Even if you start a family law court case, you can talk with your partner at any time and try to resolve your issues out of court. You can talk to your partner on your own, with the help of someone you trust, or with the help of a lawyer or mediator.
If you both agree on how to deal with some or all of your issues, you can put what you've agreed on in a separation agreement or you can get a consent order from the court.
A separation agreement is a written contract that you and your partner make that says how you will deal with your issues. You and your partner sign it and then you must both follow it. It does not need to be approved by a judge before you sign it.
You can make a separation agreement at any time.
A consent order is a court order that says what you and your partner agree to. It is based on your consent agreement or minutes of settlement. These are written documents that say what you are agreeing to. They can be handwritten and signed or typed and signed.
You can only enter into a consent order if one of you has started a court case.
You can talk to a lawyer who can help you understand what the law says and what your options are. They can also explain the court process and help you resolve your issues out of court.
If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, some lawyers provide "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means you pay them to help you with part of your case.
If you can't afford to hire a lawyer at all, you may be able to find legal help in other places.
Family law professionals are neutral people who are trained to work with both of you to help you reach an agreement or make a decision for you.
Family law professionals can work in:
- collaborative family law
All of these processes are sometimes called alternative dispute resolution (ADR). They help solve your issues without going to court. 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 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:
- There is a history of family violence, mental illness, or drug abuse.
- You can't talk to your partner.
- You can't work cooperatively with your partner.
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.
In some areas, Legal Aid Ontario has a mediation service that is free if you or your partner's income is low enough. These mediators help with issues of custody, access, parenting plans, travel and vacation plans, parent communication, and child support.
You can also find mediators who offer their services at lower rates through JusticeNet. JusticeNet is a not-for-profit that helps people in Ontario whose income is too high to get legal aid and too low to afford standard legal fees.
If you and your partner agree on how to deal with your family law issues, you can put what you've agreed on in a separation agreement.
Your separation agreement can deal with all or some of your issues like:
- custody and access
- child support
- spousal support
- dividing property if you're married
- dividing property if you're in a common-law relationship
- getting a divorce
You don't have to wait until you and your partner agree on everything before making a separation agreement. You can make an agreement on the things you agree on, while working on other issues.
Your separation agreement has to follow certain rules to make it binding and enforceable under the law. This means your agreement is made in a way that allows the court to order you or your partner to do what the agreement says, if either of you stop following it.
For example, the rules say before you sign your agreement, you must understand it, the process is fair, and that you and your partner give complete and honest information about your finances.
You can talk to a lawyer who can give you advice about the rules your agreement needs to follow to make it legal. If you can't afford to hire a lawyer, you may be able to find legal help in other places.
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has a service to help people with separation agreements. If your income is low enough, LAO covers the cost of up to 10 hours with a family lawyer to help you negotiate and draft a separation agreement.
Once you and your partner make a separation agreement, you may choose to file it with the court.
Some of the reasons to do this are so:
- the court can enforce the support terms of your agreement by ordering you and your partner to follow it
- a government agency, called the Family Responsibility Office can enforce support payments
To file your separation agreement:
- Attach your most current separation agreement to a Form 26B: Affidavit for Filing Domestic Contract or Paternity Agreement.
- Take it to the local courthouse. You can file your agreement only at the Ontario Court of Justice or the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice. You cannot file your agreement at other locations of the Superior Court of Justice.
You can only get a consent order if one of you has started a court case.
If you and your partner agree on how to deal with your family law issues, you can put what you've agreed on in a consent agreement or minutes of settlement.
These are written documents that say what you are agreeing to. They can be handwritten and signed or typed and signed.
In your agreement, list the orders you agree on.
Next, you or your partner ask the court to put your agreement into a court order called a consent order. You do this by bringing a motion on consent.