Book Review: Family Law Litigation Handbook (Ontario), 2nd Ed.

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

Family Law Litigation Handbook (Ontario). By Gary S Joseph. Toronto: Thomson Reuters, 2017. 280 p. ISBN 978-0-7798-8011-9 (softcover) $119.00.

Reviewed by Joanna Kozakiewicz
Manager, Library Reference Services
Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
In CLLR 43:1

The second edition of Family Law Litigation Handbook (Ontario) is described by the author as a handy “in your briefcase” reference source to which lawyers may refer in family court when seeking a quick answer to a question. The text is aimed at a legal professional audience both in tone and content. It is divided into three parts: the first part covers procedure and how to prepare for family court in Ontario; the second contains region-specific rules, practice directions, and other information to help readers navigate the court system; and the third is a short overview guide to child support and spousal support.

Each chapter in Part I begins with a short summary of the subject, followed by a more detailed description, brief case summary examples, and excerpts from Family Court Rules. The short summaries at the top of each chapter are numbered or bulleted, well-spaced and outlined in a box, making them easy to skim before diving into further detail later in the chapter. While the book does achieve the goal of being a quick guide for family law practitioners, many pages in the substantive content sections of each chapter are tightly spaced and lack white space. This could make it difficult for lawyers to read and flip through in the middle of a trial while trying to find a specific point unless they heavily highlight and tab the book in advance.

The different steps of family law litigation are covered in the 16 chapters of Part I and include topics such as general pre-trial procedural issues, disclosure, settlement offers, motions, using experts, appeals, and costs. Throughout the text, Joseph includes lists to aid lawyers in their work, such as a list of practice tips to help lawyers prepare their clients for questioning. This type of practitioner-focussed content makes this handbook more than just a statement of the law and procedure.

One chapter that stands out is chapter 10: “Office of the Children’s Lawyer.” It outlines the role of the OCL in family court and in representing minors. In particular, the excerpt written by Dan L Goldberg, senior counsel of the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, is an engaging part of the book, with a detailed discussion of the role of child’s counsel generally, and in specific situations such as representing pre-verbal or non-verbal children or examining the circumstances relating to the best interests of the child in situations where a child is alienated from one parent and may be parroting the wishes of the other parent. An interesting discussion covers the topic of child witnesses and the court’s preference of avoiding calling child witnesses in order to spare the painful experience of publicly speaking out for or against one parent. Goldberg’s part of chapter 10 makes a nuanced and interesting read.

As mentioned above, this text is aimed at and written for the legal professional, so the lack of plain language is understandable and appropriate. However, the lack of discussion of self-represented litigants or the Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) system was surprising, given the increase of these litigants in recent years (see justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/fl-lf/child-enfant/guide/toc-tdm.html). Interaction with self-represented litigants is a part of family law practice, and an overview of LAO and practice tips for lawyers who oppose a self-represented litigant would be helpful. One suggestion is to include a section similar to Goldberg’s excerpt on the Office of the Children’s Lawyer written by a family court duty counsel about the issues and experiences of self-represented litigants in family court.

Part II of the text is divided by region and contains practice directions and other relevant information specific to that region, such as contact information, a list of oft-cited family law cases by topic, and references to other resources. Part III contains child support tables and schedules, as well as a summary of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines written by Noel Semple.

Apart from the aforementioned formatting and spacing issues, the book is easy to navigate with a table of contents, table of cases, and index. This book is recommended for practicing family lawyers and law students enrolled in a practicum course in family court.

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