Overview

Before making important decisions about starting or ending a marriage or common-law relationship, you should understand how family law works in Ontario.

Family law can be complicated, and it can have significant impacts on your financial life. Any children you might have will also be impacted by family law.

Generally, Ontario family law applies equally to couples who are of the same or opposite sex.

Adoptions

There are various types of adoptions, and they each differ in cost and length of time it will take to adopt a child. The five main types of adoption are as follows:

  • Public
  • Private
  • International
  • Adoption of a stepchild
  • and adopting a birth relative (known as a kinship adoption)

Separating​

If you are separated or are thinking of separating, it is a good idea to speak to a lawyer about your situation. A lawyer can give you specific information about the law and tell you how it might affect you.

Separation agreements and court orders resolve family matters when you separate but they do not legally end your marriage. The only way to do this is to get a divorce. Only a court can give you a divorce.

Divorce

You can get a divorce by proving that your marriage is over. You can prove this by showing that you have been separated for a year, or that your husband or wife has had a sexual relationship with another person, or that your husband or wife has been physically or mentally cruel to you.

If you cannot agree on the terms of your divorce, you can go to court and let the court decide. If you can agree, you can file your agreement in court. In that case, you probably will not have to see a judge. When your divorce is final, you can marry again.

Dividing Property

The law says that married spouses share responsibility for childcare, household management and earning income during their marriage. In the eyes of the law, a marriage is an equal partnership. When a marriage ends, the partnership is over and property has to be divided.

Matrimonial Homes

Have you ever wondered what happens to the family home when couples are going through a divorce? The legal term for the family home that a married couple lives in is called the, “Matrimonial Home”. If you and your spouse regularly use more than one homes together, then each home can be considered to be a matrimonial home. An additional matrimonial home, therefore, can include a cottage, or simply another home in another location.​

Support payments

The law views spousal relationships as economic partnerships and when the partnership breaks down the person with more money may have to support the other. At the same time, the law expects adults to try to be self-sufficient and to look after their own needs to the best of their abilities.

​During a relationship, one person often spends more time looking after the home and the children. That person does not have a chance to earn a lot of money in the workforce, or to become more skilled and more highly paid in a trade or profession, or to pay into a pension plan over a long period of time. When a relationship ends, that person is at an economic disadvantage.

Child custody and access

Many people confuse the terms “custody” and “access”. In a legal sense, custody refers to the decision-making authority that either or both parents are able to assert over their children. For example, it invovles one parent potentially having more authority to make decisions about the child’s education, religious activities, and medical care.

The default assumption is the parents will have “joint custody” and make decisions together; however, another type of custody is called “sole custody”, but there needs to be valid reasons for a judge to grant this.

It is often a good idea to develop a “parenting schedule”, which clearly states which days of the week, or weeks in the month, that the child will remain with each parent. This can be agreed upon by the parents or ordered by the court. Keep in mind that your parenting schedule should also address issues like holidays and special occasions. 

Common-law spouses

People are considered to be in a common law if they have been living together in a relationship for at least three years. However, if they have a child together (regardless of whether the child is by birth or adoption), then the period of time to meet the definition is reduced from three years to just one year.

Being in a common law relationship can give rise to spousal support obligations. It is a myth that only married person who are divorcing can be required to pay (or entitled to receive) support payments.

Going to court

If you and your spouse cannot agree on how to settle the issues between you, you can go to court and ask a judge to decide for you.​

Sometimes you can agree on everything except one thing, like custody of the children or what should happen to the family home. You can go to court and ask the court to decide that one thing for you.

Collaborative Family Law

If you’ve separated from your spouse, or you’re thinking about separating, you might want to consider using a collaborative family lawyer.

​Collaborative family law refers to an out of court process that addresses the emotional, financial and legal issues that arise as you transition through the end of a relationship.

Family Mediation Services

We are also able to act as unbiased mediators to facilitate the resolution of family law disputes. This can be in the context of a family law court case, or even if the couple wishes to resolve their dispute out of court, prior to commencing a lawsuit.

Limited-scope Services

Some clients want their family lawyer to handle only a portion of their case, but not their entire case. This can save you a lot of money. These are called “limited-scope” services. 

Although clients are welcome to pick and choose which parts of their family law case they would like our family lawyers to work on, one popular limited-scope service that we provide involves your financial disclosure obligations.

You never want to be in a situation where the opposing party or even the Judge is accusing you of hiding your money or assets. With our assistance, you will not only meet your disclosure obligations, but you will likely exceed them. This level of transparency and detail will help you build trust and credibility in court.

Family Law Appeals

Appeals from the Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ) should be made to the Superior Court of Justice (SCJ), except in situations where legislation (i.e. the law) indicates that the case should go to another Court.

Remember, there are rules for appeals from the OCJ to the SCJ. Also, you should look at the legislation under which the court order was made, because there might be additional specific rules that apply to your type of appeal.

If your appeal is to the Court of Appeal or the Divisional Court, then you’ll need to take a look at see Rules 61, 62 and 63 of the Rules of Civil Procedure and Rule 38 of the Family Law Rules.

Where “leave to appeal” (i.e. permission) is needed, you must:

  • Serve a notice of motion for leave to appeal within 15 days after the date of the order you want to appeal, and
  • File the notice of motion within 5 days of service, unless otherwise provided by statute.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is not tolerated in Ontario. All Ontarians have the right to feel safe in their homes and communities. Although both women and men can be victims of domestic violence, the overwhelming majority of this violence involves men abusing women. Violence can have lasting harmful effects on victims and has a tragic impact on children.

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