Articles » Family Law Litigation


If you and your partner are unable to resolve disputes resulting from your separation by way of out-of-court dispute resolution methods, including negotiation and mediation, you may need to turn to the Ontario court system for assistance.

The Ontario family law court process can feel overwhelming to many litigants. The purpose of this article is to provide a general overview of the family law court process in Ontario. It is important to note that specifics of the court process may vary depending on the complexity of your case and issues involved as well as the court’s own unique procedures. Several steps are typically required in an Ontario family court case, as outlined below:

The Initiation of Court Proceedings – The Application

The party seeking court intervention, known as the “Applicant”, will need to draft a document called the “Application.” This document should outline the issues to be addressed by the court, such as parenting time, child and spousal support and property division. Once drafted, the Application is then filed with the appropriate family court to be issued and given a court file number. Depending on the issues, a financial statement and parenting affidavit may be required.

The other party to the litigation, known as the “Respondent”, must file a response to the Application by drafting and filing a document called an “Answer”. This document should outline their position on the issues raised in the Application.

Mandatory Information Program

After the Application and Answer have been filed, the next step is attendance, by both parties, at a Mandatory Information Program (“MIP”).  All parties to a family law court case must attend an MIP before the court case can continue. Lawyers do not attend at MIPs.

MIPs are educational in nature and are designed to provide the parties with information about the legal system, dispute resolution methods, the impact of separation and divorce on families, and any community resources available.

Case Conference

Next, parties involved in an Ontario family law case are required to attend at a Case Conference. The Case Conference is typically the first time the parties will speak to a judge about their case.

The atmosphere at a Case Conference is less formal than a typical court appearance and is intended to encourage constructive settlement-focused dialogue between the parties and the court. The judge presiding over the Case Conference will often explore potential resolutions to the issues in dispute and may offer suggestions or recommendations. Judges are limited in the orders they can make at a Case Conference.


After the completion of a Case Conference, either party is typically permitted to bring a motion for temporary relief. In family law, motions for temporary relief are a way for parties to address time sensitive or temporary issues while the main legal case remains ongoing.

Settlement Conference

If the parties are still unable to resolve the issues in their case, they will be required to attend a Settlement Conference. Like the Case Conference, the Settlement Conference is a mandatory step in the family law court process, and its primary goal is to facilitate settlement discussions and potentially resolve the issues in dispute.

The judge presiding over the Settlement Conference may provide guidance on the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case, helping them understand the potential outcomes if the matter proceeds to trial. Both parties must present Offers to Settle as part of their Settlement Conference materials.

Trial Management Conference

A Trial Management Conference (“TMC”) is a mandatory step in family law litigation and typically occurs as the case progresses towards the trial stage.

The primary purpose of the TMC is to address various procedural matters, streamline the trial process, and facilitate settlement discussions. It allows the court to manage the case and ensure that both parties are prepared for trial. In some cases, the TMC may involve the scheduling of trial dates.

The final stage in the Ontario family law court process is the trial. The trial involves the formal hearing of all unresolved issues in the family law case.

It is important to note that reaching the trial stage is often a last resort, and the court encourages parties to explore alternative dispute resolution methods throughout the family law court process. A large majority of Ontario family law cases are resolved before reaching trial through negotiations, mediation, settlement conferences, or other means.

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