be given entry into the virtual meeting unless and until the judge deems it necessary.  Parties or counsel are not entitled to make oral submissions unless the judge permits.
  10. Motions will generally continue to be heard on the same days of the week in each centre as were set prior to the suspension of court operations. However, only three motions per day will be scheduled for the motions judge, one in each specific time slot: 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m.

II. ASSIGNMENT OF NEW DATES

  1. New dates must be set in both child protection and family court matters unless a judge has set a specific date for a hearing after the suspension of court operations. All matters that were adjourned sine die or were adjourned to a placeholder date will require a new date in order to proceed.  For example, if a conference date in August was set pre-suspension, that date is deemed adjourned sine die and a new date must be obtained.  Similarly, all child protection matters that were adjourned to July 6, 2020 or July 13, 2020 or to another placeholder date, will be assigned a new date.
  2. In child protection matters, the court will be prioritizing matters based on various factors including the length of time a child has been in care. Family law matters will generally be dealt with in the order that they were scheduled originally.  For example, a case that was set to be heard on March 16, 2020 will be given an earlier date than a matter set to be heard on July 15, 2020 subject to any determination of urgency.
    1. Child Protection Assignment Court

  3. In child protection matters the court will be unilaterally setting a date for the matter to be spoken to only. The initial to be spoken to hearing will be set for a fixed date and time for 10-15 minutes.  The objective of the attendance is for counsel and parties to provide the court with a brief status report and to set a new date for the matter.
  4. The court will notify the local Society or Agency as to the dates set and the Society or Agency will be asked to notify the Respondents and their counsel. The court will also provide the available dates for the next few months so that parties and counsel can coordinate in advance of the to be spoken to date.
  5. The initial to be spoken to dates shall proceed by Zoom videoconference unless a party cannot participate by videoconference in which case teleconference shall be utilized.
  6. The Society/Agency and each party will be asked to provide a brief one-page confirmation outlining their position as to what the next step should be, the date being sought and the reasons for their position. This should be provided in the form of a 17F confirmation served and filed by e-mail 1 day prior to the assigned to be spoken to date.
  7. If a party did not attend the initial to be spoken to hearing and disagrees with the date set, he or she can bring a 14B motion on notice requesting an alternate date.
  8. The Society/Agency will be asked to file draft endorsements in word format for all cases the day before the assignment court to assist the court in finalizing the endorsement.
    1. Family Matters including FRO

  9. Due to the very high volume of family cases in the Central East Region centres, the court will be assigning new dates for family law matters through a written assignment court process.
  10. Parties who want a new date for their family law matter, must serve and file the Family Assignment Court Template in the form attached on or before July 10, 2020. It is not necessary to file a 14B motion or any other document.
  11. Starting July 13, 2020, the designated assignment court judge will review the Family Assignment Court Template and then assign a new date. While parties and counsel may be asked for their preferred dates and/or their unavailable dates, it is likely not possible to accommodate everyone’s schedule and preference at this time.   It is recommended that parties provide a broad range of available dates or preferably those dates that they are not available.
  12. If a party or counsel has a conflict or objects to the date set, he or she must bring a 14B motion requesting a new date. It is expected that parties and counsel will have made efforts to find mutually agreeable dates and that the 14B motion will be on consent.
  13. Only parties who have delivered a Family Assignment Court Template by the July 10, 2020 deadline, will be assigned a new date. This will include Family Responsibility matters.
  14. New dates for long motions and trials are not going to be assigned.
  15. If a party does not request a new date, no date is going to be set at this time.
  16. Only after all of the existing cases wherein a date was requested via the Family Assignment Court process have been dealt with, can parties request a new date through the trial coordinator and only if they agree to dates. It is expected that the Family Assignment Court process will have been completed by July 20, 2020.
  17. After July 20, 2020, if parties object to the date previously set through the written assignment court, if they now wish to obtain a date but cannot agree on a date or if they require an earlier date due to an urgent or pressing issue, a 14B motion on notice will be required to obtain a date. An affidavit in support shall not be filed rather parties shall attach the completed Family Assignment Court TemplateMaterials that do not comply with this requirement will not be forwarded to a judge for considerationDo not contact the Trial Coordinator if there is no agreement on a date.

III. 1st APPEARANCES (Rule 39 Appearances)

  1. All First Appearance dates will be conducted by teleconference.

IV. CONDUCT IN VIDEO AND TELECONFERENCES

  1. Where a hearing is set to be heard by videoconference or teleconference, the Trial Coordinator will forward the Zoom link to all parties.
  2. Parties and counsel are to be ready in the Zoom waiting room at least 15 minutes prior to the scheduled time.
  3. Hearings that are conducted by video and teleconference are formal court events that replace an in-person attendance.
  4. For all child protection matters and conferences, parties shall make best efforts to ensure that they are participating in a private space without anyone else present unless the judge grants leave.

V. FILING OF DOCUMENTS

  1. The filing office remains open, but counsel and parties are requested to e-file documents unless in-person filing is absolutely necessary.
  2. There is no restriction on documents that can be filed at this time.
  3. All documents filed must be clearly labelled. The subject line of the email must contain the file number and parties’ names and the name of the document as follows.

Example: FC-20-00000503-0000 – DOE vs. DOE – Affidavit of Jane Doe sworn June 23, 2020

Documents that are not properly named may be rejected by the filing office and may not be forwarded to the presiding judge until properly named.

  1. Documents shall be filed by e-mailing them to:
Centre CSD Mailbox
Barrie BarrieSCJFamily@ontario.ca
Bracebridge Bracebridge.courts@ontario.ca
Orillia Orillia.courts@ontario.ca
Newmarket NewmarketSCJFamily@ontario.ca
Oshawa DurhamSCJFamily@ontario.ca
Cobourg Cobourg.court@ontario.ca
Peterborough PeterboroughSCJFamily@ontario.ca
Lindsay Lindsay.courts@ontario.ca

VI. MATTERS ON A TRIAL LIST

  1. There are no trials until further notice.
  2. New trial dates will be addressed in a future Notice to the Profession.

VII. INFORMATION FROM THE OFFICE OF THE CHILDREN’S LAWYER

  1. The Office of the Children’s Lawyer will continue to accept referrals including for Voice of the Child reports. Referrals will be assessed for urgency, complexity and the usual intake criteria.

VIII. INFORMATION FROM THE FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY OFFICE

  1. Please refer to the Family Responsibility Office website for the latest information:

https://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/MCSS/programs/familyResponsibility/index.aspx

IX. RESOURCES FOR SELF-REPRESENTED PARTIES

  1. On-site duty counsel and advice lawyer services are not available at this time however they may be available to assist in virtual hearings provided that parties contact them in advance.
  2. Self-represented parties can be directed to Legal Aid Ontario:

1-800-668-8258 for assistance.

  1. Legal Aid Ontario has recently advised that summary legal advice services will be available through their telephone lines regardless of financial eligibility, but still subject to subject matter restrictions.  Information about access to these services is available at:

https://www.legalaid.on.ca/news/changes-to-summary-legal-advice-services-at-legal-aid-ontario-due-to-covid-19-pandemic/

https://www.legalaid.on.ca/fr/news/annonce-a-lintention-des-intervenants/

  1. The Law Society of Ontario in conjunction with others is offering an emergency service to connect self-represented litigants with family lawyers, working on a pro bono basis, who will provide 30 minutes of legal advice specific to determining whether or not their family court matter is urgent and referrals to other available legal services.  Self-represented parties can call:

Toll-free: 1-800-268-7568
General: 416-947-3310

X. MEDIATION/ Information and Resource Coordinators

  1. Off-site mediation services may continue to be available with strict protocols for sanitizing and social distancing, and strict cancellation policies in the event of symptoms. Off-site mediation is also available virtually by videoconference.
  2. Mediators will also be available to provide virtual mediation by videoconference on hearing days.  Parties wishing mediation should contact the applicable mediation centre or notify the court registrar at the commencement of a hearing.
  3. Mediation by teleconference is not available due to the requirements of screening for domestic violence that must be conducted in-person or by videoconference.
  4. On-site mediation services remain suspended until further notice.
  5. Information and Referral Coordinators (IRC’s) from each court location in the region continue to be available to assist the public remotely. Contact information is set out below:
Centre IRC Contact
Oshawa Durham Mediation Centre
905-579-1988
Info@durhammediationcentre.org
Newmarket York Hills Centre for Children, Youth and Families
905-853-4816
IRC@yorkhills.ca
Barrie & Bracebridge The Mediation Centre of Simcoe County Inc.
705-739-6446
Barrieflic@gmail.com
Peterborough Kawartha Family Court Assessment Service
705-876-6915
Audrey.lea@flic.kfcas.ca
Brenda.kotras@flic.kfcas.ca
Alicia.thibadeau@kfcas.ca
Lindsay Kawartha Family Court Assessment Service
705-324-1400 x413
claudette.riley@flic.kfcas.ca
kathy.dunne@flic.kfcas.ca
alicia.thibadeau@kfcas.ca
Cobourg Kawartha Family Court Assessment Service
905-372-3751 x128
Alicia.thibadeau@kfcas.ca
Monica.walsh@flic.kfcas.ca