Court-Connected Custody Mediation in Ontario
Mediation helps parents settle decision-making responsibility (formerly known as custody) and parenting time (formerly known as access) without going to trial. The mediator guides a conversation to help them reach an agreement.
You can choose to use private mediation or court-connected mediation. Court-connected mediation can be the more cost-effective option, but you might choose private mediation if you'd like sessions to happen on your own timetable. You can use the court's mediation services even without applying for a parenting order.
In Ontario, the court cannot order parents to attend mediation, but lawyers and judges are required by law to mention alternatives to court like mediation.
Mediation is closed (i.e., private and confidential) unless the participants agree otherwise. Neither parent can take any of the information they learn in mediation to court. However, if the mediator has concerns about the child's safety, they will share relevant information with authorities.
Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.
Length of court-connected mediation
The amount of time you'll spend in mediation varies, but court-connected mediation cannot exceed eight hours total. If you reach the eight-hour limit, you'll have to transfer to private mediation or give up (or try to negotiate additional time with your mediator).
At any point, the mediator can stop the mediation process if boundaries are breached or either parent is being abusive or disrespectful.
Cost of court-connected mediation
The first two hours of the mediation process are free. This usually covers the time it takes for intake and screening. Beyond that, an income-based mediation fee applies. Costs can be as little as $5 an hour.
The Ministry of the Attorney General contracts with a mediation provider in each town.
Once both parents agree to participate, your local provider will review your application and assign a mediator based on the issues at hand.
Mediators are specially-trained lawyers, social workers or psychologists who must meet certain standards set by the court. They don't make decisions for the parents, take sides or give legal advice.
Intake and screening
Once assigned, the mediator will reach out to each parent to set a time to speak with them one-on-one for screening. They'll ask questions to rule out any power imbalance or safety risk.
Cases that involve domestic violence are eligible for mediation so long as the participant feels safe and the mediator determines it won't cause duress to or endanger the victim.
Signing the agreement to mediate
Mediation can only begin after both parents sign the mediation agreement. Among other things, it covers:
- Whether mediation will be open or closed
- The issues mediation will cover
- A schedule of the mediation sessions
- How costs will be paid
Mediators want parents to have a solid legal understanding of the mediation agreement. For this reason, they advise the participants to seek independent legal advice (advice from a lawyer who works for no other party in the case) before signing, though it is not required.
Parents must also exchange financial information before mediation can begin. You can fill out a financial statement and share it with the other parent or create a spreadsheet that shows your income, property, assets and debts. Providing false information could result in the court deciding the process was not fair.
The mediation session
In recent times, mediation sessions have taken place via phone or video conference. In the near future, the court may switch to a mix of virtual and in-person sessions at the courthouse or mediator's office.
During a session, the mediator and parents gather to discuss what each parent wants and why. You can make a parenting plan to illustrate your ideal arrangement. The mediator facilitates the conversation to keep things peaceful and tries to get the parties to eventually reach an agreement.
If the parents do agree, the mediator writes up a Mediation Summary Report (MSR) that details all the decisions made. The mediator sends it to each parent to review. If you have concerns, you can ask the mediator to make changes. The MSR is not an official agreement, and its terms need to be written into another document to become enforceable.
If you have a lawyer, you could ask them to write these terms into a separation agreement (or a similar document called a minutes of settlement) and attach a parenting plan. You could even just have a parenting plan if the terms of your agreement are only about parenting. Otherwise, you can create these documents yourself. The Custody X Change parenting plan template guides you through the process of drawing up your plan.
If you have an active court case, you can submit these documents to the court to get an order, or you can withdraw your application if you no longer want a court order. Even if you don't have a court case, you may register your separation agreement with the court to enforce any child support agreements within.
You are also free to leave your signed agreement as a private contract between the two of you.
Tips for successful mediation
- Keep the focus on what's best for your child.
- Don't talk over the other parent or the mediator.
- Remain calm.
- Keep an open mind.
- Don't feel pressured to reach an agreement.
- Consult with a legal professional before and during mediation.
- Be assertive about the terms you do and don't want.
Tools for court-connected mediation
If mediation goes well, you could walk out with a parenting plan that will last until your child becomes an adult. Are you ready?
The Custody X Change app enables you to create all these items in one place.
Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared not only for mediation but for every step of your journey to parenting apart.
For more information
Mediation procedures in Ontario vary by jurisdiction and are subject to change. To get the most up-to-date information on procedures in your family court, contact your local mediation service provider or check Ontario's guide to family mediation.