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Get help from a family law professional

If you and your partner can't agree on what should happen, you can get help from a family law professional to work through your issues or make a decision for you. You can ask for this help at any time – when trying to resolve things on your own, making a separation agreement, or going through the court process.

Family law professionals use different ways, or processes, to help resolve issues. These processes are sometimes called alternative dispute resolution methods (ADR). This is because they are options other than going to court. Some of these processes are:

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 cannot agree, and one or both of you decides to go to court, you cannot 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 compromise and 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 is 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.

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

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

But, there are some situations where it may be better not to use ADR, such as:

  • you are afraid of your partner because of a history of partner abuse
  • there are serious mental health or drug abuse issues
  • you can't talk to your partner even with help
  • you can't work together with your partner even with help

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



Legal Aid Ontario services

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has the following services to help people who mostly agree on what should happen after they separate:

Family Mediation Program

This mediation service is free if you or your partner’s income is low enough. Mediators help with issues of custody, access, parenting plans, travel and vacation plans, parent communication, and child support.

Independent Legal Advice (ILA) Program

This ILA service provides up to 6 hours of independent legal advice if you’re a mediation client and if you or your partner’s income is low enough. You can get advice from a lawyer about the mediation process and your legal options, and help with preparing for mediation. The lawyer can also help you get a court order to enforce the terms of the mediation agreement.

Separation Agreement Program

This separation agreement service is free if you or your partner’s income is low enough. LAO covers the cost of up to 10 hours with a family lawyer to help work out and draft a separation agreement.