The Usual Steps in Resolving a Family Law Separation

The resolution of most separations in family law typically starts with an exchange of information between the two lawyers for the parties and is then followed by negotiations toward an agreement that settles the various issues. The major issues usually fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Custody of children,
  • Access to children,
  • Child support,
  • Spousal support,
  • Division of (or claims about) property, and
  • Divorce.

All of these issues, except divorce, may be resolved by agreement. If an agreement is reached (normally called a separation agreement), then divorce becomes more of an administrative matter and court appearances are not usually necessary. The divorce can often be obtained simply by filing and serving court documents and affidavits.

Issues of support and property division almost always require an extensive exchange of financial information, and each party is usually required to complete a comprehensive financial statement showing income, living expenses, all assets together with their value, and all liabilities. As a general rule, resolving any financial issue in the context of a separation requires that both parties make complete disclosure of their financial circumstances. In fact, the failure to disclose a significant asset or liability provides grounds on which a court may consider a separation agreement (or certain provisions therein) to be invalid or unenforceable.

If negotiation of an agreement is unsuccessful—or if the negotiations reach a deadlock—then it may be necessary to commence formal litigation. Speaking generally, formal litigation of a family law matter will usually involve some or all of the following steps:

  • Preparation and filing of pleadings (Application or Answer, together with comprehensive financial disclosure);
  • Attendance at a Mandatory Information Program;
  • Case Conference;
  • Motions for interim relief (such as stabilizing child access arrangements or preventing the concealment of assets);
  • Settlement Conference;
  • Trial Scheduling Conference;
  • Assignment Court;
  • Trial; and
  • Post-trial enforcement of judgment.

The vast majority of family law court cases resolve without going to trial, and while the litigation is ongoing the parties (through their lawyers) will typically continue to engage in parallel settlement discussions with the goal of resolving matters, reducing the overall cost, and avoiding the inherent uncertainty of having the matter decided by a judge.

If you would like to discuss a family law matter with us, please feel free to contact us by email using our contact page or by phone at 613-531-3032.