Covid-19, Court Processes, and Support - FAQs
How have court processes changed because of Covid-19?
Family law in Ontario involves both provincial and federal legislation. As such, jurisdiction over family law matters in Ontario is divided between the Superior Court of Justice, the Ontario Court of Justice or the Unified Family Court. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Superior Court of Justice and Ontario Court of Justice began limiting in-person attendance at courthouses for all matters besides trials, or unless absolutely necessary. This does not mean that your family law matter will not be heard by the courts. Rather, the courts continue to conduct proceedings by remote technology wherever possible, unless an in-person appearance is required to ensure meaningful access to justice. In an extra effort to keep all judicial officials, parties, and counsel safe, documents and requests may be submitted to either courthouse electronically using the Family Submissions Online portal or by email to the appropriate courthouse. It is still possible to file your documents and requests in person at the courthouse if you are unable to do so electronically, but you must first contact the appropriate courthouse for instructions. It remains of crucial importance that counsel and members of the public do not attend courthouses in person until further notice, unless they are unable to file their documents electronically or they have been scheduled to appear in court.
What is the Family Responsibility Office doing about support payments during Covid-19?
The Family Responsibility Office (FRO) continues to collect support from the person who is required to pay it, keep track of the amounts paid, and pay the appropriate amount to the person entitled to support. If you need to contact the FRO, their in-person counter is currently closed, but they can be reached by email, fax, or phone.
You may be unable to make your support payments because of Covid-19 if your business has closed, if you have been laid off, or if you are working less hours. If that is the case, you must contact the FRO as soon as possible. Tell the FRO your name, case number, contact information, why you cannot make your payments and if applicable, when you can expect to get back to full-time work. The FRO may take money from your bank accounts, retirement savings, wages, or other income to pay the support. They may also suspend your Canadian passport, take any Ontario lottery prize over $1,000.00, or report you to the credit bureau, which could damage your credit rating. The support order can also be registered as a “charge” against your property, meaning that you cannot sell or transfer ownership of the property until you pay any support owing. Lastly, the FRO will not garnish your Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments but can garnish your Employment Insurance and GST/HST credit payments.
What can I do if I do not have income to pay support because of Covid-19?
If you are unable to make your support payments, there are a few things that you can do to try and resolve the situation until you are able to make the payments again. Try talking to the person you owe support to and explaining your situation. You may be able to come to an agreement about paying at a later date. If paying at a later date is not an option, you may want to consider paying part of your support payments from any savings that you have, if that is a feasible option. You may want to ask the court to change your support obligations by bringing a motion to change. Lastly, if you lost your job or business, you should go to court.