An application is the first step in starting a family law case, and is covered by Rule 8 which states:
FILING AN APPLICATION
8. (1) To start a case, a person shall file an application (Form 8, 8A, 8B, 8B.1, 8B.2, 8C, 8D, 8D.1, 34L or 34N).
These applications can include more than one claim against a person, and a claim against more than one persons. The forms for filing an application can be found on the Ontario Court Services website.
Once an application is filed, it must be served on every other party by “special service” according to the criteria described under Rule 6(3). There are 3 options if the respondent(s) cannot be served by special service:
- Substituted service under Rule 6(15), requiring detailed information in an affidavit describing the steps taken to attempt special service
- An order dispensing of service under Rule 6(16), requiring proof that substitute service would not reasonably be successful
- An order validating irregular service under Rule 6(18)
The person starting a case must also file a continuing record with the court, serve it on the other parties, and file an affidavit proving service. The continuing record contains the documents filed in a case and has two volumes:
Templates for the continuing record are available here.
An endorsement volume is not needed in joint applications for divorce, uncontested divorces, change information forms, and consent motions for a final order. An endorsement section is included in the documents volume instead, with a blank sheet where the judge can note the date and disposition.
There are separate continuing records required under Rule 9 for enforcement, child protection, and status review cases. Rules 9(7)–(10) outline the circumstances where a record can be separated. Rule 9(16) states that documents cannot be removed from the record without an order, and parties are jointly responsible for adding to the record under the clerk`s supervision.
Parties are required to maintain the record according to the Formal Requirements of the Continuing Record under the Family Law Rules.
When an application is filed in the Superior Court of Justice or Family Court, cases are either designated as standard track or fast track. All applications are fast track unless they include a claim for divorce or property claim. A court date is automatically set for the fast track applications, but for standard track a case conference is booked first.
Parties in Toronto before the Superior Court of Justice must attend a mandatory information program called a Family Information Session (FIS), where a lawyer of family law professional will provide information about the legal process, shares information about mediation, identifies alternatives to litigation, explains the effects of separation and divorce on any children, and points out community resources like My Support Calculator that can help families. Parties cannot take any further step before the courts until they have filed a certificate of attendance at the FIS.
In the Ontario Court of Justice, the first appearance is before a clerk, not a judge, and is called the First Appearance Court (FAC). The clerk helps provides much of the same information as the FIS at the Superior Court of Justice.
Another unique feature of Toronto courts is a Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) hearing, presided over by a senior lawyer who reviews the materials and offers an opinion on some of the likely outcomes. The purpose of this hearing is to try to promote further settlement.
For more information on the difference between the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice, see Family Courts in Ontario.