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The court process

NOTE: August 2021 – See our guide, Family Court Operations, for information on current court operations.

The process in a family law case can seem very complicated, especially if you do not have a lawyer to represent you.

alarm clockThe length of time a case will take depends on how the process unfolds and your specific situation. For example, if you and your ex-partner both have lawyers, the case may move along more efficiently.

If your ex-partner engages in legal bullying, the case will slow down. It will move more quickly if the two of you are able to agree on at least some of the issues you need to resolve.

Timelines will also depend on where you live, because some courts are much more overcrowded with cases than others and some are open for limited hours.

A family court case unfolds in a series of steps, which may lead to a trial. Very few cases in family court – less than five percent – get to a trial. One of the reasons for this is that at each step of the process, you will have a number of options, one of which is to settle your family law issues with your ex-partner without going any further in the formal process. Working out the issues this way is sometimes called alternative dispute resolution. (Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution.)

It can take a very long time to sort out the issues that come up when two people separate. This is especially true when there has been abuse. If your ex-partner was abusive to you, he is likely to use the court process to maintain his power and control over you. This is called legal bullying.

Expect that it will take some time – months or even more than a year – to sort out complicated and emotional issues like arrangements for the children and financial matters. You will feel less frustrated by your case if you go into it anticipating a long process. If it goes more quickly, it will be a pleasant surprise.