Overview of a trial

A judge may order your case to go to trial if you and the other party can’t resolve the issues.

When you go to trial in family court, this means you and the other party have to appear in front of a judge and present evidence to support your claims. At the end of the trial, the judge makes a court order telling you both what you have to do about the issues in your case.

See Rule 23 of the Family Law Rules for more information on how to prepare for your trial and present evidence at trial.

Avoiding a trial

Trials cost significant time and money. They can also be very stressful for you and your family. If you have children, it can be difficult to parent together after going through a trial. Remember when you go to trial, it will be a third party that will make important final decisions about your family’s lives. For example, the judge may decide where your children live, when and where you can see your children, for how long and at certain times of the year. These decisions will be set out in a court order, which may not be easy to change without returning to court again. A party who does not comply with the terms of the order can face serious legal consequences.

For these reasons, it’s usually a good idea to take all reasonable steps to avoid a trial and for you and the other party to make your own decisions about your family’s lives and your future. Most family law cases are resolved without having to go to trial, but a small percentage must go to trial for a resolution.

Representing yourself

Although you can represent yourself in court, you should speak to a lawyer who can help you understand:

  • your options
  • the steps that make the most sense in your case
  • your rights and responsibilities
  • the legal consequences of your decisions

Learn more on how to find a lawyer and what you need to know when representing yourself in court

Offers to settle

You can make an offer to settle to the other party at any time during your court case. An offer to settle says what you are willing to agree to in order to resolve your case. Your offer to settle should be clear, reasonable, and fair. Offers to settle can help you come to an agreement with the other party and they can also be used to request that the other party pay your legal costs.

You can’t show your offer to settle or tell details about the offer to settle to the trial judge until after they’ve made their decision.

See Rule 18 and Rule 24 of the Family Law Rules for more information on offers to settle.

Steps in a trial

There are a few steps you should follow when going to trial.

Step 1: scheduling the Trial

If a judge orders that a trial is required for your case, the judge or the court clerk will set the trial date.

A trial may take less than one day, multiple days or weeks, depending on multiple factors such as the complexity of the issues, the amount of evidence to be presented by the parties and the availability of counsel and court schedules.

If you need an interpreter or any special arrangement because of a disability, ask for these well in advance of your trial date. You can speak with any court staff or the Accessibility Coordinator at the courthouse about what you need.

Learn more about court interpreters.

Step 2: preparing your trial record

A trial record is a set of documents that is prepared to make sure everyone involved in the trial has all the information they need. This is different than the Continuing Record. You cannot use the Continuing Record at trial instead of a trial record.

The applicant

If you are the applicant who started the case, you must:

  1. prepare the trial record for the case
  2. serve the trial record on all parties in your case at least 20 calendar days before the trial or trial sitting (the period of time available for the court to schedule a trial) starts, whichever starts first
  3. file the trial record with the court at least 20 calendar days before the trial or trial sitting starts, whichever starts first

The trial record must include:

  • a table of contents that lists all the documents in the trial record
  • a copy of the application that you filed with the court to start your case (Form 8 or Form 8A)
  • a copy of the respondent’s answer (Form 10), which is the document that the other party filed with the court in response to your application
  • any reply that you filed to the other party’s answer (Form 10A)
  • any agreed statement of facts
  • any assessment reports that the court ordered or that you and the other party agreed to have prepared (usually completed by a mental health worker, a social worker or a psychologist)
  • any report from the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL)
    • sometimes the court needs independent information about a child’s needs, wishes and interests and asks the OCL to help
    • clinicians who work for the OCL can prepare reports for the court and help lawyers who are representing children
  • any temporary order from a judge about a matter that has not been resolved on a final basis (for example, a temporary order for child support)
  • any order about the trial (for example, an order from a judge giving permission for a witness to give evidence in writing rather than attending the trial in person)
  • the relevant parts of any transcript you intend to refer to at trial (for example, if the judge allowed you to question the other party on an affidavit they provided)
    • family court staff can help you get a transcript for your trial record
  • your completed Trial Scheduling Endorsement Form, if your case is in the Superior Court of Justice or the Family Court Branch of the Superior Court of Justice

If it is relevant to an issue at trial, you will also need the most recent version of your and the other party’s:

Learn about updating your financial disclosure documents.

The respondent

If you did not start the case (in other words, if you are the respondent), you do not have to prepare a trial record. The other party will serve the trial record on you at least 20 calendar days before the trial or trial sitting starts, whichever is first. Once you’ve received the trial record, you can add any documents that you think are missing and update the table of contents. Any documents you add to the trial record must be served and filed at least seven calendar days before the start of the trial.

See Rule 23 of the Family Law Rules to learn more about preparing a trial record.

Step 3: preparing your evidence

Generally, your evidence that you present to the judge at trial will be documents or witnesses. All evidence that you present at trial must be relevant to an issue in your case (for example, you may choose to submit pay stubs as evidence to help prove how much money you earn, which can be relevant to child support).


Documents submitted as evidence at trial are called exhibits and must be originals, not copies. You can submit a document as evidence at trial when you are:

  • acting as a witness and you speak about the document
  • questioning a witness who can speak about the document

Copies of any document that you want to submit as evidence at trial must be given to the other party before trial starts. It is best if you prepare a package of all the documents that you plan to submit at trial, which is called a document brief. You and the other party should share document briefs well in advance of your trial.


You may want to ask a witness to help you tell your side of the case in a trial. The witness can only give evidence about what they know and not what other people have told them.

Learn more about witnesses.

Step 4: attending the trial

Judges make decisions about family cases, which means your case won’t have a jury. However, trials are usually open to the public, which means other people may be present in the courtroom to observe your trial.

If you need a closed hearing, you can ask the judge to make an order at a conference or by filing a motion before your trial. The judge will decide whether or not to grant your request to exclude everyone else except the parties from the courtroom during the trial.

Learn more about what to expect when attending the trial.