It makes life easier for families going through divorces and custody issues, and it started in Hamilton.

The unified family court, which is a single court where families go for all matters but appeals, celebrated its 35th anniversary at the Hamilton Family Court House today. The concept was pioneered in Hamilton.

Starting as a pilot project in 1977, the advent of the unified family court allowed a single judge to determine issues of family law, whether it be divorce, property, separation or child custody.

Before that, families had to go to as many as four courts to do that, creating more cost and confusion, said Laurie Pawlitza, family lawyer and treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada.

"It's generally agreed to be the best model of the way in which people resolve their family law," she said. "That's a very positive thing that started in Hamilton."

There are now unified family courts in 17 jurisdictions. They are used by many — nearly 40 per cent of Ontario marriages end in divorce, Pawlitza said.

The event was attended by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen and three Ontario court justices.

Founding judge David Steinberg also attended, as did Joan VanDuzer and Ruth Gravely, widows of founding judges John VanDuzer and Patrick Gravely.

There is a dinner at the Art Gallery of Ontario this evening to mark the event.