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Are you prepared for Family Court by Zoom? The Superior Court of Justice has just released a new Protocol for Family and Child Protection matters in Central East Region, which includes Muskoka. I thought I would share a few highlights, in case this is a route you are considering. (Do remember that these notices are regularly updated by the Superior Court of Justice and you must always check to ensure you are operating from the most current notice at https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/notice-ce-family-june/ )
WHERE WILL MY CASE BE HEARD?
The opening of courthouses, to litigants and lawyers in Ontario will happen in phases. In Phase 1, only a small number of courtrooms in Ontario are in position to comply with Covid-19 required safety standards; Muskoka does not make the cut and will not have an available courtroom during Phase 1, but is hopeful for Phase 2.
For the most part, it is expected that family matters will take place through Zoom videoconference. If a party cannot access the video portion, the matter will proceed by teleconference. Certainly the preference is for all participants in the proceeding, including the Judge, to be able to see each other. A Judge does have the option to order that the matter will proceed in-person (thus requiring travel from Muskoka as we will not have an open courtroom), but not if a party or lawyer does not wish to do so, due to Covid-19 concerns.
WHAT TYPES OF CASES WILL BE HEARD?
When our physical courtrooms closed in March, a party was required to establish that his/her family law issue was “Urgent” or “Pressing”, in order to be heard. That test is no longer required to be met. Instead, parties are free to schedule Case Conferences and Settlement Conferences via Zoom, in order to move their matter forward. Parties may also ask that “short motions” be heard, if you are seeking a Judge’s Order. All your filings will be electronic, as I understand Judges are still not able to access physical files. At this time, “long motions” and trials are not being scheduled.
ARE CASES STILL OPEN TO THE PUBLIC?
Please be aware that as our courthouses are normally open to the public to view cases (except for Child Protection matters), the same may be true of Zoom conferences and motions. I understand that there will be postings of the cases scheduled to be heard on -line, and there will be a process for the public, or the media, to request to view the hearing.
IS MEDIATION STILL AVAILABLE?
Although the Protocol acknowledges that mediation is still available via Zoom, it’s important to know that “in-person” mediations are also available at my office in Huntsville and at the Mediation Centre in Barrie, with Covid-19 safety measures being adhered to. We are all suffering from Zoom fatigue, and it has been so lovely to see live faces again, albeit at a safe distance!
In closing, when you are considering a process to deal with your family law issues, can you redefine your circumstances, so as to lower the adversarial positioning? If you are blaming your spouse, wanting to “hear from a Judge”, wanting to “win”, are going to court at the behest of your family or think court is just what separated people do, can you consider:
1. You have issues to sort out, that arise from your separation.
2. Conflict is normal; however, it becomes unhealthy for all involved, when it is not resolved.
3. It is normal for spouses to have different points of view.
4. It is normal for spouses to need assistance to effectively communicate, particularly following a separation.
5. If you focus on the problem and not on the other person, you may successfully resolve your issues in mediation, and feel more successful as a result.
The bottom line is, you have options, and although Covid-19 seemed to bring our world to a standstill, there are resources available to you, to move your life forward.