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Can we resolve our family law issues without going to court?

Can we resolve our family law issues without going to court?
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Ontario's Family Law Limited Scope Services Project
CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario / Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)

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Can we resolve our family law issues without going to court?
This question has an answer and 4 steps
July 31, 2017

You may need to start a family law court case to resolve your legal issues after you separate or divorce. But there are other options to help resolve legal issues without going to court.

You can discuss your issues with your partner on your own, or with the help of someone you both trust. You can get a lawyer to help you. There are also family law professionals who can help.

For example, 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 have a court case. And if you have a court case, you can get up to 2 hours of mediation for free at the court.

You can use any of these options whether you are married or in a common-law relationship.

Make an agreement with or without a lawyer

If you and your partner agree on your family law issues you can put what you've agreed on in a separation agreement. This is a written contract that you and your partner make.

You don't need to have a lawyer to make a separation agreement. But it's a good idea to have your own lawyer.

A lawyer can:

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer to help you with everything, some lawyers provide "unbundled services" or "limited scope retainer" services. This means you pay them to help you with only certain things, such as giving you advice on a draft agreement or helping to draft an agreement for you.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer at all, you may be able to find legal help in other places.

Get help from a family law professional

If you and your partner can't agree on your issues, you can get help from a family law professional. These are people who work with both of you to help you reach an agreement. In some cases, they can also make a decision for you. Some family law professionals are hired by both of you and are neutral, which means they do not take sides and work for both of you.

Family law professionals can work in:

These processes are sometimes called alternative dispute resolution (ADR). A family law professional may also be called an ADR professional or a family law dispute resolution professional.

ADR is voluntary. So you can't be forced to agree to any of these processes.

Try more than one option

If you decide to try one option to resolve your issues, you may not have to continue with it, if it isn't helping you. Sometimes you can use more than one option or switch from one to the other.

For example, you might start off trying to negotiate on your own with your partner, and then decide to get collaborative family lawyers to help.

Depending on the type of process you are using, it may be harder to stop the process. For example, you need your partner to agree to pause your court case if you want to try to reach an agreement with the help of a mediator.

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