Families Change Parent Guide to Separation & Divorce

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What if we don’t agree on the amount of child support?

If you cannot come to an agreement on your own, the following services may be able to help you:​

  • Mediation (free and for a fee)
  • Arbitration
  • Collaborative family law services (for a fee)

If even after trying these services you still can’t reach an agreement, you will have to go to court.


In mediation, you and your former partner? will work with someone who is specially trained to help you reach an agreement. A mediator will:

  • Provide a neutral place for you and your former partner to meet
  • Help define the issues you need to resolve
  • Keep the discussions on track
  • Help you maintain a working relationship with the other parent

A mediator will not make decisions for you, but can help you and the other parent communicate with each other about all of the issues involved in your separation. Both parents also have to agree to mediation for it to work.

Mediation gives you more control over what happens. It allows for more creative and flexible arrangements that suit your particular circumstances. If you go to court, the judge will decide for you, using the limited range of options available under a court order.

People who use mediation are usually more satisfied with the outcome than those who don’t. This means they are more likely to follow the terms of the agreement.

It is informal and private. While a lawyer can attend mediation with you, there is usually no one else there but you, the other parent, and the mediator. No one else has to know the details of your agreement.

Subsidized mediation services are available at each family court location in Ontario. Up to 8 hours of mediation is available for a fee that is based on each person’s income. If you are in court, up to 2 hours of on-site mediation may be available free of charge.

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has services to help people who mostly agree with what should happen after they separate. These are:

  • Family Mediation Program: These mediation services are free if you or your partner’s income is low enough. These mediators can help with issues of custody, access, parenting plans, travel and vacation plans, parent communication, and child support.
  • Separation Agreements Program: These separation agreement services are free if you or your partner’s income is low enough. LAO covers the cost of up to 10 hours with a family lawyer to help draft a separation agreement.
  • Independent Legal Advice: This service provides up to 6 hours of independent legal advice if you’re a mediation client and if you or your partner’s income is low enough. You can get advice from a lawyer about the mediation process and your legal options, and help with preparing for mediation. The lawyer can also help you get a court order to enforce the terms of the mediation agreement.

The Ontario Association for Family Mediation and the ADR Institute of Ontario provides a list of accredited family mediators for various locations within Ontario. You can also look in the yellow pages of your local telephone book under "Mediators."

If you have to go to court

It is a lot less stressful if parents can work out a child support agreement on their own, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes court is the only option left available to ensure that children get the financial support they need when their parents separate.

Parents can apply for a child support order in either the Family Court Branch of the Superior Court of Justice, the Superior Court of Justice, or the Ontario Court of Justice – not all courts deal with all issues that arise on the breakdown of a relationship. For example, the Ontario Court of Justice does not deal with divorce and division of property.

You should start your case in the court that deals with the issues you need to resolve in the municipality closest to where your child lived before separation. If you’re not sure which court you should go to, call the family court office in your municipality to ask.

Note: In most cases, you have to go to a Mandatory Information Program (MIP) before your court case can continue. An MIP is an hour long if you don’t have children, and 2 hours if you have children. A lawyer and a mediator speak at every MIP. In the first hour, they give basic information on:

  • Family law
  • The court process
  • The alternatives to court, such as mediation

In the second hour, they talk about how you can help your children cope as you and your partner separate. You also learn about community resources that can help you and your family through this process.

You may be able to take Legal Aid Ontario’s online Family Law Information Program (FLIP) instead of going to an in-person MIP.

The paying parent will be required by the court to provide proof of their present income, together with their recent income tax returns, and other financial documents that may be important. In most cases, such as when the parents are paying for special or extraordinary expenses, or when the parenting arrangement is shared, the receiving parent will also be required to provide financial documents.

The judge will make a child support order based on the Child Support Guidelines. The judge will make a decision about how much child support should be paid, who should pay it, and how often. Parents have to obey court orders.

It is also a good idea to get legal advice before going to court. Some services provide legal help for free or for a small fee.

What if a parent doesn’t pay child support?

The Ontario Family Responsibility Office (FRO) is a service established by the provincial government to help parents receive their child support payments.

If you file your order or agreement with FRO, staff at FRO will monitor your child support order and enforce it if payments are late or unpaid. FRO staff will contact the non-paying parent and arrange for payment to be made. There is no cost to enroll and there is no time limit when a parent can file their child support agreement or order.

Some parents enroll in the program because it is easier to have FRO collect payments than it is to do it themselves. For example, the FRO can garnish a paying parent's bank account, suspend driver's licence, and start court proceedings that can result in jail time.

It is better to pay child support when your children need it. If parents don’t pay child support and get behind in their payments (are “in arrears”), their Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan benefits can also be taken (“garnished”) to pay the debt.