In Ontario, most separating parents are able to resolve disagreements over decision-making responsibility (formerly known as custody) and parenting time (formerly known as access) outside of court.
One of the most popular alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes in Ontario is mediation.
Knowing these five traits unique to mediation in the province of Ontario could help you determine whether the process is right for you.
All parents who want to resolve matters amicably are welcome to try court-connected family mediation — even if they don’t apply for a parenting order. Attending mediation before you open case could save you time and money; you won’t waste either on litigation.
By law, legal professionals and courts must mention mediation as a possible way to handle custody disagreements. However, a judge cannot order parents to attend. The belief is that the process is more likely to succeed if parents go voluntarily.
Court-connected mediation has an eight-hour time limit, with the first two hours dedicated to the intake and screening process. The mediator may be willing to tack on more time if they believe parents are making meaningful progress. Beyond that, parents have to go to either private mediation, a different ADR process or court to resolve their differences.
If you do reach an agreement in mediation, the mediator writes your terms into a document called a Mediation Summary Agreement or a Memorandum of Understanding. Most parents walk away with this and trust one another to follow the terms. Those who want a court order can either hire a lawyer to write the terms into a consent order or draft their own Ontario parenting plan to submit to the court.
Parents who choose private mediation can use mediation-arbitration, a hybrid of two ADR processes. If mediation is unsuccessful, parents go to arbitration, where an arbitrator (who might be the same person as the mediator) makes a final decision based on evidence the parents present.