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How do I start a family law court case?

If you're starting a family law court case, you're called the applicant. Your partner is called the respondent. You're both known as the parties in your court case.

The family court process follows strict rules. There is a rule about what is needed at every step in a court case. These rules are called the Family Law Rules. Reading them can help you as you fill out court forms and go through the court process.

Rule 8: Starting a case tells you how to start a family law court case.

To start a court case, you must fill out a number of court forms and give them to your partner. These forms tell your partner and the court the issues you’re asking the court to decide and the orders you want the court to make.

This family law court process flowchart explains each step in a family law 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 through it.

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.

Using your address on court forms

If you fear for your safety and don't want your partner to find out where you live, you don't have to put your home address on your court documents when you fill them out. You can put any address where you can pick up mail from. For example, you can put a friend or a family member’s address.

And, you can also ask court staff to serve your partner with your court documents for you.

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Next Steps: 

1. Fill out your court forms

To start a court case, you must fill out a number of court forms and give them to your partner.

The main form you fill out is Form 8: Application. In it, you:

  • give basic information about your family, such as your name, date of birth, and address, and those of your partner and your children
  • the history of your relationship with your partner
  • check off the issues you're asking the judge to help you with
  • list the orders you're asking the judge to make
  • give facts and reasons for each order you're asking for

The other forms you fill out depend on what you're asking for. You can get family law court forms from the courthouse or online. They are available in French and English.

Support and dividing property

If you're asking for child support, spousal support, or to divide property, you must also fill out a financial statement. Rule 13: Financial Disclosure tells you the financial information and other documents you have to give the court.

But, if the amount of child support you're asking for is similar to the amount you would get under the Child Support Guidelines and child support tables, you don't have to fill out a financial statement.

There are 2 financial statement forms. Fill out the financial statement that applies to your situation.

  1. Form 13: Financial Statement (Support Claims): Use this form if you are asking only for child support, spousal support, or both child support and spousal support. Don't use it if you need to divide property and debts.
  2. Form 13.1: Financial Statement (Property and Support Claims): Use this form if you are asking to divide property and debts. You may also be asking for support.

You may also have to fill out:

Custody and access

If you're asking for custody of or access to your children, you need to fill out Form 35.1: Affidavit in Support of a Claim for Custody or Access. In it, you answer some personal questions about your family situation and tell the court about your suggested parenting plan.

Divorce

If you're asking for a divorce, the forms you fill out depend on whether you're:

2. Get your forms issued by the court

Once you fill out your forms, you must have your Application issued by the court. This means the court clerk signs, dates, and stamps them and gives you a court date.

Choose the right court

There are 3 courts that deal with family law issues in Ontario. These are the:

  • Ontario Court of Justice
  • Superior Court of Justice
  • Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice

It is important that you go to the right court. Rule 5: Where a case starts and is to be heard tells you where you should start your family law case.

You have to start your case in a court that:

  1. Deals with the family law issues you need to resolve. For example, the Ontario Court of Justice doesn't deal with divorces or dividing property.
  2. Is in the municipality closest to where you or your partner live. But, if your issues are about child support, custody, or access, you should go to the court in the municipality where your child lived before you and your partner separated.

If you're not sure which court to go to, call the family courthouse in your municipality to ask.

Take your forms to court

When you give your forms to the court clerk, they give you:

  • A court file number. This number must be written in the box at the top right hand corner of each page of your forms.
  • The first court date for your case if your case is at the:
    • Ontario Court of Justice
    • Family Court Branch of the Superior Court of Justice, unless you're also asking for a divorce or to divide property. If you are, there is no first court date.
  • 2 notices to go to a Mandatory Information Program, one for you and one for your partner.
  • Blank forms you have to give your partner for them to fill out.

Pay court fees

The Ontario Court of Justice has no court fees. But, if your case is at the Superior Court of Justice or the Family Branch of the Superior Court of Justice you have to pay court fees. These include:

  • $157 to file an Application
  • $167 to file an Application that includes a divorce
  • $125 to file an Answer
  • $157 to file an Answer that includes a divorce

If you can't afford to pay the court fees, you can ask the court for a "fee waiver". This means you don't have to pay most court fees. The Ontario government's A Guide to Fee Waiver Requests tells you which court fees can be waived and how to ask for a fee waiver.

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3. Give your forms to your partner

Your case can't move forward until you give your partner copies of the documents you got issued by the court. This is called serving your partner.

You have to serve your partner with a copy of your documents so they know that you've started a case against them. This gives them a chance to respond to what you've written and tell their side of the story.

You also have to give your partner the blank forms that the court clerk gave you to give them, and their Mandatory Information Program (MIP) notice.

You must serve your partner within 6 months of getting your Application issued. If you don't serve them within 6 months, the court may close your file.

Rule 6: Service of documents says that the first time you give your partner your documents, you have to use special service. This means you can't give them your documents directly. You have to get a family member or friend who is at least 18 years old or a professional process server to give your partner your documents. Or, you can leave them with your partner’s lawyer.

There is a guide on how to serve documents.

Whoever serves the documents on your partner must fill out Form 6B: Affidavit of Service. In it, they say when, where, and how they served your partner. The form proves that your partner got a copy of your documents and knows that they have to respond to them.

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4. File your forms at court

After you serve your partner, take your original documents and Form 6B: Affidavit of Service to the courthouse and file them. This means you put them in your court file. You do this at the court counter, with the help of the court clerk.

There is a guide on how to file documents.

Continuing Record

Because you're starting the case, you have to start a court file at the court by creating a continuing record and a table of contents. The continuing record is a court file that has all the important documents in your case.

Rule 9: Continuing record says that you must file every document in your case in a continuing record so the judge can find it easily when it's needed.

The continuing record has 2 parts:

  • The endorsement volume has all the endorsements and court orders the judge made in your case. An endorsement is the written directions a judge gives you and your partner that says what you must do or not do.
  • The documents volume has most of the documents you and your partner file in your case. For example, your Applications, Answers, Replies, affidavits of service, financial statements, motions, and affidavits.

Documents are added to the continuing record after they have been served on the other person.

When you add a document to the continuing record, you also have to update the table of contents by listing each document you're filing.

Court staff can help you figure out where each document goes in the continuing record.

Make sure you keep a copy of every document you and your partner fill out. This allows you to keep track of your case yourself. You won't have to go to the court to ask the court clerk to get your file if you need to check something.

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5. Get your partner's answer

Your partner has 30 days to fill out, serve, and file their documents in response to your documents.

They have to fill out Form 10: Answer where they can:

  • agree or disagree with what you have said
  • make new claims and ask for new things

For example, your partner may agree to your custody and access plans, but disagree with the amount of child support you're asking for. And they may add a new claim for spousal support.

They may also give you a copy of their:

Your partner doesn't respond

If your partner doesn't respond, the judge may make a decision based only on your documents and evidence.

Your partner agrees with some or all of your claims

If your partner agrees with some or all of the things you're asking for, you can stop your court case and try to agree on your issues outside of court. For example, you can make a separation agreement, get a consent order, or make an offer to settle.

Your partner makes new claims

If your partner asks for new things that aren't in your Application, you don't have to respond to them. If you don't, it means you don't agree with what your partner has said.

But, if you want to reply to their new claims with your facts and evidence, you have to fill out Form 10A: Reply.

For example, if your partner says that you have a drug problem, and you didn't say anything about this in your Form 8: Application, you can file a Reply that addresses that issue.

You have 10 days to fill out, serve, and file a Reply if you choose to do so.

You can't make any new claims in your Reply. If you need to make a new claim, you have to file an amended Form 8: Application. If your partner has already filed their response, you must get their permission first. If your partner doesn't give you their permission, you can bring a motion to the court asking for permission.

You continue with your family law court case whether or not you file a Reply.

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Reviewed: 
November, 2015

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