When former spouses litigate, there are lots of documents to file with the courthouse. These can include pleadings, affidavits of service, financial statements, case conference briefs, notices of motion, and general affidavits — and that’s only the beginning. If the parties do not settle and the case continues to wind its way through the court system towards a trial, there are settlement conference briefs, trial management conference briefs, trial scheduling endorsements, etc. to file.
You get the picture. It’s a lot of paperwork.
Family lawyers normally use process servers to file court documents. Process servers generally charge a set fee for filing documents at courthouses ($30+ per filing at Toronto courthouses, more for courts that are further away). They pick up the document, take it to the courthouse, wait in line at the counter and make sure the document is filed properly. They then report back to the lawyer that the document was filed.
The cost of a process server is far less expensive than the lawyer going to the courthouse to file the document. The client also avoids having to take time off work to go to the courthouse and the stress of figuring out how to properly file the documents.
However, and while many process servers are very good at what they do, the filing costs can add up quickly for litigants.
Some courts are leading the charge towards greater efficiency. Ontario’s Small Claims Court allows e-filing. So does the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in civil/commercial matters. British Columbia’s family courts allow e-filing.
Interestingly, the first e-filing project in Canada began at the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto in 1996. It is now 2015. People do everything online. And yet the family law system in Ontario still requires litigants to pay someone to pick up documents, walk or drive them over to the courthouse, stand in line at a counter, and physically add the papers to a binder full of other papers.
The issue of electronic filing is not just a matter of convenience; it is an access to justice issue. The more streamlined and efficient the family law justice system is, the lower the costs of accessing justice are.
The cost of process servers is particularly troubling where self-represented litigants are concerned. These individuals have to take half-days off of work just to go to the courthouse personally to file their documents because they cannot afford process servers. (Courts aren’t open evenings and weekends!)
The family law court system needs to be brought into the 21st century. Hoping it happens before the turn of the 22nd.