Ontario Introduces Legislation to Simplify Justice System for Families and Protect Children

Published on September 25, 2020

Proposed changes would make it easier and more affordable to resolve family legal issues

The government has introduced legislation to make it easier, faster and more affordable for individuals and families to resolve family legal matters. The Moving Ontario Family Law Forward Act, 2020, if passed, will help simplify an outdated and complex family law system by modernizing language, simplifying appeal routes and improving the online child support service.

"Comprehensive action to advance family law is a critical part of any conversation around moving our justice system forward for Ontarians," the Attorney General remarked during the announcement of the proposal. "We're proposing common-sense changes to simplify Ontario's family law system, allowing parents and guardians to spend less time on paperwork and court appearances and more time making plans to support and care for their children."

If passed, the Moving Ontario Family Law Forward Act, 2020, will:

  • Make the family law appeals process clearer and easier to navigate by clarifying when and how to appeal family law cases, help families reach final decisions faster in difficult cases, and make the appeals process more consistent no matter where their trial is heard.
  • Align Ontario's family laws with federal changes to the Divorce Act. Changes include modernizing language around the terms custody and access, so they are consistent, clearer and more streamlined.
  • Allow parents and caregivers to obtain certified copies of child support notices from the online child support service so support amounts can be more easily managed or enforced outside the province.
In addition, the government is making changes to remove the requirement for family arbitrators to file arbitration award reports with the ministry, saving time and money.

Ontario is also working with the courts to expand the Dispute Resolution Officer program to Kitchener and Welland. Dispute Resolution Officers are senior family lawyers appointed by the Superior Court of Justice to work with families and guardians to determine their issues and help them work towards a settlement.

The proposed changes to Ontario's family law system follow extensive consultations with parents, child protection advocates, family lawyers, arbitrators and mediators.

"Families encounter the family law system in some of life's most difficult moments, and the changes we are proposing will make the process easier to navigate and understand for parents and their children," the Attorney General added. 

"The Ontario Bar Association has been a strong advocate for changes that streamline and remove barriers to the family law system to increase the public's access to the help they need from lawyers. We commend the Attorney General for offering clarity and equal application of laws to married and non-married spouses by responding to our call for consistency between provincial and federal laws following changes to the Divorce Act," said Frances Wood, Chair, Ontario Bar Association Family Law Section.

"The Federation of Ontario Law Associations welcomes changes designed to simplify and streamline the appeal routes for family law cases, as well as amendments to make the province's justice system more accessible to Ontarians," said Sam Misheal, Chair, Family Law Committee, Federation of Ontario Law Associations.


Quick Facts

  • Online Child Support Services: In April 2016, the ministry launched an easy-to-use online service that allows parents to set up or change straightforward child support payments without having to go to court. Nearly 400 families have been helped by this service.
  • E-Filing: Since August, Ontarians can use the province’s expanded online filing service to submit up to 450 court documents in any new or existing family proceeding in the Superior Court of Justice or Ontario Court of Justice.
  • Dispute Resolution Officers: Dispute Resolution Officers are senior family lawyers appointed primarily to hear first case conferences where a parent or guardian wishes to change an existing order. They can help people in family law disputes narrow the issues involved in their cases, reach or come closer to an agreement, and provide an early, neutral evaluation of their case. The Dispute Resolution Officer program currently operates in nine Superior Court of Justice and Unified Family Court locations: Toronto, Barrie, Brampton, Durham, Milton, Newmarket, Hamilton, London and St. Catharines.
  • Bill C-78: On June 21, 2019, the federal government passed Bill C-78 to make changes to the federal Divorce Act. The changes to the federal Divorce Act will come into force on March 1, 2021.