There are other options besides court for family matters

November 23-27 marks the first Family Dispute Resolution Week in Ontario. If you’re interested in learning more about free or subsidized support for families going through separation and divorce, please visit for more information.

Anyone who’s had a legal problem they had to deal with in family court knows that it can be long, stressful and expensive. But did you know that, for most issues, working things out through court is just one option?

Alternative dispute resolution offers a way for you to settle your issues before or after a court case starts. It may offer a faster, less expensive way to sort out family legal issues.

There are voluntary, free or subsidized options available across the province that allow you and your partner to settle custody, access and support issues or make changes to existing agreements outside of the courtroom.

At Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), we can help eligible people seeking an alternative to court in a number of ways.


Mediation is a process where a mediator helps you and your ex-partner come up with workable solutions for your family relationship issues. The focus is kept on the best interests of your children and can help to improve communication between parents.

You’re encouraged to solve problems and create a mediation agreement that you can both live with. That way, you may not even need to appear in court before a judge. Once you create a mediation agreement, you will need to get a court order to enforce it—and in some instances, LAO can provide a lawyer to help you with that.

If you’re interested in mediation and financially qualify, LAO can refer you to one of our staff mediators or one of the Ministry of the Attorney General’s on-site mediators in courthouses. We may also be able to refer you to a mediator outside of the courthouse, who has a sliding scale fee (fees that are reduced for those who have lower incomes).

Help from a family lawyer if you’re doing mediation

If you qualify for free or subsidized mediation, you may also qualify for up to six hours of help from a family lawyer before, during and after participating in a mediation.

A family lawyer can help you understand the mediation process and your options. The lawyer can also get a court order or binding agreement to enforce the terms of the mediation agreement.

Help from a family lawyer for a separation agreement

LAO covers the cost of up to 10 hours with a family lawyer to help negotiate and prepare a separation agreement, which clearly outlines each person’s obligations. A family lawyer can represent you while drafting this agreement, so you can be fully informed of the legal consequences of your decisions.

A lawyer can help you and your ex-partner make custody, access and child support arrangements and to settle spousal support and property division and equalization.

Help in cases with child protection agencies

LAO can provide access to a family lawyer at the early stages, such as when agreements are signed between parents and child protection agencies, to help keep the case out of court. A family lawyer can help negotiate an agreement with Children’s Aid that will spells out how your child is cared for and how they may be able to remain in your custody.

These agreements can include:

  • a special needs agreement, which ensures severely disabled children receive proper care.
  • a temporary care agreement can happen when parents are temporarily unable to care for a child and this agreement can be terminated by the parent or the child protection agency at any time.
  • a customary care agreement, which allows for an Aboriginal child to be placed with someone other than his or her parent—someone such as a grandparent.

LAO can also providelegal support for participation in an Aboriginal alternative dispute resolution process such as Talking Together or Talking Circles

Ontario’s first Family Dispute Resolution Week

Clearly there are other ways to resolve legal issues besides going to court. If you’re looking for alternatives, learn more at the first Family Dispute Resolution Week by visiting

And if you’re looking for more information about the out-of-court services that LAO offers for eligible clients, you can go to your nearest Family Law Service Centre or Family Law Information Centre and ask about any of the services you’ve read about in this post.