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What to expect at a case conference

By Angela Princewill

It is often nerve-racking and overwhelming in the days leading up to a case conference. As such, it is important to have some essential knowledge of where you meet your lawyer/where to go, what can happen at a case conference and what happens after it is done. You will find useful information all about your upcoming court date in this document.

Where should you meet your lawyer?

Firstly, it is important to understand beforehand where to meet your lawyer on the day of the case conference to ease any confusion or delay. You will be able to meet your lawyer on the given day at the prescribed courthouse (150 Bond St. E., 393 University Ave., or alternative) you will be able to attain information on the main level in regard to the exact courtroom on that day and your lawyer will meet you outside the prescribed courtroom.

Please arrive roughly a half hour before the given time of the case conference to ensure time for parking, attaining specific courtroom information, and check in. Your lawyer will arrive at least 15 minutes prior to start time.

What is a case conference?

The case conference is the most important step in family law litigation. No motion may be heard and no notice of motion may be served until a case conference dealing with the substantive issues in the case has been completed. Unless there is a situation of urgency or hardship or a case conference is not required for some other reason in the interest of justice.

A case conference held is to allow the litigants and their lawyers to hear a judge’s views on the case at an early stage before thousands of dollars are spent on motions and other expensive steps. Early airing of the issues promotes early resolution of disputes.

Goals of a case conference:

a) Exploring the chances of settling the case:

A case conference allows the parties to understand how far apart they are on the major issues. Central to this is a judge who is willing to explain how he or she sees the law applying to the facts of the case, including any particularly unusual or difficult facts and the way such facts might be perceived at a motion or trial. Often the case conference judge elaborates on a particular point of law, either clarifying or changing one of the client’s previously held views, with the hope of bringing the parties closer to settlement than before.

b) Identifying the issues in dispute:

Sometimes after a thorough discussion with the judge, the parties realize that what they previously thought was an impassable issue is resolvable. It is also possible that what was once taken for granted as not being in dispute may turn out to be very contentious. A case conference will also entail a frank discussion of the costs and benefits of settling or proceeding, legal fees, stress on the parties, and time commitments involved.

c) Exploring ways to resolve disputed issues:

A case conference judge proposes realistic and achievable solutions that are acceptable to both parties and is able to reframe an issue so the parties see it and their role in a new light, paving the way for settlement.

d) Ensuring relevant financial disclosure is made:

One of the most crucial functions a case conference judge performs is ensuring that full and complete financial disclosure is exchanged. Without it, a lawyer is unable to properly advise his or her client, which makes settlement impossible.

e) Identifying issues for “expert” evidence:

Since there are very strict rules as to what constitutes an expert and when expert reports need to be served, early identification of any issues relating to experts or proposed experts a party intends to rely on at trial should be discussed.

f) Noting admissions that may simplify the case:

Judges who are good listeners can often get the parties and their lawyers to talk openly about their true underlying motivations, not just their stated legal positions, and can help identify common interests that tend to generate settlement.

g) Setting the date for the next step in the case:

The judge should discuss whether the case conference has been “completed” as required by r. 14(4) of the Family Law Rules (FLR) and, if so, whether a motion or a settlement conference will follow.

h) If possible, having the parties agree to a specific timetable:

Disclosure orders with specific deadlines are vital. If the conference is held before the respondent files an answer, a deadline for its filing should be made. Any amended materials, pension valuations, or home appraisals will all require dates for production and exchange.

i) Organizing a settlement conference or holding one if appropriate:

Usually if the parties agree, a settlement conference date is booked.

A judge must conduct at least one case conference in every case where an answer is filed (r. 17(1)) (FLR). In a child protection case, a case conference may be conducted if a party requests it or if the court considers it appropriate (r. 17(1.1)) (FLR). A case conference is even required for a motion to change an order or agreement under R. 15 (rr. 17(3) and (11)) (FLR).

Orders that can be made at a case conference:

The judge may, if it is “appropriate” to do so:

  • make an order for documentary disclosure (R. 19) (FLR), questioning (R. 20) (FLR), or filing of summaries of argument on a motion, set the times for events in the case, or give directions for the next step(s) in the case;
  • make an order requiring the parties or one of them to attend a mandatory information program, a conference conducted by Dispute Resolution Officer, an intake meeting with a court-affiliated mediation service, or a program offered through any other available community service or resource;
  • make an order if it is on consent or unopposed; and
  • on consent refer any issue for alternative dispute resolution.

In addition, if notice has been served, a court may make a final or temporary order at a case conference:

  • relating to the designation of beneficiaries under a policy of life insurance, RRSP, trust, pension, annuity, or similar instrument;
  • preserving assets, either generally or particularly;
  • prohibiting the concealment or destruction of documents or property;
  • requiring an accounting of funds under the control of one of the parties;
  • preserving the health and medical insurance coverage for one of the parties and the children;
  • continuing the payment of periodic amounts required to preserve an asset or a benefit to one of the parties and children.

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