Alternatives to Family Court in Ontario

Alternative dispute resolution processes (also called ADR or family dispute resolution processes) are ways to agree on a parenting plan and avoid court intervention.

They best suit parents who are on somewhat amicable terms. ADR methods are not recommended if one parent fears the other or if there are serious mental illness or drug abuse issues.

If you've already opened a court case, you'll need to motion the court to pause your case while you try one of the processes below. A motion is also needed to make any agreements you reach into a parenting order.

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Court-connected mediation

A mediator guides parents in a conversation to help them agree on decision-making responsibility and parenting time. In court-connected mediation, the mediator has a contract with the Ministry of the Attorney General. This means that they charge less than most private mediators, but it also means their schedules fill up quickly.

You can use court mediation even if you don't have a court case open. The mediator does not share information with the court (unless the parents agree otherwise).

Private mediation

A private mediator (who's usually a lawyer or social worker) works independently rather than with the court.

Private mediation costs vary, possibly reaching a few thousand dollars per parent.

You can find a private practice mediator through groups like:

After parents sign an agreement to mediate, they meet with the mediator together to see if they can reach a compromise.

Agreeing — whether on all issues (full agreement) or some issues (partial agreement) — usually takes multiple meetings. Then the mediator writes the terms into a Mediation Summary Report or a Memorandum of Understanding.

If any issue remain unresolved, parents have the option to try another ADR method or go to court.

Family arbitration

Family arbitration is similar to a trial in that decisions are made for parents based on arguments and evidence they present. However, some parents prefer it to trial because you don't have to wait for a trial date and can schedule around your availability.

Arbitrators are specially-trained legal professionals like lawyers and retired judges. They can make decisions regarding spousal and child support, decision-making responsibility, parenting time and property division but cannot grant a divorce or declare whether someone is a child's parent (e.g., paternity).

Their decisions are only legally enforceable when the arbitrator complies with the relevant laws.

You can find a certified family arbitrator online through the ADR Institute of Ontario. Arbitrators aren't regulated in Ontario.

To begin proceedings, each parent must get a lawyer's advice and sign an arbitration agreement.

During the arbitration, each person presents evidence to show why they should get what they're asking for. Then the arbitrator makes a decision. The process usually just takes a day.

The arbitrator's decision is called an award. In certain circumstances, you can appeal an arbitration award. You can also enforce the arbitration award if the other parent isn't following its terms.

Arbitration is expensive. In addition to the arbitrator's fee, you have to pay for legal advice, a rented room where the arbitration hearing takes place and (optionally) for someone to write a transcript of the hearing. Parents can agree how to split costs or let the arbitrator decide.


In mediation-arbitration, parents start with private mediation, and then an arbitrator decides any issues they fail to agree on. You might take this route to avoid the trouble of going through another ADR process.

Each parent must get independent legal advice before they can participate. Then, they sign an agreement for mediation-arbitration.

The mediator and arbitrator can be the same person or different people. The latter option is more expensive, but some parents choose it because they don't want the arbitration award to be influenced by what was discussed in mediation.

Collaborative family law

In collaborative family law, parents work with a team of professionals to try to reach an agreement. Each parent must have a lawyer, who is like a coach in the process and makes sure things are fair for their client. Financial specialists and social workers can also take part. You can find collaborative professionals online.

You sign a participation agreement to begin the process. Depending on the agreement's terms, you might not be able to use your lawyer if the process fails and you go to trial. The agreement also includes:

  • How parents will exchange information
  • Terms for confidentiality to prevent parents from using information against each other
  • How the separation agreement will be prepared and validated so that it's legally enforceable
  • The next steps to take if the process is unsuccessful

Parents have joint meetings with the collaborative team until they come to an agreement or realize that they won't be able to.

Collaborative family law is expensive since there are multiple people to pay. Costs can reach several thousand dollars. Parents decide how to split the costs.

Tips for alternative dispute resolution processes

  • Be respectful.
  • Use "I" instead of "you" statements.
  • Avoid using destructive language.
  • Be mindful of how conflict can harm your child.
  • Think of your parenting agreement as a compromise.
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Speak up if you have questions or concerns.
  • Do not view the other parent as an enemy. Think about how your child sees him or her.
  • Listen to the other parent's concerns.

Preparing for alternative dispute resolution sessions

Preparation is as important when you decide decision-making responsibility and parenting time through an alternative method as when you decide them in a courtroom.

You'll still be trying to convince someone — the other parent or an arbitrator.

A proposed parenting plan with a parenting time schedule presents your argument persuasively. You may also want to present messages exchanged with the other parent, a log of important interactions with the other parent, your child's expenses, and more.

The Custody X Change online app lets you create all of this in one place.

It has:

Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared to get what's best for your child through any method of deciding parenting arrangements.

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