Can family law cases be resolved through filing a motion for summary judgment?

Family law cases can also be resolved through summary judgment disposition. Though most family law cases are mainly based on facts, summary judgment could be an effective mechanism of fully or partially resolving family law matters.

Summary judgment is also applicable to family law cases

What is the significance of summary judgment in family law cases?

Summary judgment plays a crucial role in family law cases, offering several significant benefits:

  1. Efficiency. Family law disputes often involve complex emotional and financial issues. Summary judgment expedites the resolution process by allowing the court to dispose of cases where there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute, thus saving time and resources for both the court and the parties involved.
  2. Cost Savings. Avoiding a full trial can lead to substantial cost savings for litigants, as family law cases can be financially draining due to attorney fees, court costs, and the emotional toll of prolonged litigation.
  3. Preservation of Relationships. Family law matters frequently involve relationships between spouses, parents, and children. Summary judgment can help parties avoid protracted and acrimonious court battles, which can further strain these relationships.

What are the procedural aspects of a motion for summary judgment in family law cases?

  1. Initiating summary judgment

The process of seeking summary judgment in a family law case typically begins with the filing of a motion by one of the parties. This motion must set forth the legal and factual basis for the request and demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute.

  1. Response to summary judgment motion

The opposing party has the opportunity to respond to the motion, presenting evidence and legal arguments that contest the movant’s assertion that no genuine issue of material fact exists. This response often takes the form of a memorandum of law and may include affidavits, deposition transcripts, or other evidentiary materials.

  1. Standard of review

In considering a summary judgment motion in a family law case, the court applies a stringent standard. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and determine whether any genuine issues of material fact exist. If no such issues exist, summary judgment may be granted.

What are the criteria for a motion for summary judgment in family law cases?

To secure summary judgment in a family law case, the moving party must meet specific criteria:

  1. Absence of genuine issue of material fact

The most critical criterion is demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute. Material facts are those that are relevant and could affect the outcome of the case. If any such facts are genuinely disputed, summary judgment should be denied.

  1. Legal entitlement

The moving party must also show that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This entails establishing that, even if all facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the law supports a judgment in their favor based on the applicable family law statutes and precedents.

  1. Best interests of the child

In child custody and visitation disputes, courts often emphasize the best interests of the child. Summary judgment may be granted if it is clear that the moving party’s proposed custody or visitation arrangement is in the child’s best interests, and no genuine issues exist regarding this determination.

  1. Evidentiary support

The motion for summary judgment must be supported by admissible evidence. This can include documents, affidavits, expert reports, or testimony that substantiates the movant’s claims and their compliance with relevant family law standards.

What amendments to the rules of family law have been effected to include summary judgment?

Most states have amended their family law rules to allow for parties to seek summary judgment. To a greater extent, the changes mirror those made to various rules of civil procedure. The said changes include;

  1. Expanding the power of the court to weigh evidence, analyze the credibility of a deponent and draw inference from evidence.
  2. Create an opportunity for oral evidence or a mini trial.
  3. Remove the provisions regarding costs that obligated the court to settle on costs on a full recovery basis regarding an unsuccessful motion for summary judgment.

What is the approach taken in relation to summary judgment in family law?

The novel summary judgment rules under Family Law Rules have been judicially construed and applied in various cases. One of the cases decided under the novel rules was Philion v Philion, [2015] O.J. No. 3587 where the court applied the two-part test as follows;

  1. The motions judge ought to adopt a liberal approach only on the evidence presented, without using novel fact-finding powers under the second part of the test. If the summary judgment process provides the motions judge with evidence required to justly determine the motion, it will be held that there is no genuine issue requiring trial.
  2. If there is no genuine issue requiring a trial, the motions judge is entitled, at his discretion, to weigh evidence, assess credibility and draw reasonable inferences to determine whether there is need of trial.

Family law summary judgment cases continue to apply the preceding principle.

What is the primary objective of the Family Law rules in relation to summary judgment?

The amendments made to the rules governing summary judgment in family law were as a result of the need to promote access to justice and proportionality. Nonetheless, the preceding objective ought to be balanced with the requirement to ensure fairness. This balancing is contained in the primary objective of the rules which is ensuring procedural fairness to all parties; saving time and expenses; dealing with a case efficiently; and utilizing the court resources efficiently.

On whom does the onus of a motion for summary judgment in family law cases lie on?

The movant in a family law case has the burden of establishing a prima facie case that there exist no genuine issue requiring trial. If the burden is met, the onus shifts the responding party to outline facts that there exits a genuine issue requiring trial. The evidentiary burden enables judges to assess whether the facts on record provide adequate evidence to adjudicate the matter with or without trial.

What are the evidence requirements in a motion for summary judgment in family law cases?

It is important that all parties, not just the movant, in a family law case put their best foot forward regarding a motion for summary judgment. Since the onus normally shifts to the responding party if the movant establishes a prima facie case, the thoughtfulness and quality of the responding party’s evidence is as significant.

Further, the non-movant response to the affidavit or other evidence served by the movant should not contain mere denials or allegations. Nonetheless, it should outline the facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue that ought to be heard on trial.

The onus lies on the movant to establish a prima facie case before it shifts to the responding party