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Go to your trial

Being well prepared before your trial will make the trial go more smoothly. The Ontario Court of Justice has a helpful resource for people who are representing themselves in their trial called “Representing Yourself at Your Family Law Trial – A Guide”. You should read this to help you get ready for your trial. It contains useful information about courtroom behaviour as well as tips for questioning witnesses and other aspects of the trial.

The judge at your trial won’t be the same judge you had at your conferences. This is because the discussions at your conferences were private, and meant to help you and your partner reach an agreement. These discussions are not shared with the trial judge.

Judges decide family cases on their own without a jury.

Trials are usually open to the public. This means there may be other people in the courtroom when your trial is going on.

You should bring to court at least 3 copies of the trial record and any documents you plan to use in your trial. One is for you, one is for your partner, and one is for the judge.

You can take notes on what happens during your trial and what is said to help you respond.

The judge can’t give you legal advice. But, during breaks, you can ask duty counsel questions about the trial process if they are available in your court location. Duty counsel can’t represent you at trial but may be able to help you with general questions.

The trial is your opportunity to prove what you’ve said and asked for in your Form 10: Answer by using witnesses, including yourself, and other evidence. The judge makes a decision using a test called the balance of probabilities. This means that your evidence has to be more believable than your partner’s evidence.

Before your trial begins, the judge deals with any preliminary or procedural matters. Then your case follows these steps:

Opening statements

The trial starts with your partner’s opening statement. Your partner gives the judge a summary of the issues, what they are asking for, and the evidence they will be presenting. You can make your opening statement after your partner or you can wait until you start to present your case.

You do not present your evidence in your opening statement.

If you have a lawyer, they will make the opening statement and ask the witnesses questions.

Your partner gives evidence

After the opening statements, your partner presents their case by calling and examining each of their witnesses. This is called examination-in-chief or direct examination.

Questions on direct examination are generally open-ended. This means they don’t tell the witness what to say.

Questions that tell the witness what to say are called leading questions and can’t be used on direct examination. To avoid asking leading questions, ask questions that start with who, what, where, when, why, how, or please describe.

Examples of open-ended questions:

  • What did you do?
  • Why did you do it?
  • When did you do it?
  • Where did you do it?

Examples of leading questions:

  • You left the children alone on the evening of May 1st didn’t you?
  • You didn't pay child support, did you?

You can cross-examine each of your partner’s witnesses. The purpose of cross-examination is to test how true and reliable the witness’ answers are.

Leading questions are allowed during cross-examination.

Then your partner can re-examine their witness to make clear anything new that came up during the cross-examination.

You give evidence

When your partner has presented all of their evidence, it’s your turn to do the same thing.

You decide the order of your witnesses. When your witness takes the stand, they swear, affirm, or promise to tell the truth. You ask questions to get answers that support your case.

Your partner can then cross-examine your witnesses by asking their own questions. You can re-examine your witness to make clear anything new that came up when your partner cross-examined them. But, you can’t raise any new issues.

If you have given evidence in your case, your partner will be allowed to cross-examine you.

At any time during the questioning of a witness by your partner, you can object to questions being asked or to documents being given to the court. You can only object to something if you can show there is a reason why the judge shouldn’t hear the evidence.

Your partner responds to your evidence

If you raise a new issue, your partner can respond by calling more witnesses or recalling witnesses who have already testified. Once again, your partner examines the witnesses first, then you can cross-examine them, and then your partner can re-examine them.

Closing statements

After both you and your partner have presented and cross-examined all the witnesses, you each give a closing statement. In your closing statement, you give the judge a summary of your evidence and tell them why you should get the orders you’re asking for.

Your partner goes first, followed by you. Your partner has a final chance to speak, but only to address anything new that you raised in your closing statement.

The judge decides

Now, it is up to the judge to make a decision.

This can happen right at the end of the trial, after a short break, or some time later. When a judge waits to make a decision later, this is called reserving judgment.

The judge can take a few days or several months, depending on:

  • how complex the issues in your case are,
  • the evidence that was presented, and
  • the number of other cases that the judge is hearing.

The judge decides your case based on the law and the evidence you and your partner gave. Judges are neutral and impartial, they don’t take sides.

You may need to come back to court for the decision or you may be told about the decision in writing.

The judge may also award costs. This means the party who gets the orders they’re asking for may have part of their legal fees paid by the other party.

The judge may ask you for reasons why your partner should pay for some of your costs, or why you should not have to pay for some of your partner’s costs.

You and your partner must follow any temporary orders or agreements until the judge makes a final decision.

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