Collaborative Family Law, Alternatives to Court

There is no one size fits all approach to family law, divorce or legal separation in Ontario. The lawyers at Morgan and Phillips LLP will provide you with direction and advice based on your unique situation. We invite you to contact us for to discuss which avenue to divorce or separation is appropriate for you.  The avenue you choose may include one of the following:

Collaborative Family Law

Separating couples all around the globe have started turning to Collaborative Family Law to resolve their family law issues out of court.  They have found that by using Collaborative Family Law their attention and energy is directed to discussing concerns in a respectful and amicable atmosphere and away from laying blame.  The parties and their lawyers meet to discuss concerns and brainstorm possible solutions.  Collaborative Family Law recognizes that separation and divorce are not just legal matters and encourages a separating couple to engage the services of other professionals such as therapists, social workers, divorce coaches and financial advisors if necessary.  The goal of Collaborative Family Law is to minimize stress and reduce conflict so that a separating couple can work together to create a mutually acceptable agreement that is customized to their particular situation.  The parties and their lawyers are bound by certain rules and undertakings including an agreement to use Collaborative Family Law and not to go to court.

Family Mediation

In Ontario, a separating couple can agree to retain or hire a mediator who is often a senior family law lawyer, social worker, psychologist or retired judge who acts as a neutral or unbiased third party to assist them in negotiating a separation agreement.  It is important that the mediator is qualified or certified as a Family Mediator as not all mediators are qualified to handle family law matters.  A Family Mediator’s role is to facilitate communication between the spouses to ensure that each person has clearly communicated his or her position and underlying concerns on key issues so that the spouses may discuss and negotiate the terms of an agreement. Mediation is a voluntary process that can be a cost effective way of negotiating an agreement.

Family Arbitration

A separating couple can decide to resolve their issues via Arbitration which is similar to court in that a binding decision is made by a decision maker.  Arbitration differs from court in that it is a voluntary process that must be agreed to by both parties.  A qualified or certified Arbitrator would hear the position of both parties, review documents put forth by both parties (if applicable), and, then make a binding decision.  If a separating couple is able to agree on a number of issues but have difficulty agreeing on one or two remaining issues, Arbitration may be a more cost effective way of reaching an agreement than court.  Please keep in mind that an Arbitrator cannot order a divorce as a divorce can only be ordered in court by a judge.

Mediation/Arbitration

If a separating couple  is concerned that agreement may not be reached through mediation alone, they can elect to resolve their issues using a hybrid of mediation and arbitration with a senior family law lawyer, social worker, psychologist or retired judge who is a qualified or certified as both a Family Mediator and a Family Arbitrator.  The Mediator/Arbitrator would try to mediate the issues so that the underlying concerns and positions of the parties could be expressed to try to facilitate an agreement on key issues.  If the parties are not able to reach an agreement through mediation, the Mediator/Arbitrator would arbitrate a decision for them.  The decision of the Mediator/Arbitrator would be binding on the parties and would be capable of being turned into a court order.

Negotiation

At any time, whether in the court system or not, a separating couple can try to negotiate their differences at a settlement meeting with their lawyers.  If the parties agree on all of the key issues, a comprehensive separation agreement can be drafted and then signed.  If the parties can only agree on some of the key issues a partial agreement can be drafted and signed, if this is in a client’s best interest.

Court

While Collaborative Family Law and other Alternatives to Court are often quite effective in resulting in a comprehensive separation agreement, there are situations where these alternatives to court are either ineffective or not appropriate. If the road to court is the correct avenue for you we will assist you and advocate on your behalf to ensure that your interests are protected.   A typical court process can have several steps including:

  • Step 1 – The Application
  • Step 2 – The Answer
  • Step 3  – The Reply
  • Step 4 – Case Conference
  • Step 5 – Settlement Conference
  • Step 6 – Trial Management Conference
  • Step 7 – Trial

There are other steps that may be necessary including Motions to obtain interim support, access or other relief, questioning and a child custody and access assessment.  If you have been served with a court proceeding, the lawyers at Morgan and Phillips LLP will provide you with the direction and advice you need to guide you through the court process.