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Which court do I start my family law case at?

Ontario has 3 different courts that deal with family law issues. They are the:

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

It is important that you go to the right court.

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 5: Where a case starts and is to be heard tells you where to start a family law court case. It says you have to start your case in a court that:

  1. deals with the family law issues you need to resolve, and
  2. is in the municipality closest to where you or your partner lives.

But, if your issues are about child support, custody, or access, the rule says you should go to the court in the municipality where your child lived before you and your partner separated.

To know which court to start your family law case at you need to know:

  • what issues you want the court to decide
  • which courts deal with those issues

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

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Next Steps: 

1. Figure out the issues you want the court to decide

You have to start your family law court case in a court that deals with the family law issues you need to resolve. You first need to decide which family law issues you want to take to court.

For some issues, like getting a divorce, you have to go to court. But for others, like dividing property, custody and access, child support, and spousal support, you don’t have to go to court.

You and your partner may be able to agree on those issues and make a separation agreement.

Or you might want to ask a family law professional to help you resolve your issues. These are people who do not take sides and are trained to work with both of you. They can help you reach an agreement and some make a decision for you.

Family law professionals can work in:

  • mediation
  • arbitration
  • mediation-arbitration
  • collaborative family law
  • parenting coordination

These processes are sometimes called alternative dispute resolution because they help solve your issues without going to court.

But sometimes going to court can be necessary because:

  • you want a court order you can enforce
  • you don't think you can make an agreement with your partner, with or without the help of a lawyer or family law professional
  • there is a history of partner abuse, mental illness, or drug abuse

Once you decide which issues you want to take to court, you have to find out which court deals with those issues.

2. Find out which court deals with your issues

You have to also start your family law court case in a family court that deals with the family law issues you need to resolve.

Not all of Ontario's 3 family law courts deal with every family law issue. For example, the Ontario Court of Justice doesn't deal with divorces or dividing property. So, if you need to apply for a divorce, you have to go either to the Family Court Branch of the Superior Court of Justice or the Superior Court of Justice.

Similarly, the Superior Court of Justice doesn't deal with adoption or child protection.

The issues each family court deals with are below.

Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice

This is the only court that hears all types of family law cases.

In places without a Family Court Branch of the Superior Court of Justice, family cases are heard in either the Superior Court of Justice or the Ontario Court of Justice.

Superior Court of Justice

This court hears family law cases that deal with:

  • divorce
  • dividing property
  • matrimonial home
  • child support
  • spousal support
  • custody and access
  • restraining orders
  • appeals on adoption and child protection

It does not deal with adoption or child protection.

Ontario Court of Justice

This court hears family law cases that deal with:

  • child support
  • spousal support
  • custody and access
  • restraining orders
  • enforcing support in a separation agreement
  • adoption
  • child protection

It does not deal with divorce or dividing property.

3. Find your closest municipality

You have to also start your family law court case in a family court that is in the municipality closest to where you or your partner lives.

For example, if you're going to court to enforce a separation agreement, you have to go to the Ontario Court of Justice. You then have to find an Ontario Court of Justice that is in the municipality closest to where either you or your partner lives.

But, if your issues are about your child, such as child support, custody, or access, you should go to the court in the municipality where your child lived before you and your partner separated.

The Ontario government has a list of all municipalities. If you’re still not sure which court to go to, call the family courthouse in your municipality to ask.

Reviewed: 
August, 2016

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