In the majority of Family Court proceedings, the case conference is the first time the parties will appear before a judge.  As a result, some people feel pretty nervous going in to it – they may not really know what to expect.  Hopefully this overview will provide some general and practical information …. and help calm some nerves at the same time.

The first step is to prepare a case conference brief.  This is a signed document that must be served and filed in advance of the court date so that everyone knows what issues are on the table  and so that the judge can read it ahead of time.   A confirmation must also be filed a couple of days prior to the court date  so that the court knows which matters are actually going to go ahead that day.

On the day of the case conference, you should be punctual as you may have to proceed at the time when your conference is scheduled.  That being said, you should also be prepared for a wait.  It is possible to arrive at court for a 9:30 a.m. case conference and, as a result of many different factors, not leave court until after 5:00 p.m. (It is a good idea to bring a book or some other kind of distraction … maybe a snack … for periods when there may be a lull in the activity). 

In terms of the actual case conference, it is essentially a meeting.  The parties and their lawyers need to be present at the meeting and a judge will control and direct a discussion about the issues in the case.  The goal is to explore the chances of settling some or all of the issues by agreement and to resolve the issues that can be settled by way of a court order made on consent.  The judge will give his or her recommendations about the issues and that gives the parties the valuable opportunity of hearing a judge’s preliminary opinion early on in the proceeding.

For any issues that remain in dispute, the judge will give direction so that a plan is established for the next steps in the case.  An important aspect of that plan is to ensure that there is a proper exchange of documents between the parties so that both sides of the dispute have the information that will be required to ultimately resolve the matter.

The case conference is held in a courtroom (in our jurisdiction anyway) but, unless the parties agree or a judge gives permission for others to be present, only the parties and their lawyers will attend the meeting.  Bringing a friend or a family member for support is perfectly fine but the supporters will generally have to stay outside of the courtroom during the conference.

A judge at a case conference is able to make orders in certain circumstances.  Most commonly a case conference judge makes an order with the parties’ agreement.  The judge is also able to make procedural orders (setting deadlines for the exchange of documents, etc.) and even some substantive orders in appropriate circumstances provided the party asking for the order has served notice of the request on the other party.

After the case conference (unless the matter is resolved) the parties are expected to follow through with the plan that was developed.  That means that you provide the disclosure you are required to provide in accordance with the deadlines that you have been given and you get as organized as possible for the next event  – that could be another case conference, a settlement conference, or a motion.

A case conference is one step, of what could be many in a Family Court Proceeding.  Take a deep breath, realize that it is an attendance that is required by the Rules, make the most of it in terms of listening to the information and direction that is being provided, and  …  try to keep the nerves at bay.