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In Family court, you can represent yourself. In 2016, surveys indicate that the number of Self-Represented Litigants in Canada continues to increase, estimating that between 50% and 80% of parties to civil/family actions are self-represented.

Self-represented litigants report difficulty understanding the rules and procedures of filing court documents as well as hearings and trials, leading to an increased need for assistance, repeated returns to court and repeated document filing. Many judges and lawyers report that Self-Represented Litigants fare worse in court than those with representation, despite the extra time and assistance provided to them.

In June 2019, Legal Aid Ontario announced it plans to slash more than $70 million from its budget. This includes funding to Legal Aid Clinics and certificate programs, which means that even more people in the Ontario Family Court system will find themselves self-representing as they will not qualify for Legal Aid and cannot afford to retain a lawyer full-time to represent them.

Madame Justice Annemarie E. Bonkalo completed an extensive Family Court Services Review in December 2016, and made a number of recommendations to the Ministry of the Attorney General, which included focus on unbundled legal services and legal coaching in order to assist self-represented litigants with their family law issues. Making use of legal service providers who may or may not be lawyers to provide coaching support was suggested as a means of improving the experience of unrepresented litigants in the courtroom.

Unbundled legal services means you are hiring a lawyer to handle some parts of your case but not the entire case. Often it is referred to as a “limited scope retainer” for a lawyer.

Legal information includes facts about the law and the legal process. An example of legal information is knowledge of the family court process and steps in the process. A Law Clerk is especially equipped to provide legal information to you.

Legal advice includes making suggestions about the course of action a person should take to further his or her own best interests. When providing legal advice, there is typically more than one option that can be pursued. A practicing family law lawyer is the only person authorized in Ontario to provide you with legal advice relating to your family law issues.

Helpful Links

Here are some helpful links to assist you in navigating the family law process in Ontario.

A Guide to Family Law Cases in the Superior Court of Justice

National Self-Represented Litigants Project

Child Custody and Access in Ontario

Supervised Access in Ontario

Family Justice Services in Ontario

CLEO’s Guided Pathways from Steps to Justice

Ontario Court Forms

CLEO’s Family Law information

Office of the Children’s Lawyer