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What Is A Conference in Family Court Proceedings

By Morrison Williams Family Law | November 24, 2022
Front of a Courthouse

Conferences – Part of a Family Court Series

This blog will help answer some questions asked by clients when they meet with one of our family law lawyers who have been scheduled to attend a court appearance referred to as a Conference. The issues addressed within this blog include:

  1. What is a Conference?
  2. What happens at a Conference?
  3. Are there different types of Conferences in family law? 
  4. What forms do I need to complete for a Conference?
  5. What is the timeline to serve and file conference materials?
  6. What Orders can be made by a Court at a Conference?

What Is A Family Court Conference? / What Happens At A Family Court Conference?

There are many misconceptions of the court process when clients meet with one of our lawyers for the first time.  Many persons believe that after the service and filing of an Application and an Answer, the Court will determine the issues in dispute on a final basis when the parties attend Court for the first time before a Judge. 

This, however, is a very inaccurate picture of the court process which is composed of multiple court appearances.  If parties are expecting that a trial will be necessary to resolve the issues in dispute, they can expect to attend, at least, three Conferences prior to the commencement of their trial.  Given the significant backlog, parties can expect to be in the litigation process for far greater than one year after the filing of their pleadings (i.e. Application or Answer). 

A Conference in family law is a formal court appearance before a judge where the issues are canvassed and procedural Orders can be made.  With very few exceptions, no substantive Orders can be made at a Conference (i.e. orders pertaining to parenting time, decision-making responsibility, property division, spousal support, etc.) unless such Orders are on consent (i.e. both parties agree to the terms being Ordered).  To that end, a Conference differs substantially from a Motion in family law as a judge can make Orders on substantive issues at a Motion.

Are There Different Types of Conferences In Family Law?

Parties who are unable to settle their matter throughout the litigation process will attend the following conferences:

  1. Case Conference;
  2. Settlement Conference; and
  3. Trial Management Conference.

Previously, parties could expect to attend multiple Case Conferences or Settlement Conferences which prolonged the duration of the litigation process.  To that end, recent Practice Directions of the Superior Court of Ontario have specified that parties will generally only attend one of each “type” of Conference in an effort to progress matters more efficiently towards a final resolution. 

It is also important to keep in mind the following:

  1. In certain circumstances, a Court may Order to combine two of the above Conferences into one appearance.  
  2. Matters that are proceeding to trial may be scheduled to attend a “Pre-trial Settlement Conference”.  Courts found these appearances to be effective at leading the parties to a resolution of some or all of the issues being decided at trial.  This is because as they are scheduled days prior to the commencement of the trial and, at this point, the parties will be aware of the evidence being called, the strengths of the other party’s position and the weaknesses in their position. 

What Forms Must Be Completed For A Conference

Prior to attending a Conference, parties must serve and file, at least, the following materials:

  1. A Conference Brief (which varies depending on the type of Conference);
  2. An updated Financial Statement (or Affidavit affirming that there have been no changes in that parties financial circumstances); and
  3. An updated Certificate of Financial Disclosure.

In addition to the above, each party has an obligation to confirm their attendance at the Conference by submitting a Confirmation of Conference (Form 17F) not later than 2 p.m. three business days before the Conference date.

Timeline To Serve And File Conference Materials

According to the Family Law Rules, the party who scheduled the Conference must serve and file their documents for the conference not later than six days before the date of the scheduled conference.  The other party must serve and file their material not later than four days before the Conference. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What orders Can Be Made By A Court At A Conference?

As noted above, Courts can make procedural Orders at a Conference but will not make substantive Orders unless both parties agree to the Orders being made.  Orders that may be made by a Court at a Conference include, but are not limited to:

  1. An Order for document disclosure by a party (this can include disclosure regarding a specific issue such as a party’s income, medical disclosure, job search efforts, a party’s assets or liabilities, police incident reports, etc.);
  2. An Order granting leave to question;
  3. An Order for the timing of specific events (whether it be a court appearance or the exchange of certain court documents such as Requests for Information);
  4. Directions for the next step or steps in a Case;
  5. An Order pertaining to expert opinion evidence, including:
    1. Engagement of an expert by one or more parties;
    1. Use of expert opinion evidence; or
    1. The provision, service or filing of experts’ reports; and
  6. If notice has been provided, temporary Orders to facilitate the preservation of the rights of the parties until further Agreement or Court Order (such as an Order preserving assets, prohibiting the destruction of documents/property, preserving health and medical insurance coverage, continuing payment of periodic amounts to preserve an asset such as life insurance).
  7. An Order for costs of the Conference, if appropriate.

If a Conference has been scheduled in your family law, reach out to Morrison Williams to schedule a consultation with one of our lawyers to:

  1. understand the issues that you or your former spouse/partner are asking the Court to decide;
  2. be aware of the documents and deadlines for your specific Conference; and
  3. to understand the next steps in your matter. 

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