Court Cases & Orders

The Top Five Things NOT to Expect from Family Court


The Top Five Things NOT to Expect from Family Court

This week, I wanted to briefly dispel some of the common misconceptions about what happens in Ontario Family Court – and in particular, what NOT to expect from the legal process.

1) Don’t expect to have your legal matter heard immediately.  

There may be great benefit to having matters adjudicated promptly and to having the parties’ affairs quickly wound up – especially in acrimonious family litigation, where emotions run high.  However, the Ontario legal system is saturated with unavoidable delays.    Litigants can expect to wait many months or even years to have their matters finally resolved, and this will be exacerbated when one or both parties take a highly adversarial stance in the litigation, injecting numerous interim motions and other steps which may prolong the process even further.  

Remember:  even at the best of times, the legal process takes time.  

2) Don’t expect to have your matter decided right away, either.

Unless there is an emergency situation (for example in cases where there is an urgent motion brought in connection with the custody or care of any children of the marriage), decisions of the court will not be made immediately at the hearing.

Rather, after hearing the parties, the court may take some additional days or weeks to render a decision, and to produce formal written reasons where necessary.

3) Don’t expect any hand-holding by the Judge.  

Generally speaking, it is always best to have competent legal representation when attending Family Court.   Although the Ontario justice systems does allow for litigants to be self-represented, the decision to go this route is fraught with inherent risks and pitfalls.  True, a court may be a little more understanding and patient with those litigants who choose to represent themselves, but the court has no positive obligation to do so, and certainly is not obliged to step in and help such a party conduct his or her side of the litigation, to give instruction on the relevant legal principles, or to help develop a litigation strategy.

4) Don’t expect TV-grade courtroom drama.

For those who have no regular exposure to the legal system, there may be common misconceptions about how that system works, usually formed from watching movies and television.   However, the truth is that in Ontario (and in virtually all jurisdictions), the real-life court process simply does not involve high-drama tactics such as lawyers brow-beating witnesses during abusive cross-examinations, or dramatic last-minute courtroom entrances with “surprise” witnesses who save the day for the underdog litigant.  

In reality, the court process is well-established, plodding, and rigorously-defined:  it involves certain procedural steps and requirements, strict adherence to laws and civil practice rules, .and sometimes tedious documentary review and other processes.

5) Don’t expect everything to go your way  

The resolution of family law disputes is complex, and involves not only the application of established legal principles and laws, but also the consideration of facts and various interests of the affected parties.  (For example, where there are children involved, the best interests of the child will generally govern the court’s determination).  

Therefore – as with all litigation – the outcome of any family law matter can go one of many different ways, and is not always solely dependent on the sheer strength of the parties’ respective legal positions in the technical sense.  

This may come as a particular surprise to those spouses whose temperament is of the “all-or-nothing” variety, and who have dug in their heels to insist the matter be resolved by a court rather than through alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or arbitration.  For such people, the eventual court-imposed outcome is not always to their liking.  This is always the risk that has to be taken when going to court.

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at



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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.