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What if I have a court order and I want to change it?

You or your partner may want or need to change your final court order because of changes to your situation. For example:

It can be difficult to get along with your partner. Small issues can build up and make you want to change your court order. Think carefully about what issues you want to take to court.

For example, it's best not to go to court for things like who has to wash your child's clothes after access visits or because your partner isn't always on time. Try to find another way to resolve these issues that can save you time and money.

You should first see what your court order says you have to do if one of you wants to change it. For example, it might say that you have to try mediation before going to court. Even if your court order doesn't say this, you might want to try an alternative dispute resolution process before going to court.

If you and your partner cannot agree, you may have to go to court and bring a motion to change a custody or parenting order. You must show a material change in circumstances. This means you have to show that your situation has changed so much that your order needs to be changed to deal with those changes.

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1. Figure out if there has been a significant change

Look to see if you or your partner's situation has changed.

If you have to go to court, the court will only make an order changing you custody, access, and parenting arrangements if there has been a material change in circumstances.

This means you have to show that there has been a significant change in circumstances.

You have to show the judge:

  1. There has been a change that affects your child or the ability of you and your partner to meet the needs of your child.
  2. The change must greatly affect your child.
  3. The change is something that could not have been predicted at the time the original order was made.

If you cannot prove a significant change in your or your partner's situation, the court will not make the change.

Some examples may include:

  • The conflict between the parents has gotten worse over time.
  • The parent with custody is always interfering with the access parent's ability to spend time with the child.
  • The child's new school schedule conflicts with access arrangements.
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2. Agree to change your order

If you and your partner can agree on changing your court order, you do not have go to court to have a judge make a decision for you. But you still need to file documents with the court and get a new order based on your agreement.

The court then makes a consent order based on your agreement.

You need to fill out:

  • Form 15A: Change information form or Form 14A: Affidavit, where you give your reasons and evidence for the changes you're asking for, and attach a copy of your existing order. These forms must be sworn or affirmed. This means you are promising that the information in the document is true. It is against the law to not tell the truth when you swear or affirm your form.
  • Form 15C: Consent Motion to Change, which sets out the new terms you and your partner agree to. You and your partner have to sign the form in front of a witness. You cannot witness each other's signatures.
  • Form 14B: Motion Form, that says "I am asking the court to make an order in accordance with the Form 15C, dated ______, which is filed with the court along with this motion form".
  • Form 25: Order, where you write the orders you want the court to make. Be specific about which terms of the existing order you're asking to change.
  • Form 35.1: Affidavit in Support of a Claim for Custody and Access, where you answer some personal questions about your family situation and tell the court about your suggested parenting plan.
  • 2 self-addressed, stamped envelopes, one for each of you if you want your order mailed to you. Otherwise you can pick it up from the court.

If you're also agreeing to change support, you may need to fill out:

You can get family law court forms from the courthouse or online. They are available in French and English.

Take your forms to court

You file your completed documents at the same level of court that made your court order. There is a guide on how to file documents.

There are three 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

So, if the Superior Court of Justice made the order, you must go back to a Superior Court of Justice in the jurisdiction that your child currently lives to change it.

Get your order

The court clerk gives your documents to a judge to review and make an order. You usually don't need to see the judge because you and your partner are agreeing to the changes.

But, if the judge has questions for you or your partner, the court clerk will contact you with a court date or give you with a copy of the judge's endorsement that sets out any other steps you or your partner have to take.

3. Get help from a family law professional

If you and your partner cannot agree on changing your court order, you can try getting help from a family law professional. These 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:

  • mediation
  • arbitration
  • mediation-arbitration
  • 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.

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4. Get help from a parenting coordinator

Another alternative dispute resolution process is parenting coordination.

A parenting coordinator is a neutral third party who helps parents resolve day-to-day conflicts about their parenting arrangements or parenting orders. They have special training on:

  • how to deal with high conflict parents
  • how to understand the needs of children
  • how to help each partner communicate on parenting issues

Parenting coordinators usually get involved when there is a parenting plan, or separation agreement, or court order that is not being followed. They can help you and your partner follow your agreement or court order instead of going back to court.

Parenting coordinators can meet with you and your partner, your children, and anyone else they think can help the family. They can help you and your partner:

  • develop problem-solving and communication skills
  • follow  parenting plans in your agreement or court order
  • resolve conflicts that come up about the parenting plan

For example, if your agreement or court order says that you will divide your time with the children equally over the summer, a parenting coordinator can help you figure out a summer schedule.

If you and your partner reach an agreement, the parenting coordinator will often write up a document saying what was agreed on. This is sometimes an informal email or can be a more formal document called "minutes of settlement" or a "memorandum of understanding".

Before you start, you and your partner can decide whether you want the parenting coordinator to have the ability to make a final decision if you both can't agree. Their decision is based on information they get from you and your partner, professionals such as doctors, teachers, counsellors, etc., and, if needed, your child.

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5. Go to court

If you and your partner cannot agree on changing your final court order even with the help of a family law professional, or if this is not the right option for you, you can go to court and bring a motion to change.

Going to court can be a complicated process and it can take a lot of time. It can be stressful and expensive, but it is sometimes necessary to decide your issues. This family law court process flowchart explains each step in a family law court case.

To bring a motion to change, you must show a material change in circumstances. This means you have to show that your situation has changed so much that your order needs to be changed to deal with those changes.

You have to show the judge:

  1. There has been a change that affects your child or the ability of you and your partner to meet the needs of your child.
  2. The change must greatly affect your child.
  3. The change is something that could not have been predicted at the time the original order was made.

You can talk to a lawyer who can help you understand what the law says about changing a court order and help you through the process.

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.

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Reviewed: 
September, 2015