The Divorce Process
The MIP, or Mandatory Information Program, is intended as a first step for family court parties who have contested issues. It is a two-hour session that provides attendees with information about the family court system and process, local community resources and programs, common issues facing family law litigants, alternatives to litigation, and the effects of separation and divorce on the parties and their children. In general, the MIP helps encourage parties to settle where possible. The session usually takes place in the same court in which the application was filed. Both spouses must attend their MIP sessions before the matter can come before a judge, but the parties do not attend the MIP session together—it is not a mediation session. You and your partner will be given separate MIP dates.
For some cases at the Superior Court, and all cases at the Ontario Court of Justice, a first court date, or first appearance, is a required next step. Your first appearance will be scheduled when you (or the other party) file your application. The clerk will schedule the date and note it on the application. The first appearance is a purely administrative meeting; you and the other party and your lawyers will typically meet with a clerk (it is rare to go before a judge for this appearance), who will ensure that all relevant documents have been filed with the court and served on the other party. The clerk can then schedule the first case conference. In some jurisdictions, the parties can waive the first appearance, if they mutually agree to do so, by filling out a specified form. In other jurisdictions, your lawyer can attend your first appearance on your behalf.
A settlement conference can be scheduled at the request of either party, and is a required next step if parties are unable to agree on issues at the case conference. A settlement conference is similar to a case conference in many respects. The parties and the judge will again attempt to narrow issues and/or resolve issues that can be resolved or settled without a trial. However, the judge will be more focused on determining what attempts the parties have made to settle thus far in the process, and will be more aggressive in offering opinions on the issues at hand, and how those issues might play out if the matter goes to trial. Prior to the conference, each party is required to submit a settlement conference brief that includes a proposal for settling the matter completely. If the case is to proceed to trial, the parties and the judge will estimate the time needed for the trial, and schedule one. At that time a trial management conference will also be scheduled.
Trial management conferences focus on issues that will be proceeding to trial. The judge will likely try again to assist the parties in settling, but otherwise will seek to ensure the trial is as focused and expeditious as possible, and that both parties are aware of what evidence the other party will bring. At the trial management conference each party must indicate what witnesses they will call, how they will present their case, and how much time they anticipate needing at each stage. If a trial date has not already been scheduled, that will be done at the trial management conference.
In a motion for a temporary order, the moving party brings one or more issues in a case before a judge and asks for temporary relief, such as interim spousal or child support, to last until a final order is made. A motion can be brought at any time in the proceeding, provided the subject matter of the motion has been discussed at a case conference. (If the matter is urgent, it may be possible to bring your motion without a case conference first.)
All the previous steps in your case have been designed to encourage settlement, and it is therefore very unlikely that your matter will proceed to trial. (Trials occur in less than 5% of cases.) Trials are very expensive for litigants and typically last for several days. If you are at the point in your case where it seems that all potential methods for resolution have been exhausted, and you have not yet retained a lawyer, it would be wise to do so at this point. A lawyer, coming to the matter with extensive experience, as well as a fresh perspective, may be able to help resolve your matter and prevent a trial at this stage. You should avoid the cost, time and emotional harm of a trial if at all possible.
As previously stated, one of the goals of the family law system is to encourage resolution between the parties wherever possible. Offers to Settle, governed by Rule 18, are one way in which parties are encouraged resolve their issues. At any point in the process it is possible for either party to serve on the other party an Offer to Settle. Offers must be signed.
Every item that you file with the court must also be “served” on (delivered to) the other party. The same is true for everything the other side files: copies will be served on you. This ensures that both of you are aware of the case you have to meet, and of what evidence will be brought. There are very specific rules for how to serve the other party, because the court must ensure that service has taken place.
A limitation period is the maximum length of time for making a claim under a provincial or federal statute or rule. There are several limitation periods applicable to family law procedures, and prudent clients should be aware of upcoming deadlines.
If you proceed with a matter without the support of a lawyer, you will be responsible for ensuring that all documents are filed, answered and served within the requisite period of time. While not an exhaustive list, some important deadlines are listed below.