Article written by Rosemary Bocska
September 23 is International Day of Sign Languages. This day marks a unique chance to celebrate and support those who use sign language to communicate. This is particularly resonant in Canada, which is known for its exceptionally diverse multiculturalism and rich linguistic landscape.
With more than 300 different sign languages used around the world, American Sign Language (ASL) is the most prevalent in Anglophone parts of Canada, whereas Langue des Signes Québécoise (LSQ) is commonly used in Francophone communities. Those who are Indigenous, however, may prefer to use Indigenous Sign Language (ISL).
Based on the significance of the Canadian sign language community, we wanted to address the following concern: If you are hearing impaired, is the divorce process in Ontario any different for you?
Navigating the Divorce Process for the Hearing Impaired:
The short answer to whether divorce differs in Ontario for those that are hearing impaired is no! Instead, it is just a question of assessing the many resources that are available.
Fortunately, Canada has a long history of recognizing and accommodating the unique needs of those with hearing impairment. This extends to the legal system, and to the Family Law system in particular.
As far back as 2006, the Honourable R. Roy McMurtry, Chief Justice of Ontario, recognized that persons with disabilities may not have access to the appropriate resources to be able to fully participate in court proceedings as parties, lawyers, judges, witnesses, jurors, or members of the public. As a result, he established the Courts’ Disabilities Committee. This committee issued a report titled, “Making Ontario’s Courts Fully Accessible to Persons with Disabilities,” sparking many long-term improvements.
- Tip: If you are hearing impaired, you can request accommodation from the court, by applying directly using the process described on this page.
There is also the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005, S.O. 2005, c 11 to consider. This legislation implements and enforces standards of accessibility for all Ontarians, including those who need to use the Family justice system. If you are hearing impaired, you can count on enhanced accessibility to the courts and government services – it’s the law.
Last, but certainly not least, the Ontario Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19 clearly directs that when receiving services (such as legal services) every person is entitled to freedom from discrimination based on disability.
Making Applications and Getting Documents:
Divorce is never easy, but with all these safeguards in place, it has never been more convenient.
- The Ontario Family Court system allows for certain divorce-related applications to be made online.
- If you need to obtain copies of your existing documents, such as a child support order, parenting order, or divorce certificate, you can apply here.
- For certain divorce-certificate requests, there is also a dedicated number listed on that page, specifically for the hearing impaired.
Support from Your Lawyer:
As mentioned, Ontario human rights legislation mandates that lawyers must provide their services without discriminating on the basis of hearing impairment. Many Ontario lawyers go well beyond that, and are specifically-trained in supporting those with disabilities. In fact, the Law Society of Ontario has dedicated training and Continuing Legal Education materials to assist with this.
Organizations like the ARCH Disability Law Centre, which is funded primarily by Legal Aid Ontario, also provides a range of legal services to persons with hearing impairment and other disabilities.
Collectively, these organizations give good advice to lawyers about how to best communicate and represent those who are hearing impaired. Based on that advice, your lawyer may:
- Ask you how you prefer to communicate
- Provide you with an ASL interpreter (booked in advance of your appointment)
- Ask you for preferred providers of these services
- Take measures to ensure to optimize in-person communication (such as adjusting the pace of speech, and removing physical obstructions to the face)
There is also a noteworthy joint project between the Canadian Hearing Society and the Law Foundation of Ontario, aimed squarely at making sure your lawyer or legal representative best accommodates your needs. The result is a 36-page PDF report titled “Providing Barrier-Free Legal Services to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Clients Whose Language is a Signed Language”.
- Tip: If you are hearing impaired yourself, you may want to look at the excellent list of resources on page 29 of the above report.
The Post-Divorce Phase:
Once you have navigated the divorce process, you may be wondering, what next?
The transition from married to divorced may involve some adjustment. If you have some form of disability, from a practical standpoint you may need to take advantage of services that are new to you. Or, you may have to call on family members to assist you through the post-divorce phase on a day-to-day basis – at least in the early stages.
Note that from a legal standpoint, being hearing impaired should not impact your ability to assert and exercise your rights after the divorce is over. For example, parenting time of your children will have been determined by a court, based on their best interests. Your status as having a hearing impairment does not detract from your ability to exercise parental rights post-divorce, even if you must use supportive services to do so.
Also keep in mind: Not all divorces are – or have to be – acrimonious. If your divorce is amicable, then your Ex may also be willing to continue providing you with support that accommodates your hearing impairment. Especially if you have children together.
Resources for the Hearing Impaired:
Regardless of what stage of the separation or divorce process you are at, there are many good websites and resources available online.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a long list of many general resources on hearing loss. See:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, July 19). Links to other resources on hearing loss. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/hearingloss/links.html
There are also some good articles on how hearing loss can impact relationships, and in particular how it might contribute to divorce:
- Victory, J. (2021, October 18). The impact of hearing loss on relationships. Healthy Hearing. Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52619-The-impact-of-hearing-loss-on-relationships
- Pearce, D. (2017, May 25). Analyzing divorce in the Deaf Community. Men's Divorce. Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://mensdivorce.com/deaf-hearing-loss/
If you have any questions about the divorce process, feel free to contact our offices.