You prepared your family law application for custody and access of your children. You issued and served your paperwork. You completed your Mandatory Information Program. You attended at your first appearance. And you now have a Case Conference coming up. This is it! It is your chance to get in front of a Judge and convince his or her Honour of your slam-dunk of a case! It’s your chance you can get the result that you are looking for… or is it?
If you are approaching a scheduled case conference, it is extremely important to know what the purpose of this court date. You must also know what will happen on that date. This way, you can manage expectations and prepare accordingly.
What a Case Conference is
A case conference is an appearance in open court. A Judge presides on the conference. You will get the opportunity to discuss the issues in your case with his or her Honour. It is a great opportunity for you to canvass all issues and get the judicial input as to the merits of your case.
If a lawyer represents you, they will attend the case conference with you. He or she will advocate on your behalf. However, you must know that the Judge presiding over the case conference may ask you to speak. Only you can speak personally about particular issues affecting your case. This is the case even if a counsel represents you.
The purposes of a case conference are set out in Rule 17(4) of the Family Law Rules and are to:
- explore the chances of settling the case;
- identify the issues that are in dispute and those that are not in dispute;
- explore ways to resolve the issues that are in dispute;
- ensure disclosure of the relevant evidence;
- identify any issues relating to any expert evidence or reports on which the parties intend to rely at trial;
- note admissions that may simply the case;
- set the date for the next step in the case;
- set a specific timetable to take steps in the case before it comes to trial;
- organize a settlement conference or holding one if appropriate; and
- give directions with respect to any intended motion. This includes the preparation of a specific timetable for the exchange of materials for the motion. It also includes ordering the filing of summaries of argument, if appropriate.
A case conference is not only an opportunity to get judicial input on the probable outcome. It also gives you and the opposing party the chance to determine any live issues. Here you can identify any issues that you can settle, either temporarily or finally. However, you should be careful about any agreements that are made at a case conference. They will become court orders and are enforceable at law.
For self-represented litigants, a case conference is also a chance to determine whether you qualify for legal assistance from duty counsel. If not, it’s a chance to see whether your Court has any “for hire” lawyers that can provide you with day-of legal advice and representation (link to Amanda’s SLC blog post).
What a Case Conference is NOT
Though you will be canvassing the issues that are in dispute in your matter at your case conference, a Case Conference is not a trial or a motion. The Judge presiding over the case conference cannot make any substantive orders in your case that are not on consent by both parties.
What this means is that if you and the other party in your matter do not agree on a temporary or final settlement of any substantive issue, the Judge cannot impose a settlement upon you.
The presiding Judge can, however, make a non-consensual procedural order in your case. An example of this would be to order that a party provide financial disclosure to the other side.
Just because a case conference is not a trial does not mean that is any less of a court appearance. You must be respectful of your case conference Judge at all times. Your Judge is not going to make any substantive orders in your case, but his or her Honour’s opinion matters. Their opinion will provide you will vital information that will either help or hurt you in negotiating a settlement. As such, you must prepare to advocate for your position, or better yet hire a lawyer to do so for you.
How to prepare for your Case Conference
Attending a Case Conference is not as simple as just showing up. You must prepare, serve, and file a court document prior to your conference date.
Specifically, rule 17(13) of the Family Law Rules mandates that you must serve and file a case conference brief, i.e., a Form 17. Rule 17(13.1) states that service and filing of said brief must take place no later than seven days before the date scheduled for the conference.
Case Conference briefs are very important court documents. Your Judge will read the briefs prior to your court appearance. They may, based on the strength of your brief, have an opinion as to the merits of your case before your conference even begins. As such, it is important that your case conference brief is drafted effectively and to the point.
You should also ensure that you have child care available for your children, both daycare and after school care. You will not be the only Case Conference on the court’s docket for that day. It is not unusual to wait hours before getting your opportunity to get in front of a Judge. In some rare cases you may not be heard at all. Be prepared for this. Be sure to arrange care for your children and take the day off of work, if necessary. Though Court typically ends by 5:00pm each day, there is no guarantee that Court will not stay open later than expected.
If you have initiated family law proceedings and are looking for representation at your case conference, please contact Chapman Law at 705-719-2200 or email Amanda Chapman or Jessica Mor directly to arrange a consultation.