The Complete Guide to Navigating the Family Court Process

The Complete Guide to Navigating the Family Court Process

Going through the Family Court process can be time consuming and overwhelming, especially when dealing with highly emotional issues related to parenting time, parenting orders, division of property and support.

Up to 93% of legal cases are resolved before trial outside the courtroom however you need to know your legal team can handle your case in Court. At Galbraith Family Law, we are skilled at negotiations,  mediation and collaborative practice, but when that fails, we have the experience to represent you in court. Plan A is to keep you out of court. Plan B is Family Court.

Our goal is to achieve a fair and equitable solution that works for everyone in your family. Whatever your situation, Galbraith Family Law will guide you and advocate for you.

Our lawyers are committed to representing families all over Ontario, providing them with fair, effective and efficient service. Not only will they work on your behalf, they will also explain each step of the litigation process and discuss all the available options so you can make informed and wise decisions.

Below, you’ll find further information regarding the Family Court process and answers to common questions from our clients.

What Does the Family Court Do In Ontario

Ontario families facing legal matters are directed to the Ontario Court of Justice, the Superior Court of Justice, or the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice. These options are dependent on each family’s individual case and their location in Ontario.

The main issues overseen by the Family Court branch include:

  • Divorce proceedings
  • Division of property
  • Spousal and child support claims
  • Parental time and parental orders
  • Child protective measures
  • Adoption and legal guardianship

What Does A Family Law Lawyer Do

A family law lawyer specializes in legal matters pertaining to families. This includes parenting time issues, divorce, property division issues, separation, common law separation issues, same sex divorces and other issues related family relationships. Here are a few things to look for when choosing a family law  lawyer:

  1. Experience: Not only should your family lawyer have at least 2 years experience practicing family law they should also be comfortable handling all necessary paperwork, resources, and preparation required in court proceedings. Your lawyer should also have experience with cases that are similar to your case and be willing to offer suggestions based on their experience.
  2. Understanding: A good lawyer will give you all the necessary information to help you make the best decisions for you. Doing so means offering you a likely range of outcomes while listening to your wishes and concerns.
  3. Knowledge: A lawyer should never give you a guarantee of a positive outcome. A knowledgeable lawyer will explain that each action you take can have consequences to your case. They should offer counsel so you fully understand your rights and responsibilities and offer alternatives such as out-of-court settlements.

What Happens At A Court Hearing

In Ontario, we are fortunate to have access to excellent judges who aim to resolve cases fairly and efficiently. However the process of attending a court hearing is still emotionally challenging. To make it less stressful, here are some courtroom tips and information you should know beforehand.

Navigating the Family Court Process

  • The judge will sit at the front of the courtroom on an elevated platform. In front of the judge, a court reporter and court clerk record courtroom events and take detailed notes.
  • All family court sessions are recorded and open to the public unless they deal with sensitive subject matters. For this reason, you can expect to see people coming and going from the courtroom.
  • There are two counsel tables in front of the judge. The applicant sits on the right side and the respondent sits to the left.
  • Your lawyer will sit next to you. If you want to address the judge, it is done by your lawyer on your behalf.
  • The judge may ask you a question directly in which case you should answer the judge directly. Otherwise all communications are done by your lawyer on your behalf.

When you go to court, you should be prepared to compromise and negotiate to achieve the best resolution for your family. Keep in mind what is most important to you and what you are willing to give up. Learn what the other party will need to settle your case so you can achieve a resolution.

Once your trial begins, your lawyer will be called upon to make the opening statement. This includes a summary of the issues of your case, the terms you are asking for and what evidence you intend to present. When it is your turn,  your lawyer will present all witnesses, documents, financial statements, photographs, receipts, affidavits, letters and reports that pertain to your case following the Rules of court and centuries of courtroom process and etiquette. Your closing statement is when your lawyers summarizes your case, the relevant evidence and what you want included in the decision.

How To Get A Court Order In Ontario

A court order is provided by a judge to define the legal relationship, actions and responsibilities of each party. A court order can be related to a range of family court matters such as parenting time, decision making related to the children, division of property, support and  divorce proceedings.

There are two different kinds of temporary court orders, based on the needs and urgency of the situation.

  1. Regular motion – A regular motion is pushed forward when the court order you wish to obtain is temporary, non-urgent and prior to your trial. This may include your children’s living situation or where they go to school. It can also deal with support issues and procedurally issues such as disclosure of documents and the need for experts. A successful motion will be time-sensitive and  will allow you the flexibility to deal with other issues as you await a final court order.
  2. Urgent motion – A temporary, urgent motion can be requested with or without the knowledge of the other party. These types of motions can happen prior to, or at any time during your court case.

What Court Documents Are Made Public In Ontario

Although members of the public are able to access family court documents and be present during family court proceedings, some restrictions apply. Statutory provisions can limit or restrict access to documents and files due to the sensitivity of their nature. These include:

  • Child Protection Cases: All child protective cases are closed to public access and do not allow documents to be released to the public that may identify the children or guardians involved.
  • Secure Treatment Cases: Court applications which are made in order to refer a child to a treatment facility cannot be made public. These cases also cannot be attended by members of the public.
  • Adoption Cases: Adoption hearings are closed to the public and may only contain members of the court, court employees, the parties involved, their lawyers and the appointed representative of the Children’s Aid Society.
  • Family Responsibility and Support Arrears: Failure to provide spousal or child support payments may result in the court stepping in to enforce support obligations. Due to the nature of these cases, names and information are kept private from the public.
  • Publication Bans: In family court cases outside the Youth and Family Services Act, the public can still view court files if a publication ban is in place. However they are not permitted to publish, broadcast or transmit the information.

In addition to the above exceptions, some sealed documents, index books, and case event lists can be accessed by the public although access may be limited.

What Court Documents Are Made Public In Ontarioq

How To Get Custody Of My Child Without A Lawyer

We recommend any client who is involved in a parenting time dispute should hire a family lawyer who can offer advice and advocate for them. If there are financial barriers to receiving legal counsel, you may qualify for the legal aid  in Ontario. A third option is to hire a lawyer to help you create the court documents and to coach you but you represent yourself in court. This is not as good as hiring a lawyer to do everything for you but better than trying to do it all yourself, and it saves you money.

How Do I Find an Affordable Child Custody Lawyer to Help Me?

To begin a claim for more parenting time, respond to a claim for more parenting time or make changes to an existing order, you’ll need to fill out the necessary court forms. There are typically three parenting scenarios you can apply for. These include:

  • Sole Parenting: One parent or care-provider assumes total responsibility for the child’s care and upbringing. Typically, the child or children involved reside primarily with this person. The parent who receives sole parenting time has full authority over each decision made for the child.
  • Joint Parenting: Two people will make decisions regarding the child together, however the child may or may not spend the same amount of time with each person.
  • Shared Parenting: Each parent shares an equal responsibility in the care and upbringing of the children and the child lives at least 40 percent of the time with each parent.
  • Split Parenting: Parents of more than one child may choose to split children between two households. One child may reside primarily with one parent and the other child with the other parent. Each child may visit the parent with whom they don’t primarily reside.

If you cannot obtain legal aid or hire a family lawyer, duty counsel will be available to help you navigate the process of your parenting time claim. If both parental parties are on the same page, the claim process should be smooth. However, when there are disagreements, a mediator may need to help find a compromise or the process can escalate to family court where a judge will make the final decision.

How To Afford A Family Law Lawyer In Ontario

Choosing to hire a family law lawyer, rather than representing yourself can mean the difference between a good outcome and a bad one. A family law lawyer is versed in all family dynamics and knows which information is most relevant to your case. Choosing to represent yourself, on the other hand can leave you at the mercy of the judge or your ex’s lawyer.

To lighten the financial burden you might choose to hire a lawyer to create the legal documents and to coach you through the process but not represent you at court. Your lawyer would just be in the background, assisting you when you need help. This is not as good as having a lawyer full represent through the process but it is much better than trying to do everyone on your own.

Another way to reduce financial expenses is to try using collaborative practice. This method involves you and the other party working with your legal representatives and other professionals to reach a resolution that suits both your needs and the other party’s needs. Up to 85 percent of couples who try this have had success and avoided going to court.

Family Law Advocacy

Galbraith Family Law has extensive experience with family law negotiations, mediation, collaborative practice and family court. We will work toward achieving a fair and equitable solution that focuses on the best interests of you, your child and family.

To connect with Galbraith Family Law, fill out the contact form on our website or give us a call. If you live in the Newmarket, York Region area, or GTA call (289) 802-0917; if you’re in Barrie, Simcoe County area, please call (705) 999-4413.

Other Resources:

When an Amicable Divorce Isn’t Possible: Deciding on Family Court

15 Questions to ask When Hiring A Family Court Lawyer

Have You Been Served? How a Family Court Lawyer Can Help

Are Ontario Courts Biased Towards Mothers in Divorce Cases?

Your Custody Agreement Should Answer These Important Questions

Protect Your Child Visitation Rights and Custody Arrangements

Custody Arrangements: Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live With?

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Brian Galbraith

Brian Galbraith is the owner and founder of Galbraith Family Law Professional Corporation. Brian is known in the legal community for his commitment to efficiently practicing family law using technology and streamlining the divorce processes.

Reader Interactions


  1. My favorite part of this article is the importance of understanding that you are representing your legal case by having lawyers to help you. I have a cousin having issues with his wife because she doesn’t want him to see my nephew because of major conflicts affecting their marriage. He asked if I had any idea what would be the best legal option to consider. Thanks for helping me understand how family law can help them with their problems. I’ll convince him to discuss their problems with a trusted family lawyer.

  2. I like the tip you gave that fair legal guidance could be obtained by having a proper family law process. The other day, my brother told me he was having issues with his wife because she doesn’t want him to see my nephew because of relationship conflicts affecting their marriage. He asked if I had thoughts on the best legal approach. I appreciate this article for helping me understand how family law can help them with their problems. I’ll convince him to discuss their problems with a trusted family law attorney.

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