Binding Judicial Dispute Resolution Pilot for Family Law Cases Expanding Across Ontario

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Written on behalf of Shariff & Associates

In May of 2021, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice introduced a pilot project allowing certain family law disputes to be resolved through a process known as Binding Judicial Dispute Resolution (“Binding JDR”). The pilot was initially limited to the Superior Court of Justice in Simcoe and Muskoka, the Cornwall Superior Court of Justice  (Family Court Branch), and to Superior Courts in the Northwest and Northeast regions. Due to the success in those regions, it was extended to Ottawa in November of 2021. If successful in the context of that larger city and population, there is a possibility that the pilot will also be extended to other regions in Ontario. 

The backlog of family law cases has, in recent years, been compounded by the impact and closures mandated by governments in response to COVID-19. The Court introduced the pilot to help deal with the backlog and also to provide a streamlined way to resolve less complex family law cases, consistent with the objectives of the Family Law Rules. However, both parties must consent to the process, and one party cannot make the election for both parties.

What is Binding Judicial Dispute Resolution?

A Binding Judicial Dispute Resolution is less formal than a normal hearing. The judge assigned to the case will meet with both parties and their lawyers to understand the parties’ positions and explore possible settlement.

The parties are expected to propose a possible resolution to any outstanding issues and to be able to provide the key facts that would support their proposal. If the parties are not able to reach an agreement, the judge will hear from each party regarding the orders that they are seeking. 

Unlike a formal hearing, a judge in a Binding JDR hearing can ask questions and request information about anything that they consider relevant to the case to reach an informed and fair decision. The judge is not limited by the formal rules of evidence that are outlined in the Rules of Civil Procedure or the Evidence Act of Ontario. 

At the conclusion of a Binding JDR hearing, the judge will provide a final decision on all outstanding issues, including those that have been resolved on consent.

Unlike a regular family law hearing, the judge in a Binding JDR process provides their ruling verbally followed by a written endorsement. The parties should not expect a written decision.

It should also be noted that the judge in a Binding JDR hearing has the power to decide that the hearing should move to a more formal process if they determine that the issues require more careful consideration or are too complex for the Binding JDR process. 

Settlement Conference vs. Binding JDR

Generally, at a Settlement Conference, the parties are entitled to raise an objection under subrule 17(24) of the Family Law Rules. Under that subrule, a judge that has conducted a settlement conference should not decide the issues if a settlement has not been reached.

When parties participate in a Binding Judicial Dispute Resolution, they must request that the same judge who helped them resolve their case make a final decision regarding any issues they cannot resolve on their own. The parties must specifically waive any objections that they may otherwise be entitled to raise under that subrule. 

When is Binding JDR Appropriate?

The Binding Judicial Dispute Resolution process is intended to be simpler and less procedurally intensive than other family law hearings. It is best suited to situations where the parties may have already come to an agreement on the facts and only need judicial input on the application of the law.

Some examples of cases that may be suitable for Binding JDR include:

Binding JDR is not suitable for complex cases that may involve witnesses other than the parties, substantial financial disputes, or credibility questions that require cross-examination. 

Cases that require extensive hearing time are also inappropriate for Binding JDR, as these types of hearings are usually two or three hours in length. While in its pilot phase, the court will be approving each request for a Binding JDR hearing to ensure that the case falls within the guidelines. 

Contact Shariff & Associates in Stouffville for Advice on Your Family Law Dispute

The family lawyers at Shariff & Associates work with clients to resolve their family law disputes as quickly and painlessly as possible. We will review your situation and provide a realistic assessment of the likelihood of successful outcomes and explore your other options. We will advocate for your needs to deliver the best possible result. To review your matter with a member of our team, please reach out to us online, or call us at 905-591-4545.