What to Expect in Family Court: Tips and Preparation

close up of gavel in family court

Our team at Galbraith Family Law firmly believes it is best to resolve family law matters outside of the courtroom. Yet, this may not always be possible. Whether it be a stepchild adoption, issues related to support, parenting or a divorce, you may need to attend family court to resolve the matter at hand. Many of us before stepping foot in family court have an idea of what it may entail. The experience can be overwhelming and scary. With a little preparation and by setting realistic expectations, your experience in family court can go smoothly.

This is a brief overview of what you need to know before you go to family court. It covers how to manage your expectations accordingly, and how to prepare for your case.

Expectations before attending family court

In our experience, many of our clients have misconceptions about what happens in an Ontario family courtroom. Unlike what you may have seen on your favourite courtroom/crime shows, this is a realistic overview of what you can expect when you walk into family court.

Expect a small setting 

Many families enter family court expecting their case to draw a large crowd of people and camera crews. Despite what you have seen on television, family court proceedings are very small and intimate. Even more so when it comes to proceedings involving children. Very few people will be in the room, so there is no need to worry about who will be present at the proceeding. Now, as a result of the pandemic, the proceedings are on Zoom so you can do it from your home.

Do not expect final decisions in the first round of court proceedings

Unless there is an emergency situation (such as an urgent motion regarding the wellbeing of a child’s living situation), decisions of the court will not be made immediately at the hearing. If the matter of the hearing is not an emergency, the court may take days or even weeks to render a decision. Often the judge just expresses an opinion and expects there to be further negotiations. They often do not impose an order on the parties.

Do not expect the court or judge to help you 

If you are unfamiliar with legal proceedings and are unsure of what to expect, you should work with an experienced family lawyer. Having a lawyer assist you with your family law matter is important when it comes to protecting you, your rights, and your family.

Yes, you are allowed to self-represent in Ontario family court, but going this route is a major risk to take. The court may be more patient with someone representing themselves. However, they do not have a legal obligation to do so and will not give any advice or instruction.

One judge said, “going to court on your own is like doing your own electrical work. You might get a shock”. Avoid a shock by getting legal advice and representation.

Do not expect things to go your way

The family court process is complex. It involves not only the established laws and legal principles but also the various facts and interests of the involved parties. Particularly when children are involved, decisions will be made by the court that are in the best interests of the children.

As with any other legal matter, the outcome of a family law proceeding can go in many different directions. If you are someone who only wants their way or no way at all, this is the reality – you may not get what you want. This is the risk you take by going to family court. Alternative resolution options on the other hand such as mediation or a collaborative approach can help resolve issues outside of the courtroom.

If the outcome at court was easy to predict, nobody would need to go to court. Family Court is full to capacity because it is unpredictable.

Expect delays 

The Ontario legal system is riddled with unavoidable delays. If you are expecting to go to court, do not expect to see a judge the next day. It can take months, in some cases even years to have family law cases resolved. This is especially the case if one or both parties take a very argumentative stance in their case and refuse to come to a compromise on any outstanding issues. It is even more of an issue as the global pandemic has also affected the Ontario legal system. Delay is normal. Remember to be patient, and while you are waiting for your court date to arrive, it is best to do as much preparation as possible.

How to prepare for family court

Court appearances can be frightening. If you are not prepared for anything, things can go south very quickly. When you enter a court to plead your case and fight for your rights, you need to be as prepared as possible.

If you know you will be appearing in court, this is what you should have prepared beforehand:

Answers to all possible questions

If you want to plead your case, you need to know everything about your case. If you are a single parent and you work a full-time job, a judge will likely ask questions such as, “Where will your child go after school?”. If you are going to court to gain full parenting rights of your child, you will need to be able to prove why this is in the best interest of your child. Think about the questions a judge may ask you and have your answers ready to go. You can go into court underprepared, but there is no such thing as being over-prepared. Also, remember that all your answers to potential questions need to be in the court documents filed in advance of hearings. Properly completed documents are essential if you want to be successful at court.


As a way to accurately judge your character, you may need to have people you know available who can support your claims of being a top-notch parent. They need to be able to say what they have observed of your parenting. It is not enough for them to say “they are a good parent”. They need to give examples of good parenting.

Your arguments 

If you are working with a family lawyer (which is highly recommended), they will help you with this. If you are self-representing, you will need to think through the important questions you may be asked, and how you will defend your case.

As an example, if you are going to court for a child custody/parenting time dispute, think about all the boxes the court will need you to check off for them.

  • Are you a suitable guardian for your child?
  • Do you have a healthy living arrangement for your child?
  • Can you provide the support your child needs?

Your job here is to show the court why you should be granted your request.

Your appearance 

First impressions matter, especially in family court. You need to be able to present yourself in a positive light. That means wearing formal and more conservative clothing and overall sending the message: “I am a responsible adult.” This applies even if the matter is on Zoom. You still need to present yourself professionally.

Do you need independent legal advice or legal representation in family court? We can help.

At Galbraith Family Law, we are here to help simplify the legal proceedings and to protect you and your rights. We are committed to representing you and resolving family conflicts with heart. As much as we prefer to help our clients resolve their family law conflicts outside of the courtroom with a collaborative approach, we will also proudly represent you in court when necessary. We are here to take the fear and anxiety out of your court proceeding so you can move forward knowing your best interests are at the forefront of our negotiations.

If you would like to book a consultation with one of our family lawyers, give us a call today at one of our five locations across Ontario. For our Toronto offices call 647-370-8965, for our Newmarket office call 289-210-4692 or you can reach us at our Barrie office at 705-230-2734. Whenever you are ready, we are here for you.

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.

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