Family Law, Divorce and the Internet – Should I Believe What I Read? by Chris Stankiewicz
For many of us, the Internet is our first (and sometimes only) stop when we need information, and so it not surprising that many people facing family law issues turn to the Internet for answers.
The Internet can be a very user-friendly and helpful way for someone to gain an understanding of how the family law and divorce process in Ontario functions, but it also has serious limitations, and you should be extremely careful when applying legal information obtained from the Internet to your situation.
In this blog I will discuss what type of information from the Internet you can reasonably rely on and what type of information you should be wary of.
First, let me discuss what the Internet is most reliable for when attempting to navigate a divorce proceeding. If you are involved in a court case involving family law issues, there are a number of government websites that will provide you with basic information about the procedural steps typically involved in a court proceeding. I have provided links to these websites below. Through these government websites, you can access all of the required court forms online and review the procedural rules (Family Law Rules) that govern a family law court case.
While these resources can provide you with information about the court process, what about your legal rights and obligations? The good news is that the main pieces of legislation governing divorce and other family law matters, such as the Divorce Act, the Family Law Act, the Children’s Law Reform Act, the Child Support Guidelines and many others, are available online. The bad news is that even with access to the relevant legislation it can be very difficult to determine your legal rights, in the context of your specific set of circumstances, without legal advice. While these Acts regulate your rights and obligations, there is a wealth of case law that interprets how these Acts apply in different circumstances. This means that even though you can easily obtain information online about your rights generally, it may not be possible to determine your specific legal position or predict the potential outcomes of your situation from these resources alone.
Other useful online resources are the websites and blogs of lawyers practicing family law. These can be helpful and we certainly believe they can provide you with valuable insight into family and divorce law in Ontario. However, having said that, these internet resources are fragmented are likely based on a set of circumstances that are different in some way than your own circumstances. While hopefully you can find a good blog entry about the very legal issue you are facing, you are unlikely to find one that can explain all of your legal issues, or explain how the law would apply to your specific circumstances and how you should proceed in your dispute. No two family law cases are the same.
While the above are very good resources and I encourage you to access them if you are involved in divorce or other family law issues please be aware of their limitations.
Second, what should you be wary of when accessing legal information on the Internet? One problem that I have observed is that on the Internet is it often difficult to determine the geographic location of a website, and as a result people read legal information from other jurisdictions without realizing that it has no application in Ontario. The divorce and family law process is governed by both federal and provincial legislation and your legal rights in Ontario may be quite different than in another province, and very different than in the U.S.A. When accessing legal information make sure that it is specifically tailored to Ontario.
Another source of legal misinformation are forums in which anonymous users write posts about legal issues in divorce and family law matters. These are probably the most unreliable sources of information on the Internet. Many posts that I have come across are presented from a very skewed perspective, or are only applicable to a very narrow set of circumstances or they are simply wrong. You should be extremely critical of this kind of information.
When facing family law issues you should definitely take advantage of Internet resources. The available information can be helpful, however, it is important to be aware of its limitations and to always remain critical of the content.
Below please find a list of helpful websites with information about divorce and family law in Ontario:
|Ministry of the Attorney General – Family Law Page –||http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/
|What You Should Know about Family Law in Ontario Booklet||http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/familyla.pdf
|Family Law Act||http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90f03_e.htm|
|Children’s Law Reform Act||http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90c12_e.htm
|Family Law Rules||http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/regs/english/elaws_regs_990114_e.htm
|Family Law Court Forms||http://www.ontariocourtforms.on.ca/english/family|
|Justice Canada – Child Support Online Lookup||http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/fcy-fea/lib-bib/tool-util/apps/look-rech/index.asp|
CRIS STANKIEWICZ is a lawyer with BOOKMAN LAW and can be reached at 416-488-2243 ext 27 or by email at [email protected]