For more legal information, visit the CLEO website and Steps to Justice

Change font size:

Print page Expand all & print

Get help from a family law professional

If you and your partner can't agree on what should happen, you must think about using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or a family dispute resolution process to resolve your issues out of court if it's suitable for you. ADR might not be right for you if:

  • one person is afraid of another person because there is a history of family violence
  • there are serious mental health or drug abuse issues

But sometimes, even in these situations, a family law professional can work in a way to make the process fair and safe for you.

Family law professional are people who are trained to help you reach an agreement or make a decision for you by using an ADR process. Deciding which process is best for you depends on the facts of your situation and what you want. For example, a mediator doesn't make decisions for you, but an arbitrator does.

Some of the reasons to use ADR instead of going to court are:

  • You have more control over what happens.
  • It can be faster and cheaper.
  • It can be less stressful.
  • It takes place in a private setting.

A family law professional can help at any time – when trying to resolve things on your own, making a separation agreement, or going through the court process.

Combined conferences

To encourage you to try ADR, starting August 1, 2021, if you and your partner have tried family mediation, a judge can allow you to move directly to a combined case conference and settlement conference. A judge can only do this when you and your partner have:

And depending on when you tried mediation, you may also be able to skip your first court date or meeting with a Dispute Resolution Officer.

To prepare for a combined conference, fill out the forms required for a settlement conference. If the judge hasn’t already combined the conferences, you or your partner can ask for this by bringing a Form 14B: Motion.

Collaborative family law

In this process you and your partner agree to use lawyers who practice collaborative family law. These are lawyers who agree in writing not to go to court. Your lawyers work with you to try and reach an agreement. In some cases, your lawyers may refer to you to other professionals to help resolve your issues. For example, a financial planner to help you with your financial issues. Or a child specialist, such as a therapist, to help you agree on custody, access, and parenting.

If you agree on some or all of your issues, your lawyers make a separation agreement.

The Step Make a separation agreement tells you how to do this.

If you and your partner can't agree, and one or both of you decides to go to court, you can't use your collaborative family law lawyers.

Mediation

In this process you and your partner agree to work with a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party trained to help you agree on your issues without taking sides. They won't decide anything and won't force you or your partner to agree to anything. But, they try and help you speak with each other about your issues and understand each other's position. Their goal is to help you both come to an agreement. Some lawyers, social workers, and other professionals, are trained to be mediators.

Each family court location in Ontario offers subsidized mediation services. You can get up to 8 hours of mediation for a fee that is based on each person’s income. You can use this service whether or not you’re in court. If you’re already in court, you can get up to 2 hours of mediation at the court free of charge.

Arbitration

In this process you and your partner agree to work with an arbitrator. Like a mediator, an arbitrator is a neutral third party who won't take sides. But, unlike a mediator, an arbitrator decides how the issues will be resolved if you and your partner can't reach an agreement. Usually, their decisions are final and you must both follow them. Some lawyers, social workers, and other types of professionals are trained to be arbitrators.

Mediation-Arbitration

This process starts with mediation. The mediator-arbitrator helps you and your partner speak with each other to try and reach an agreement. If this doesn't work, the process switches to arbitration. The mediator-arbitrator then decides the issues for you. Usually, these decisions are final and you must both follow it.

Parenting Coordination

In this process, you and your partner agree to work with a parenting coordinator. A parenting coordinator is a neutral third party who helps you focus on reducing the conflict between you and your partner and doing what's in the best interests of the child.

Parenting coordinators usually get involved when there is a court order, parenting plan, or separation agreement that is not being followed.