Ontario Panel of Family Lawyers Finds Clients Prefer
Flexibility in Divorce Proceedings
Survey conducted by veteran lawyers shows virtual hearings can be a good solution
TORONTO, Ontario—A panel of veteran family lawyers in Ontario led by Russell Alexander say that clients prefer to have the option of virtual hearings, in contrast to a recent decision by Ontario Family Courts that in-person hearings are the presumptive standard.
A petition to ask court officials to reconsider the decision has garnered 1,500 signatures online, while a survey of 122 people who attended an online town hall discussion held earlier this month found that most wanted the option of virtual hearings as well as in-person hearings if their lawyers deemed it beneficial.
“Virtual hearings can be a great option because they are dramatically easier for clients and allow more access to attorneys, helping keep costs down and improve legal access in rural areas,” said Alexander, founder of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers which has offices throughout Ontario. “Clients want the option of either virtual hearings or going in-person if their attorney thinks it might help.”
The ad hoc committee of lawyers opposes new requirements that holding in-person hearings in court be the default option for family law matters such as divorces, arguing that videoconferencing proved an effective and less expensive alternative for many clients during the height of the pandemic.
Many judges switched to holding routine hearings online since the pandemic started which reduced waiting time, increased access to legal help in rural areas and made divorce less stressful for clients. They became so popular that the “Zoom divorce” was written about as a trend by top media outlets, but Ontario’s top judges recently restricted them.
In last week’s one-hour discussion of the policy, Alexander; Brian Galbraith, owner, and founder of Galbraith Family Law; Lisa Gelman, founder of Gelman & Associates; and Nafisa Nazarali, senior managing associate lawyer at Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers said that virtual hearings can make family law more accessible.
“Virtual hearings have been a game-changer for how Ontario residents get divorced and settle other difficult family law issues,” added Alexander. “It would be a shame if court officials turned their backs on this important innovation now.”
To see a recording of the virtual town hall discussion, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KNsWHJHa4E