A Guide to Procedures in Family Court
Ministry of the Attorney General
Created: April 2012
Last Revised: September 1, 2019
This guide does not provide legal advice. It is recommended that all parties seek legal advice where possible.
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ISBN 978-1-4435-8303-9 (Print)
ISBN 978-1-4435-8304-6 (PDF)
There are a number of steps that may be required in most family court cases. These can include a:
Many of these steps encourage you and the other party to try and settle as many issues as possible early in your case, so that you do not have to go to trial. Trials cost time and money. They can also be very stressful for you and your family.
Even after you’ve started a court case, you can talk with the other party or their lawyer at any time and try to resolve your issues (unless there is a court order that prohibits you from communicating).
If you both agree on how to deal with some or all of your issues at any time during your case, you can put what you’ve agreed on in a written agreement (usually called Minutes of Settlement) or you can get a consent order from the court. A consent order is a court order that says what you and the other party agree to.
In most situations, once you file an application to start a case in family court, the court clerk will schedule both you and the other party to attend different free Mandatory Information Program (MIP) sessions.
Rule 8.1 of the Family Law Rules tells you about MIPs.
If you are the applicant, at the time of filing the application you will receive two notices to go to the MIP session – one for you and one for the other party. You are responsible for ensuring that the other party’s MIP notice is served on them along with your application.
If you are the respondent, you will receive notice of your MIP session when you receive notice of the application.
MIP sessions usually take place at the courthouse where the application was filed. The session is an hour long if you don’t have children, and two hours long if you have children.
During the session you’ll learn more about:
Unless you’re exempt, you have to attend a MIP session before your first appearance or case conference, and no later than 45 days after the case is started. If you don’t, the judge can make an order against you for not attending (for example, an order requiring you to pay the other party’s legal costs if you’re delaying the case).
If you can’t attend on the scheduled date, call the number that is listed on your MIP notice to reschedule. You can also ask the court for permission to take the Family Law Information Program (FLIP) instead. This is an online course offered by Legal Aid Ontario, and is based on the content covered in the MIPs. For example, the court may permit you to take the FLIP where you are unable to attend an in-person session due to work commitments.
After you attend the MIP session, the person who conducted the program will provide you with a certificate of attendance. You must file the certificate no later than 2:00 p.m. two days before your first appearance or conference.
You do not have to attend a MIP if:
In some cases, the next step after completing your MIP may be a meeting with a court clerk. This is called a first appearance.
You and the other party meet with a court clerk to make sure that:
When you or the other party start a case with the court, the court clerk will tell you whether you need to have a first appearance before you can move on to a case conference. Generally, you have a first appearance if your case is at the:
If you need to attend a first appearance:
If you do not need to attend a first appearance, either you or the other party needs to ask the clerk to schedule a case conference for the case to proceed. Unlike a first appearance, your case conference is not scheduled automatically.
In most family cases, you must attend at least one conference. Rule 17 of the Family Law Rules tells you what happens at a conference and what you need to do to prepare for one.
There are generally three types of family conferences:
Sometimes a judge decides to combine different conferences into one meeting. Sometimes a judge decides to schedule the same type of conference multiple times.
A conference may be scheduled by you, another party, a judge, or the clerk at a first appearance. You must attend every conference in your case. If you have a lawyer, your lawyer must go to the conference with you.
Each conference is an opportunity for you to resolve all or some of your issues with the other party, which can save you time and costs.
A case conference is usually the first time you and the other party speak to a judge about the issues in your case.
Among other things, you and the other party will meet with a judge to:
If you and the other party haven’t resolved your issues after one or more case conference, the judge may schedule a settlement conference.
During a settlement conference, you and the other party meet with a judge to:
After your settlement conference, you and the other party may have to attend a trial scheduling conference if:
During a trial scheduling conference, you and the other party will meet with a judge to discuss the details of your trial (for example, the amount of time you and the other party will need and any witnesses or other evidence that you will present).
A trial management conference is scheduled when it is likely that you and the other party cannot resolve your issues and your case has to go to trial.
The goal of a trial management conference is to get you and the other party ready for trial and to try one last time to settle your case. During a trial management conference, you and the other party meet with a judge to:
To attend a conference, you need to:
If a conference has not been scheduled and you would like to schedule one, you must:
The court clerk will fill out part of Form 17: Conference Notice, sign and date it, and give you a copy.
If you need an interpreter or any special arrangement because of a disability, ask for special arrangements in advance of your conference date. You can speak with any court staff or the Accessibility Coordinator at the courthouse about what you need.
Learn more about court interpreters.
You can also ask that the conference be held by telephone or videoconference, with the judge’s advance permission.
You can find court forms online or at any family court office.
You can complete the forms on a computer or by hand. Please make sure your handwriting is clear. Court staff can’t complete the forms for you.
You should make at least two photocopies of all your completed forms – one copy for yourself, one copy for the other party, and the original for the court.
If you are preparing for a case conference, you must usually prepare the following forms:
Your case conference brief (Form 17A) will not be included in the Continuing Record of your court file (unless the judge orders otherwise). Your discussions and offers to settle at a case conference are confidential. This means that what you and the other party say can’t be used later as evidence in your case at a motion or trial.
If you are preparing for a settlement conference, you must usually prepare the following forms:
Your settlement conference brief will not be included in the Continuing Record of your court file (unless the judge orders otherwise). Your discussion and offers to settle at a settlement conference are confidential. This means that what you and the other party say can’t be used later as evidence in your case at a motion or trial.
If you are preparing for a trial scheduling conference in the Superior Court of Justice or Family Court Branch of the Superior Court of Justice, you must prepare a Trial Scheduling Endorsement Form.
You and the other party each complete Parts 1 and 2. The court then endorses Part 3. Please note that your trial will not be scheduled until a judge has endorsed this form.
If you are preparing for a trial management conference, you must usually prepare the following forms:
Trial management conference briefs are included in the Continuing Record of your court file. However, your offers to settle are confidential.
If have asked the court for child support, spousal support, or property orders, you had to file a Financial Statement at the beginning of your case to give the court information about your income, expenses, assets, and debts.
If you filed a Financial Statement and it is more than 30 calendar days old, you have to update your financial information by filling out either:
You have to serve the other party and file your updated forms at the court before the case conference or settlement conference date.
You can learn more about updating your Financial Statement in A Guide to Procedures in Family Court, Part 4: Financial Disclosure. You may also refer to Rule 13 of the Family Law Rules.
At any stage in your case, if you realize that a supporting financial document you served or filed is incorrect, incomplete, or out-of-date, you must serve a corrected or updated document on the other party and, where required, file it with the court. For example, if you previously provided a pay stub to the other party but recently lost your job, the pay stub would now be out of date. You must give an updated document to the other party that shows your current income (for example, a social assistance statement).
If you serve a corrected or updated supporting document, you must also serve and file an updated Form 13A: Certificate of Financial Disclosure before or with any settlement conference or trial management conference materials.
You can learn more about updating your financial disclosure in A Guide to Procedures in Family Court, Part 4: Financial Disclosure. You may also refer to Rule 13 of the Family Law Rules.
If you want help filling out the forms and you don’t have a lawyer, you can:
You can find more information about these resources in A Guide to Procedures in Family Court, Part 1: Information Before You Start Your Family Case.
After you fill out all your conference forms, you must:
Your conference forms must be served and filed:
However, if you are attending a settlement conference and you are required to provide Form 13B: Net Family Property Statement, this form must be served and filed 30 calendar days before the conference date.
You can find more information about how to serve documents in A Guide to Procedures in Family Court, Part 6: Serving Documents. You may also refer to Rule 6 in the Family Law Rules.
You and the other party need to confirm with each other and the court that you will attend the conference. You must each:
If you and the other party don’t file your confirmation forms with the court on time, your conference will be cancelled unless the court orders otherwise.
If you file your confirmation form (Form 17F) with the court but then realize it’s incorrect, you must immediately give a corrected confirmation form to the other party and the court clerk before your conference date, if possible.
Your conference will be held at the courthouse, either in a courtroom or in a conference room.
The conference can also be held by telephone or videoconference, with the judge’s advance permission.
You should arrive at the courthouse 30 to 60 minutes before the time your conference is scheduled to begin. This will give you time to find the room where your conference will be and get ready to see the judge. If you don’t have a lawyer, you should try to speak to any available Duty Counsel, who may be able to give you legal assistance. Legal Aid Ontario provides Duty Counsel at certain times in many family courts across Ontario to people who are financially eligible for their services.
In order to find your conference room, look for your name and court file number on the case event list. The list is usually posted on a board near the entrance to the court or outside each courtroom. If you don’t know where to go, ask court staff for help.
You should check in with the clerk when you find your conference room. If court is already in session, wait to talk to the clerk until there is a break in the session.
If you need an interpreter or any special arrangement because of a disability, ask for special arrangements. You can speak with any court staff or the Accessibility Coordinator at the courthouse about what you need.
Most of the discussions at a case conference or settlement conference are confidential or “without prejudice.” This means that your discussions can’t be repeated to others or used later as evidence in your case at a motion or trial. You also can’t order a transcript of the conference without the judge’s permission.
While conferences generally only take up to an hour, in some courts they are scheduled in groups and so you may have to wait for your turn. The judge may give suggestions, ask you and the other party to speak separately outside the conference room to try to resolve your issues based on those suggestions, and then return to see the judge.
During your conference, the judge also might make certain orders, such as: