These flowcharts give basic information about the steps in a typical family law case in Ontario. They are only a guide. It's important to try to get legal advice about your situation. Legal advice is when a lawyer explains how the law applies to your specific legal problems.
Talking to a lawyer can help you understand your options and which steps make the most sense in your case. It can also help you understand what the law says you have to do and what you can get.
If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, you can still speak with one for general advice. Some lawyers also provide "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means they agree to help you with part of your case.
You can also talk to a family law professional like a mediator or arbitrator. These are people who work with you and your partner to help you reach an agreement out of court. The Step Get help from a family law professional explains this option in more detail and lists some of the reasons why you may or may not want to use it.
Here are some places that offer legal information.
Steps to Justice
Family court duty counsel
Duty counsel are lawyers located in family court. If your income is low enough and your case is about child custody, access, or support, you can get some legal advice and help from a duty counsel lawyer on the day you're in court.
Family court support workers
Family court support workers help people who have experienced family violence and who are involved in the family court process. For more information, call the Victim Support Line at 1-888-579-2888 or 416-314-2447.
Family Law Information Centres (FLICs)
FLICs are located at every family court. All of the centres have free pamphlets on topics such as separation and divorce, court procedures, and family mediation. And, in some cases, you can be referred to an advice counsel lawyer.
Advice counsel are lawyers located in family court. They can give you legal advice about your case if your income is low enough. If your income isn't low enough, advice counsel can still give you some general information about the court process.
Information and Referral Coordinators
FLICs also have Information and Referral Coordinators (IRCs) who can:
- help you understand your needs and the court process
- refer you to other services like counseling, help for abused women and men, addiction support, child and family support, and interpreters
- tell you about ways to resolve your issues without going to court, such as mediation
At some courts, IRCs may only be available at certain times. Contact your local FLIC to find out more.
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.
Family Law Information Program (FLIP)
FLIP is a free online resource that has legal and practical information on topics such as child custody, shared parenting, and support.
Family Law Service Centres (FLSCs)
FLSCs offer a range of legal services, including help filling out court forms. If your income is low enough, a staff lawyer may represent you in court.
Family Violence Authorization Program
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has a Family Violence Authorization Program. Under this program, free 2-hour family violence certificates are available to those who are experiencing or have experienced family violence and who need immediate legal help. The program is offered through some women's shelters, community legal clinics, Family Law Service Centres, and by calling LAO toll-free at 1-800-668-8258.
Law Society Referral Service (LSRS)
The LSRS is an online service that gives you the name of a lawyer in your community who can give you up to 30 minutes of free consultation. You can ask for a lawyer who speaks your language, or a lawyer who accepts Legal Aid certificates. You don't have to hire this person as your lawyer. You can't ask for a second referral for the same legal problem.
You can also call LSRS's crisis line at 1-855-947-5255 if you can't use the online service, for example if you're in custody, in a shelter, or in a remote community without access to the internet.
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) Certificate Program
LAO helps low income people with legal help. If your income is low enough you may be able to get a Legal Aid certificate to pay for a lawyer for a certain number of hours. You might have to pay some of the lawyer's fees depending on your income and assets.
If you let LAO know you're a victim of domestic violence when you call them, you will be placed in a priority line for help with applying for a certificate. In urgent cases, you may be able to apply in person at a LAO office, and get a certificate, possibly on the same day you apply.
Student legal clinics
There are a few student legal aid clinics that are staffed by law students who are supervised by lawyers. These clinics are part of law schools located at the University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, Queen's University (Kingston), University of Windsor, Lakehead University (Thunder Bay), York University (Toronto), and Western University (London).
If your income is low enough, you may be able to get help with child custody, access, and support issues. Some also help with other family law issues like restraining orders and spousal support. They don't help with cases at the Superior Court of Justice.
General Advice Line
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has a phone line that offers general information and referrals to people of all incomes. You may be able to get free general legal advice over the phone from an LAO lawyer for up to 20 minutes. For more information, call 1-800-668-8258.