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Ryerson Legal Innovation Zone launches new Family Law Portal

Legal technology incubator created free online service to help navigate Ontario family law
By: Lauren Clegg
July 15, 2019
A man and a woman sit at a table to sign a certificate of divorce

The Family Law Portal is the first step of a four-part approach to innovating family law and improving access to justice in Ontario.

The Ryerson University Legal Innovation Zone, external link has recently launched the groundbreaking Family Law Portal, external link, a free online service helping Ontario families involved in separation or divorce better understand their rights, their responsibilities, the decisions they need to make, and the documents they need to successfully resolve their cases.

Separation and divorce is a very painful time for all affected parties. However, it is often made more difficult by having to navigate a complicated courts-based legal system involving extensive forms, rules and steps. Divorce is also expensive. For this reason, every year, up to 70 per cent of people going to family court in Ontario do so without a lawyer, which means they have limited or no access to information and legal advice crucial to the positive resolution of their cases. 

Chris Bentley, managing director of the Legal Innovation Zone, has felt for some time that the system needed to change.

“For decades those in charge of the legal system, as well as those who go through it, have acknowledged that the existing approach just doesn’t work for most people. It is too expensive, very stressful and far too slow,” he said.

The Family Law Portal will help empower families by providing a series of questions to which users can respond anonymously about their individual circumstances and needs. The site then provides personalized information, tips and resources for resolving their family law issues.

“It allows Ontarians to better focus time, energy and money on the issues that matter most to them,” said Bentley.

Practitioners with over 160 combined years of family law and financial experience contributed their knowledge to the portal. Avanti Foundation and the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO) funded the project, and Neota Logic and YouX provided the technology and related expertise.

The Family Law Portal is the first project launched as part of the Legal Innovation Zone’s four-part approach to innovating Ontario family law, which consist of Inform, Triage, Connect and Resolve. Triage involves connecting families to a legal expert for a one- or two-hour session in order to get tailored advice fit for their specific situation. That portion is slated to be launched early next year. Connect will put families directly in touch with relevant resources, including financial, emotional and family support. The final step, Resolve, will be the resolution of an individual case, be it through direct negotiation, mediation or via the court system.

Innovating family law is just one of the areas where Bentley hopes to improve Ontarians’ access to justice, using technology to design a 21st century legal system. The Family Law Portal is the first of many such innovations.

“We came up with an approach for resolving family cases that was based on court if necessary, but not necessarily court. It starts with information. The most important thing you can tell someone is what they need to know,” he said.

In August 2019, Ryerson will begin accepting applications for fall 2020 enrollment in Ryerson’s law school. The first class of law students will embark on a leading-edge, future-focused legal education examining contemporary issues, such as technology, access to justice, and social innovation.

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