Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, courts in Ontario are operating at a largely reduced capacity. Until further notice, only urgent matters are being heard. Non-urgent matters, even those that had already been scheduled, have been adjourned to future dates, many of which are yet to be determined.
In the last couple of weeks there has been a rapid release of case law on the topic of what qualifies as “urgent” enough to be heard by a duty judge during this state of emergency. Those who find themselves and/or their children at risk of physical, emotional or financial harm can still access the justice system.
So what qualifies as an urgent or potentially dangerous circumstance, and what should you do? We outline what is considered an urgent or dangerous circumstance and how to go about getting your case heard.
What Is an Urgent or Potentially Dangerous Circumstances?
In the Superior Court of Justice, a memorandum from the Chief Justice dated March 15, 2020 makes clear that “only urgent family law events as determined by the presiding justice, or events that are required to be heard by statute will be heard during this emergency period”. These include:
- Requests for urgent relief relating to the safety of a child or parent (e.g., a restraining order, other restrictions on contact between the parties or a party and a child, or exclusive possession of the home);
- Urgent issues that must be determined relating to the well-being of a child including essential medical decisions or issues relating to the wrongful removal or retention of a child;
- Dire issues regarding the parties’ financial circumstances including for example the need for a non-depletion order;
- In a child protection case, all urgent or statutorily mandated events including the initial hearing after a child has been brought to a place of safety, and any other urgent motions or hearings.
In addition to urgent matters that fit this criterion, each region has published a list of additional types of matters that may be heard. These matters might be heard via telephone or video conferencing.
Applications and motions to seek assistance from the Court in urgent or emergency circumstances can be submitted electronically and determined by a judge while maintaining physical distancing.
Contact the lawyers at Tenk Tatum LLP for assistance if you are unsure whether your circumstance or family law matter is considered “urgent” as defined during this state of emergency, or if you require assistance bringing your matter to the attention of the Court as quickly as possible.