Self-representing? What you should know about the courts during the COVID-19 pandemic

The courts in Ontario are still closed

The Courts in Ontario have been in a state of suspension since March 17th, 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of this post, it’s not yet clear when they will re-open for normal business, although this will likely take place in July.

Both the Ontario Superior Court and the Ontario Court of Justice have been operating for urgent matters through a telephone and video conference system. And the courts have been handling consent matters through email filings. If you have a family law matter you should first contact your local courthouse to see how they’re handling things in your jurisdiction. Time limits under the Family Law Rules have been suspended. You can also check the websites for the Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court for up-to-date information. 

All matters that were scheduled to be heard when the courts were closed will be rescheduled once things open up. If you have one of these matters the courts will contact you. Keep in mind there will be a massive re-scheduling of existing cases that will need to be set to new dates, and since no one could start matters while the courthouses were closed, soon everyone wanting to start a case will be able to do so.

What will happen when the courts reopen?

When the courts reopen there will be rescheduling, and parties will be notified when their matters have been rescheduled to be heard. The process will be a bit different for each court and the different localities, so check with your local court office. When the courts do reopen there will likely be some chaos and confusion as there is a backlog of more than 3 months of cases needed to be scheduled – plus all the cases that wanted to get scheduled during that time but couldn’t because of the court office closures.

In addition to the backlog, certain cases will be given higher priorities to be dealt with than others. We’ll see what new regulations the courts will put in place to deal with this tsunami of cases. But don’t count on getting a fast court date.

However, for those with a Joint or Simple Divorce, you can still apply for these online (check here to see if this applies to you).

What happened to matters in court not reached by March 17, 2020?

Any matter already before the court with a hearing date set for after March 17th, 2020, has been automatically adjourned to a date, which differs from court to court. At that time, the courts anticipate going through matters and setting dates for those already in the system to be heard sometime after then. As mentioned, certain matters will be given priority.

What if I want to bring a motion or application but hadn’t done so before March 16th, 2020?

Most court offices aren’t even taking these matters. You can serve the other side with a blank date and then notify them of the date you get once the courts open to take new matters. But keep in mind that the early dates will be filled by matters that were already before the courts on March 17th.

What’s our advice?

If possible, redouble your efforts to settle matters. The courts are now handling consent orders. And you can still negotiate Minutes of Settlement and Separation Agreements.

More self-reps are turning to mediation to get things solved now that they can’t go to court. You could also consider getting an agreement to have your matter arbitrated. There are professionals providing mediation and arbitration online. There will be mediation and arbitrations done in-person but with social distancing protocols in place. You’ll likely be able to have a matter resolved faster this way than waiting for a court date.

The best advice is to see if you can settle things on your own. Get your agreement set out in a separation agreement or Minutes of Settlement or some other written agreement that is signed and witnessed. When the courts reopen you can have that made into a court order.

The second-best advice is to try arbitration to get the matter dealt with. This will likely be faster than waiting to get your matter heard in court.

To help you navigate through these strange and difficult times, you can always purchase a one or a two-hour package of time to get legal assistance and coaching from The Family Law Coach. To get in touch visit our Contact page, or call 416 639-0894 or Toll-Free 1 888 670-9661.