Litigation (Court Proceedings)

For most couples, going to court is the last resort. People who have their family law issues settled by court order are rarely satisfied with the results.

In some cases, litigation is inevitable, particularly when one of the parties is unwilling to negotiate in good faith in a timely manner. In those cases, going to court can be helpful, since the judge can impose sanctions on a party who is not co-operating or is being dishonest.

 However, litigation is expensive, time-consuming, and can make an already volatile situation even worse. The family’s fate is decided by a stranger who does not understand the family as well as the parties do, who is pressed for time, and who is constrained by the applicable laws in the types of orders he or she can make.

Family court judges certainly do their best, but it is a difficult job, and some of the best family judges have encouraged people to try alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes to avoid having to go to court. In fact, Justice Harvey Brownstone, an Ontario family court judge, wrote a whole book on the topic: Tug of War (A Judge’s Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles, and the Bitter Realities of Family Court), which is published by ECW Press.

Process Diagram

One or both Parties consult with lawyers.

One party starts a court proceeding. The other party is served with the Application and has to file an Answer.

The Parties and their lawyers file various documents and attend various court appearances, following the Family Court Rules.

The Judge makes a final decision (or several decisions) on the issues, which may include a costs award.

Note: The Parties are free to settle using another dispute resolution option before the judge makes a decision.


Here you will find links to articles to help explain the issues and options around family law.

Separation agreement paves path to well-structured divorce


By Jennifer Brown, Senior Editor Couples might be tempted to skip the separation agreement when they split, but it is an essential first step […]

Separation agreement not the final word on spousal support


By Staff A separation agreement is not always the final word on spousal support, says St. Catharines family lawyer and mediator Sharon Silbert. In a […]