JustFacts

June 2016
Research and Statistics Division

Family Law Cases

This fact sheet is based on publicly available data from Statistics Canada, including the General Social Survey, cycle 25 (2011)Footnote 1 as well as the Civil Court Survey between 2005/2006 and 2010/2011.Footnote 2

Millions of Canadian families experience separation or divorce

Between 1991 and 2011, approximately 5 million Canadians separated or divorced. Of these, 38% had a child together at the time of their separation or divorce.Footnote 3

Most of the time, parents have written arrangements during their separation or divorce

According to the General Social Survey (2011), parents often had written arrangements on setting out children’s primary residence (59%), time spent with children (45%) and child support (66%).

In total, about one-quarter of respondents had a court order determining the children’s primary residence or child support, and 18% of respondents had a court order determining time spent with children.

Just over one-third (35%) of parents indicated that major decisions were made jointly or alternatively.

Family law cases accounted for one-third of all civil court cases

In 2012/2013, there were 922,411 civil court cases active in the eight provinces and territories reporting to the Civil Court Survey.Footnote 4 There were almost 318,000 active family law cases, addressing divorce, separation, child custody, access and support, and other family issues,Footnote 5 accounting for 34% of all civil court cases.

Family law cases accounted for nearly half of all civil court events

While family law cases comprised 34% of civil court cases, they accounted for 48% of all civil court eventsFootnote 6 in 2012/2013, including 56% of judgments and 61% of hearings.

In particular, custody and access cases, which comprised 9% of all civil court cases, involved more court events than other types of family law cases, accounting for 18% of all civil court events, 24% of judgments and 23% of hearings in 2012/2013.

Child protection cases follow the same pattern, involving a higher than average amount of court activity. While they comprised 3% of active civil court cases in 2012/2013, they accounted for 7% of court events, including 10% of judgments and 14% of hearings.

Cases involving custody, access or child support tended to remain active longer than other types of family law cases

Court activityFootnote 7 for family law cases drops off considerably after the first three months. Overall, 43% of family law cases initiated in 2008/2009 reported no activity (court events) after the first three months. Nearly three-quarters (74%) reported no activity after the first year.

Although cases involving custody, access or child support showed a drop in court activity after the first three months, they tended to remain active longer than other types of family law cases. Of cases initiated in 2008/2009, 61% of custody and access and 70% of cases involving only child support reported no activity after the first year. During the fourth year after initiation, 5% of family law cases still reported court activity.

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