Alternative dispute resolution is an alternative to the standard dispute resolution form of going to court and includes the options for parties to negotiate, mediate, or arbitrate their dispute. In Ontario, you can also take part in mediation-arbitration (sometimes referred to as med-arb) and collaborative family law. Alternative dispute resolution has many benefits and can be particularly useful in family law scenarios where the parties wish to amicably resolve their issues without the intervention of a court. Whether you have a dispute over property division, support payments, or parenting plans, an alternative path to resolving your dispute might be suitable for you.

What Type of Alternative Dispute Resolution is Right For You?

There are many types of dispute resolution. All vary in their approaches but have many benefits. Some benefits of alternative dispute resolution over court are flexibility, control, personal satisfaction, lower costs, less time commitment, and confidentiality. Further, alternative dispute resolution can allow parties to address the root cause of their issues, help the parties maintain their relationships, and lead to a lasting agreement. The Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (the “Institute”) is a useful resource in understanding the various methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution available to parties involved in family disputes across the province.


Negotiation is a common form of alternative dispute resolution. The Institute describes negotiation as two or more parties communicating and making decisions together. The Institute explains that the people involved in the dispute can determine the process, and the dispute ends with a binding contract.


Mediation is similar to negotiation, but instead, it utilizes help from a neutral third party in order to determine each party’s needs and goals to arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement. The third party acts as a mediator to help facilitate communication and find agreements. Social workers, lawyers, psychologists and other professionals can be mediators if they meet certain requirements.

Mediation can save parties from emotional and financial costs and can often be faster than litigating through court. The Institute also highlights that the details of your dispute remain private in mediation, whereas, in court, they are public. In mediation, the Institute describes the final outcome as a legally or morally binding agreement for both parties.


Arbitration contains several similarities to mediation, but the role of the third party is much more involved. The third party will act as a decision-maker whose decision is final and binding on the parties, with courts having the ability to enforce such a decision. Arbitration has several of the same benefits as mediation, but stands out due to the parties’ ability to choose an arbitrator who is an expert in their particular area of contention.

Typically lawyers who specialize in certain areas of law will act as arbitrators within those areas.


Mediation-arbitration, which is sometimes referred to as med-arb, is another option for parties in a dispute. Mediation-arbitration is a combination of both mediation and arbitration, where parties will start by meeting with a mediator to work out a solution to their dispute. If the parties are unsuccessful and cannot find a resolution, they can move on to arbitration with the mediator often acting as arbitrator (particularly in family law) as an alternative option to try to resolve their dispute.

How Alternative Dispute Resolution Works in Ontario Family Law

While the Ontario Government requires mandatory mediation for some legal issues in certain jurisdictions, family law is not one of them. However, mediation is an option which is often utilized in family law proceedings.

What Matters Can Alternative Dispute Resolution Help With?

When working with family law issues, mediation can help resolve several common family law issues, such as spousal or child support payments, property issues, parenting time or decision-making responsibility for a child. When considering arbitration, an arbitrator can make decisions about property, support payments, parenting time or decision-making responsibility for a child. An arbitrator cannot, however, grant a divorce.

Ontario also allows for parties to use collaborative family law as a method of alternative dispute resolution. Collaborative family law allows parties and their lawyers to work together to reach an agreement without proceeding to court. While parties are not prohibited from proceeding through litigation if the collaborative family process does not work out, both parties must hire a different lawyer for the court process.

Courts encourage parties to seek out legal advice before starting alternative dispute resolution, particularly before parties attend family mediation so that each side has a comprehensive understanding of their rights and obligations under the applicable legal principles and legislation.

Contact Boulby Weinberg LLP in Toronto for Advice on Alternative Dispute Resolution in Family Law Matters

Are you looking for an alternative to going to court for your family law concern? The skilled family lawyers at Boubly Weinberg LLP can assist with several forms of alternative or traditional dispute resolution for family law issues. Our team is here to help with negotiation and agreement drafting, mediation, arbitrations, and trials. To arrange a consultation, please complete our online questionnaire or contact us by phone at 647-494-0113 ext. 102.