Manitoba Child Custody & Divorce Court Processes

In Manitoba, the Family Division of the Court of King's Bench handles most cases involving child custody. If you live in a rural area or a northern community, the Provincial Court may hear your case.

You can try an alternative dispute resolution process to avoid court.

If at any point you reach a full agreement, the process below will skip to the last step, where you'll receive a court order. If you're not divorcing, you can choose instead to exit the court process and simply hold on to your custody agreement (aka parenting plan); it's legally binding once signed by both parents and a witness.

If the child lives in Manitoba, start a case in Manitoba, even if you don't live there. If you're divorcing and have a child, you can file for divorce in your province, but the court often transfers the proceeding to the province where the child primarily resides.

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Step 1: Fill out and file your petition

If you are not married or not seeking a divorce, complete a Petition (Word download).

If you are seeking a divorce, complete a Petition for Divorce (Word download) or, if you agree on all terms, both a Joint Petition for Divorce (Word download) and Joint Petition Affidavit.

Your petition must include a Financial Statement (Word download) and your last three years of income tax statements if you're asking for property division, child support, or spousal or common-law partner support.

If you've already reached an agreement, prepare your parenting plan or divorce settlement agreement.

At the courthouse, you'll pay a $200 filing fee to hand in your documents. You'll pay an additional $10 for a divorce registry certificate if you're seeking a divorce. If you turned in a full agreement, the process will skip to Step 9.

Step 2: Serve the other parent

Skip this step if you filed for a joint divorce.

Otherwise, an adult other than yourself must give copies of your forms to the other parent (called the respondent) through a process called service.

Afterward, the server must complete an Affidavit of Service (Word download), which you'll file with the court. If the respondent agreed to fill out an Acknowledgment of Service (Word download), attach it.

The respondent has 20 days from the date they're served to respond with an Answer (Word download). They must also provide a Financial Statement (Word download) and three years of income tax returns if finances are part of the case. If they live elsewhere in Canada or the USA, they have 40 days to respond. They have 60 days if they live outside of Canada and the USA.

If you don't get a response, you can file a Requisition (Word download) requesting that the court make a decision based solely on affidavit evidence. Complete the Affidavit of Petitioner's Evidence (Word download) with all your evidence. The process will jump to Step 9.

Possible step: Attend an emergent hearing

If you or your child is in danger or your child has been removed from the province, you can file a Request for Emergent Hearing when you file your petition or at any other point in the process.

If the court agrees that your situation is urgent, you'll have an emergent hearing.

The court only schedules an emergent hearing if at least one of the following applies:

  • There's an immediate or imminent risk of harm to the parent or child.
  • There's damage to property (or risk of it).
  • The child has been or is in danger of being removed from the province.

The hearing can occur as soon as three days after it is requested so long as the other parent has been served.

At the hearing, a judge may make an order to resolve your urgent matters, e.g., an order awarding you emergency custody of your child. A triage judge can modify this order in Step 6 if need be.

Step 3: Use Family Conciliation Services

The Family Conciliation Services program offers free help to parents throughout their case.

Parents are required to take the program's For the Sake of the Children course. During it, parents learn about the court process, the effects parents' separation can have children, and how to create a parenting plan.

You each must file an Acknowledgment of Completion to prove your attendance. You may be exempt from taking the course if:

  • You or the other parent lives outside of Manitoba.
  • You've reached an agreement on the terms of the order.
  • There is no response to the petition for the order.
  • You took the course within the three years before the petition was filed.
  • You completed a similar program outside of Manitoba.

Family Conciliation Services also offers brief consultation reports, which give parents and the court insight into the child's wishes. A family relations counsellor can interview your child if they are between the ages of 11 and 16 and both parents agree to it.

You also have the option to attend mediation or get help from a parenting coach through the program. If you reach an agreement, your case will jump to Step 9.

Step 4: Attend triage screening court

Once you've completed the prerequisites on the Certificate of Prerequisite Completion (Word download), either parent can schedule a triage screening and request a triage conference. The screening happens first to confirm the case is ready for a triage conference.

To request the conference, complete and file a Request for Triage Conference (Word download), the Certificate of Prerequisite Completion, and a Triage Brief (Word download) that has your proposed parenting plan attached.

You'll receive a triage screening date when you file your documents. When you request a date, keep in mind that you have to serve your documents on the other parent at least two weeks before the screening. Screenings in Winnipeg are typically Tuesday mornings, but other judicial centres may have other dates.

The other parent must also file a Certificate of Prerequisite Completion, Triage Brief and parenting plan before the screening date. If they don't, the screening can be moved back. If they're delaying unreasonably, you can file a Motion (Word download) requesting a deadline for them to complete their prerequisites and file their triage material. You will need to complete and sign an Affidavit (Word download) detailing the delay. If the other parent does not comply with the deadline, you can file another motion to have their pleadings struck so you can proceed without their involvement.

At a screening, parents or their lawyers meet with a triage screening coordinator. If the coordinator determines your case is ready to move on, they'll give you a date for your triage conference.

Step 5: File motions and exchange information

After triage screening court, you're allowed to file motions (requests) that aren't related to the triage process. For example, you can ask to go to mediation or for the court to order a temporary parenting schedule.

You're also able to start discovery at this point — the exchange of information in the pursuit of a settlement or trial evidence.

Discovery often includes out-of-court questioning of witnesses and may include a custody assessment.

A custody assessment helps determine what will serve the child's best interest. An evaluator, who's often a social worker, interviews and observes the parents and child, and may visit each parent's home. They write a report recommending a parenting arrangement. If the case goes to trial, either parent can ask the evaluator to testify.

By agreement, parents can hire a private evaluator. In this case, it's up to the parents whether to release the report.

Step 6: Attend a triage conference

A triage conference is essentially a mediation session with a judge. Both parents must attend. The conference is typically held in person but may be held by phone or video call.

If there's an agreement, the judge can draw up an order. The process jumps to Step 9.

If there's no agreement, the judge schedules a case conference.

Step 7: Go to your case conference

Your first case conference typically happens less than 30 days after your triage conference.

The case conference is an opportunity for the court to check in. For example, if a custody assessment is in progress, how is it going?

The case conference judge will try to help you negotiate a temporary or final agreement and can write up an order if you reach one.

If there's no agreement, they will set dates for your trial, generally for 14 to 18 months later. You may have other case conferences in the lead-up to a trial.

Step 8: Go to trial

At trial, each side presents their arguments and evidence to the judge, who makes a final decision based on what they've heard.

Forty-five days before the trial, both parents must file a Trial Readiness Certificate (Word download). If you do not, you may face penalties from the court.

Trials involve witnesses and exhibits. Witnesses testify to their firsthand knowledge of events to back up or refute a parent's claims. Parents are often the only witnesses. Exhibits are things like documents, videos and photos that back up a parent's claims.

Trial is typically scheduled for four days but can be shorter or longer. The judge often gives their decision on the same day that both sides rest their cases. Otherwise, it may take one or two weeks to get a verdict.

Step 9: Get a final order

A final order lays out the agreed-upon or court-determined terms of your parenting arrangement or divorce. A judge's signature makes it official.

If you reach an agreement, you or your lawyer will draft an order for the judge to sign. If a judge makes the decision, they may ask you or your lawyer to incorporate it into a final order using the Standard Clauses in Family Court Proceedings.

You may appeal if you take issue with the judge's decision. You have 30 days.

After getting a divorce judgment, you can get a divorce certificate, which you'll need if you want to remarry.

Throughout your case

During the court process, you may need to create a parenting plan, draft parenting time schedules, keep a log of interactions with the other parent and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place.

With customizable parenting calendars, a parenting plan template, a digital journal and more, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to parenting in two households.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

Our professional sources

The following professionals helped us understand Manitoba family law and may be able to help you, too.

Gilmour Braul Hiebert
Loren Braul
Altona, MB

Boudreau Law
Scott Entz
Winnipeg, MB

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