Mediation services

Ottawa Mediation Program

The Ottawa Mediation Program offers free services to low-income people with family law disputes. To qualify for these services, just one of the ex-partners needs to be eligible in accordance with legal aid criteria.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a process where a trained, impartial professional called a mediator helps you find a solution to your family law dispute through discussion.

Mediation is:

  • an alternative to going to court may help to resolve your case faster
  • a more cooperative process
  • may result in less conflict between you and your ex-partner
  • may lessen stress for you and your children
  • takes place in a private setting.

Who is mediation for?

Our mediation program is generally for people who have separated and don't want to reconcile. They may be adults of any age and may or may not have children.

What issues can be mediated?

  • child support
  • custody of children
  • access to children
  • spousal support
  • property division.

Why should I consider using the Ottawa Mediation Program?

It's voluntary. Mediation sessions will only happen if you both agree to participate and you can leave at any time. Participating in mediation will not usually interfere with your court proceedings. However, if you resolve all of your issues through mediation, the court process may no longer be needed, except to finalize the agreement you have reached.

It's confidential. The Ottawa Mediation Program offers closed mediation services. This means we provide a safe environment for you to propose scenarios without worrying that they will be used as evidence if your matter ends up before the courts. There are, however, some exceptions to the confidentiality, such as anything that indicates that a child or any other person is in danger, activating the legal requirement to disclose information to the Children's Aid Society or the police.

Our mediators may be able to help in cases where there is a history of domestic violence. The Ottawa Mediation Program has a domestic violence protocol (including physical separation, different arrival and departure times, etc.) to ensure safety as well as to maximize comfort level. Our mediators are formally trained in handling these types of matters.

It's flexible. There are several methods we can use to help the discussion, depending on how comfortable you are with the other person and the process. The approach is usually at the mediator's discretion, but your opinions and comfort level are important factors.

It's quick. If both partners are prompt in returning all of the documents they are required to fill out (sent to both of you by the mediation coordinator), the first session could happen within a few weeks.

It's generally less expensive. Since mediation typically requires less of your lawyer's time, it is generally less costly than court.

It can help with managing conflicts. You may even be able to learn techniques that can help you work together to find a solution to your family issues in the future.

How does the program work?

Getting started:

  • Either you or your ex-partner must meet Legal Aid Ontario's financial eligibility criteria. If you are not sure if you are eligible, visit our financial eligibility page or call us and we can help to determine if you qualify.

  • No formal referral is required. While a private family lawyer, a duty counsel lawyer at the courthouse, or a Family Law Information Centre (FLIC), can refer you to us, you can also call us directly to discuss if mediation would be right for you and get the process started.

  • When you call the mediation office, you will speak to a coordinator who will ask questions to get a general understanding of your matter, your financial situation, and to determine if your matter is suitable for mediation.

Preparing for mediation:

  • If you qualify financially, you may be granted a special authorization which allows you to have the services of a lawyer to provide you with free independent legal advice before, during and after the mediation session for a total of up to six hours.

  • You must have a lawyer to participate in the Ottawa mediation program. If you require assistance finding a lawyer, the mediation coordinator or LAO call centre can assist you in finding a lawyer in your area.

  • Our coordinator will send you a mediation package, which will include all of the instructions you need to follow, as well as a list of the documents you are required to provide in order to continue on with the process.

  • Most importantly: Please be sure that you and your ex-partner meet with your respective lawyers to get legal advice before the first mediation session.

  • You also must both have exchanged financial statements (a form will be included in the mediation package for you to fill out) before the first session, otherwise, the mediation may not be able to proceed until the financial statement and supporting documents are provided.

The mediation session:

  • At the beginning of the mediation, you and your ex-partner will be asked to sign an agreement that outlines the rules of mediation. Sessions usually last between three to four hours, but be prepared to attend for the entire day as sometimes things can run longer and if a good flow is achieved, you may wish to continue as long as possible.

  • The first part of the session will involve you, your ex-partner and the mediator only. Your lawyers will join the session later in the day to assist with drafting the agreement and to provide you with independent legal advice so that you fully understand your rights and responsibilities prior to signing any final agreement. (Note: this same-day process is available through the Ottawa Mediation Program and may not be available at other mediation programs in other areas of the province.)

  • During your session, you will be asked to discuss your issues and to work with the mediator and your ex-partner to find solutions. Be clear about your concerns, your needs and what you would like to achieve.

  • Remember to listen carefully and give the other person a chance to speak. The goal of mediation is to solve the problem and reach an agreement.

  • Typically, the mediator will start by meeting with each person briefly individually and then with both people together. With the help of the mediator, the issues are discussed and potential solutions explored with a view to resolution that same day, if possible.

  • Either the mediator or one person can ask to break out into “caucuses” (a meeting between the mediator and one person individually) at any time. Where the mediator feels it is unproductive to have both people meet face-to-face, a “shuttle mediation” system may be used where the ex-partners are in separate rooms and the mediator goes back and forth between them.

  • At the end of the session, if you both have reached an agreement, the mediator will draft a formal written agreement for you and your lawyers to review.

  • If you have not resolved the issue but have made good progress, and you both would like to continue using the mediation program, you can speak to the mediator about scheduling more sessions.

Family law facts

  • Family law matters can cost as much as $20,000 or more for each partner, not to mention the emotional cost and the impact prolonged legal proceedings can have on your family, your health and your employment.

  • More than 90 per cent of family law matters do not make it to trial (source: Statistics Canada). However, there are several costly court proceedings prior to the trial stage and mediation can assist parties in resolving their issues prior to any of these proceedings.


Ottawa Mediation Program-Eastern District
73 Albert Street
Ottawa, ON K1P 1E3
Phone: 613-238-7931, ext. 42
Hours: Please call between 8 a.m. — 4 p.m.