6.1 Court Overview


You might not have been able to reach an agreement and are now faced with starting court processes. This chapter and other information in this course will help.

Mediator’s Tip:

You can still use mediation after you’ve started the court process. 

Mediators, family justice counsellors, collaborative lawyer and other professionals are trained to help resolve family disputes.

Be open to different ways to resolve your dispute. See Chapter 4:  Who Can Help.

While you are learning about court processes, keep in mind that about 50% of separation and divorces involve going to  court , but only 6% end up going to trial. At a trial a judge makes final decisions about your case. But before trial, there can be court appearances for temporary orders or informal meetings called family case conferences. Consider each step as a new opportunity to come to an agreement.

Starting a court process does not mean that you will end up going to trial. Take the opportunities for you and your former spouse to be able to settle without going to court. All complex negotiations involve some give and take by both parties. As you learn more about going to court, keep an open mind and consider options for coming to an agreement.

Self-Rep's Tip:

“Going to court was awful. It was non-stop stress.  We should have settled. I feel like I lost a year of my life.”

If you’re able to settle out of court, you’ll save time and money. Plus, you will avoid a great deal of stress. Going to court will help to resolve the differences between you and your former spouse. But it’s a tool that should be used as a last resort.


What to Expect?

As discussed in Chapter 1, setting out expectations is an important step while going through your s eparation. We’ve discussed

Lawyer’s Tip:

The best way to get an understanding of what to expect is by going to the court and watching. See an application be presented. Watch a  trial, and speak to someone who is representing themselves.

expectations about the process in general, but here’s what to expect when going to court.

  • Time Consuming- In most cases, you will not be able to make an application one day and get an order the next day. Court processes can take a long time to reach a final outcome. Expect to come to court multiple times. The more complex and adversarial your case is the more time you will spend in court.
  • Emotional – The court process can get very adversarial and is emotionally draining. Managing Your Emotions will be key to getting through the court process. Refer back to Chapter 3 for more information.
  • Stressful – You will feel frustrated and strained at times, so remember to take time to de-stress.  Review Taking Care of Yourself in section 1.6
  • Different Judge – It is unlikely that you will be before the same judge every time you go to court. Unless a judge decides that he or she is going to hear your case every time you appear in court (called the judge becoming “seized” of your case), there’s no way to be sure the judge that heard you last time will be the one that hears you this time. If there’s a new judge, don’t expect them to know everything about your case, they may need a summary of your case so far. 
  • Judge’s Questions- A judge will ask you specific questions to get a better understanding of your case. Try to answer as best you can.

You’ll learn more about how to behave at court and what to expect when in the courtroom in Chapter 10.

Court is where conflicts are settled every day. It’s a very formal place with very specific rules. If you’re going to court, you need to be prepared.

The next few chapters will inform you of the laws and legal procedures as well as to equip you with the legal skills necessary to succeed at court. First it’s important to get a handle on your own case. You need to know what issues are important to your case. This will help you focus your energy and time. Writing down what you agree on and what you don’t agree on is the first step in preparing your case. Take a moment to fill in the Key Issues Worksheet before proceeding.  This worksheet is the first step to organizing your court case. It will help you determine what areas to focus on in your legal research and legal writing. You will also use it later when you are building your case.