It is always good to familiarize yourself with the trial process and protocols before your trial date. This includes when to arrive, how to behave and what will happen once the trial starts.

Arrive early

You should arrive at least 30 minutes early at the courthouse on the day of your trial.

When you arrive, look for the name of your case or court file number on that day’s list of cases to be heard. The list is usually posted near the entrance to the courthouse or outside each courtroom. If you cannot find the list, ask the court staff for help.

You should check in with the clerk when you find your courtroom. If court is already in session, wait to talk to the clerk until there is a break in the session.

How to behave in court

Generally, when going to court you should:

  • turn off your cell phone and all electronic devices
  • stand up when the judge enters or leaves the courtroom and when you are speaking to the judge
  • refer to the judge as “Your Honour” or “Justice” and ask the judge for permission to speak before you begin speaking
  • always speak directly to the judge, not to the other party (except if you are questioning the other party as a witness during trial)
  • pay careful attention to what is being said (you can take notes while you are in court)
  • give the court registrar (who sits near the judge) any documents you wish to give to the judge

Generally, when court is in session, you should not:

  • interrupt other people except to object to an inappropriate question, where you must:
    • stand up and wait for the judge to ask you to speak
    • state the reason for your objection
    • let the other part respond and wait for the judge to decide whether your objection is valid
  • make faces or gestures when you disagree with something that another person says during trial
  • argue with the other party or the judge
  • eat food, chew gum or drink other beverages--only water is allowed in the courtroom

During the trial

Opening statements

You and the other party in your case will have to give the judge a short overview of what you are each requesting and what your evidence will be to support your request. These are called opening statements.

The applicant (the person who started the case) goes first. The respondent then gives their opening statement.

Presenting evidence

After the opening statements, the parties present their evidence to the judge to support their claims.

Before the trial, you should have prepared a list of questions that you plan to ask each of your witnesses. This will help make sure that you don’t forget to ask about something important regarding your side of the story that you want the witness to speak to.

The applicant’s witnesses go first. The applicant will ask their witnesses questions to try to get information that supports the applicant’s claims (this is called the examination-in-chief). After the applicant finishes questioning their witness, the respondent has a turn to ask questions to the applicant’s witness (this is called cross-examination). Once a witness has finished giving their testimony, the next witness can be called and this process starts again for each witness (examination-in-chief, then cross-examination) until all of the witnesses called by the applicant have testified.

After the applicant’s witnesses are done being questioned, it is the respondent’s turn to call their witnesses. Similarly, the respondent will ask their witnesses questions to try to get information that supports the respondent’s claims (again, the examination-in-chief). After the respondent finishes questioning each of their witnesses, the applicant has a turn to ask questions to the respondent’s witnesses (again, cross-examination). Once a witness has finished giving their testimony, the next witness can be called and this process starts again for each witness (examination-in-chief, then cross-examination) until all of the witnesses called by the respondent have testified.

After both parties have questioned all of the respondent’s witnesses, the applicant can submit reply evidence that relates to any new issue that was raised during the testimony by the respondent’s witnesses. This cannot include evidence that should have been submitted when the applicant’s witnesses were testifying.

Closing statements

After all the evidence has been presented, you and the other party will summarize your evidence and the applicable laws to explain what you think the judge’s order should be at the end of the trial. These are called closing statements.

The judge may ask you to give your closing statements verbally or in writing. If you give your closing statement verbally, the applicant will go first and then the respondent.

The judge’s decision

After closing statements, the judge may be ready to make a decision right away about the issues in your case.

If the judge does not make a decision right away, they may reserve the decision to a later date. This means that they need time to review the evidence that was presented at trial. You may have to return for another court date to hear the judge’s decision or you will be notified of the decision in writing when it is available.

You must do what the judge says in the court order, even if you do not agree with it.


After you receive the judge’s decision, you may be required to pay the other party’s legal costs for the trial and previous steps in your case. Alternatively, the other party may be required to pay your legal costs.

There is a general presumption that the successful party is allowed to have their legal costs paid by the other party. Please keep in mind that you and the other party may have been successful in different ways. In these situations, the court may divide the costs, which means you both have to pay each other for different legal expenses.

You might have to explain why you are asking for costs either verbally or in writing and give the judge a summary of your legal expenses. The judge will make a decision about who gets their costs paid by considering a number of factors, such as:

  • how reasonable each party was during the case
  • any offers to settle that the parties made
  • how complex the issues were in your case

See Rules 17, 18, and 24 of the Family Law Rules for information on costs.