Mediation is an alternative to going to court. Find out if family mediation is right for you and find a mediator.
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Mediation is a negotiation between two individuals, with someone’s help.
If you and the other person cannot agree on separation or divorce issues, you can try to reach an agreement out of court through family mediation.
Mediation can be faster, cheaper, and more private than going to court.
In mediation, a neutral third party, known as a mediator, can help you communicate with each other and reach an agreement on issues, such as:
- support payments
- dividing property
- parenting time or decision-making responsibility in respect of children
You can try mediation:
- to avoid going to court
- before you start a court case
- any time during a court case
Mediators do not:
- take sides
- make decisions
- give legal advice
Mediators can be:
- social workers
- other professionals
For mediation to work, you need to:
- be willing to try to work out a solution with the other person
- feel safe meeting with the other person to talk about the issues
- be able to talk about your needs and listen to the other person’s concerns
Mediation and legal advice
A mediator does not take the place of a lawyer.
You should get independent legal advice before and throughout the mediation process to understand your rights and obligations.
If you and the other person come to an agreement, you should both get advice from different lawyers before signing the agreement to make sure that it is legally binding.
Your lawyer can also be involved in your mediation but does not have to go to mediation with you.
You can find a lawyer experienced in family law through the Lawyer Referral Service of the Law Society of Ontario.
Find a mediator
If you agree to mediate to help reach an agreement, you will need to agree on the mediator.
When choosing a mediator, it is important to find a mediator who is a good fit for everyone. Choose someone who has:
- experience with family law issues
- training related to your issues
- professional experience, for example, law, social work, education or psychology
To find a mediator, you can:
- contact a family mediation service provider at any family court in Ontario. Court-connected mediation is delivered by Service Providers under contract with the Ministry of the Attorney General. Mediation services may be in-person or virtual. On-site mediation is a free mediation service available to parties on the day their matter is scheduled for court. Off-site mediation is available at any time for a fee. User fees for off-site mediation may be charged by Service Providers to clients on a sliding scale based on their income and number of dependents. Service Providers may also reduce or waive user fees depending upon individual circumstances.
- contact a private practice mediator who may charge you a fee. You can find one in your community through organizations such as:
Community groups and counselling organizations may also provide family mediation services.
In Ontario, family mediators who provide court connected services must meet minimum qualifications, which include:
- 60 hours of family mediation training
- 21 hours of intimate partner violence education or training, including screening for intimate partner violence
Mediators also need one of following:
- family mediator certification or accreditation by the ADR Institute of Ontario, Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario, Family Mediation Canada or Ontario Association for Family Mediation
- university degree and 10 years experience in the human services field, such as alternative dispute resolution, social work or psychology and:
- 100 hours supervised mediation work experience
- supervised mediation of five family law cases to agreement
- 21 hours each of family law and family relations education
- law degree and membership with the Law Society of Ontario and:
- 10 years practice experience, with five years of focus on family law
- mediation of 25 family law cases to agreement
- 21 hours of family relations education
- master level degree in psychology, social work, mediation, or conflict resolution and:
- 10 years practice in their field with five years focus on relationship breakdown, separation or divorce
- mediation of 25 family law cases to agreement
- 21 hours of family law education
Types of mediation
There are two different types of mediation. You can decide what type you would like to use at the beginning of the process.
In an open mediation, if you go to court, the mediation process will not be private. You, the other person and the mediator will be able to discuss what happened during the mediation and all the documents can be shared in court.
In a closed mediation, the mediation is private and confidential. Discussions and documents from mediation cannot be shared in court. There are some limited exceptions where the mediator can share information, for example, where there are concerns over the safety of a child.
Mediation is closed unless both parties agree that the mediation will be open.
Going through mediation
You can choose to enter mediation at any time before or during your court proceeding.
Step 1: Intake and screening
Once you agree to mediate and choose a mediator, the mediator will see you and the other person separately for intake and screening.
This step is to make sure that both of you are in an equal negotiating position. The mediator conducts screening during the intake stage and throughout the mediation process to ensure the ongoing safety of the persons entering mediation.
Step 2: Agreement to mediate
At this step, you will enter into an agreement to mediate which will set out the details of your mediation, such as:
- whether your mediation is open or closed
- which issues you will mediate
- which information you will disclose, and how
- schedule of mediation
- financial arrangements for mediation
You and the other person must sign the agreement to mediate before you begin mediation. Make sure you read the agreement before you sign it. You may also want to review this agreement with a lawyer before you sign it.
Step 3: Share your financial information
Before you enter mediation, you and the other person should exchange financial information so the process is fair. Your mediator can help you decide what information you need to share. This usually includes information about:
Step 4: Mediation
When you begin mediation, you and the other person will meet with the mediator to explain both sides of your issue.
Family mediation sessions take place when everyone is available. The length of time and number of sessions will depend upon many factors, such as:
- number and type of issues
- level of conflict among the participants
- degree of communication and cooperation
Over the course of the session, your mediator can help you and the other person reach an agreement. They will put what you have agreed to in a document. To make it legally binding, you should each get advice from different lawyers before signing the document.
The mediator does not take the place of a lawyer. It is very important to speak to a lawyer so that you know about:
- your legal rights and obligations
- how the law may impact the issues you are hoping to mediate
Get help paying for a mediator
On-site mediation is a free mediation service available to parties on the day their matter is scheduled for court.
Off-site, virtual mediation delivered by Service Providers under contract with the Ministry of the Attorney General is available at any time for a fee. User fees for off-site mediation may be charged to clients on a scale based on their income and number of dependents. For example, if you make less than $60,000 a year, you would pay between $5 and $105 each hour for mediation, depending on how many people you are financially responsible for.
Service Providers may also reduce or waive user fees depending upon individual circumstances.
If you or the other person have low income, you may be eligible for free mediation services through Legal Aid Ontario.
You and the other person can also try to resolve your issues through mediation-arbitration.
In mediation-arbitration, you and the other person will first meet with a mediator who will help you try to reach an agreement on your issues. If mediation is unsuccessful, an arbitrator will decide your issues.
Arbitration results are legally binding, which means the court can enforce them. Like mediation, arbitration is a voluntary process. You and the other person must both agree to participate in this process.
Collaborative family law
Collaborative family law is where you and the other person with the help of your own lawyers try to reach an agreement about your family issues. You and the other person as well as your lawyers must agree not to go to court. If you can’t come to an agreement, you can still go to court, but you will need to hire a different lawyer.
Collaborative family law it is different from the family mediation process. In mediation, a neutral professional will assist you and the other person to reach an agreement. The mediator does not represent either of you.
The Ontario Association of Collaborative Professionals maintains a list of legal professionals who practice collaborative family law.