What is a case conference in my family case and what happens at one?

1. Figure out if you need a case conference date

Combined conferences

In March 2021, new rules took effect to encourage the use of (ADR) or family dispute resolution processes. These rules say that if it's suitable, you and your partner must think about using ADR to resolve your issues out of court. It might not be an option in situations where:

  • a person is afraid of their partner because there's a history of
  • there are serious mental health or drug abuse issues

ADR is voluntary. So, even though you must think about trying it, you cannot be forced to use it.

ADR can be tried before going to court or any time after a court case is started. Every family court in Ontario offers subsidized mediation services.

From August 1, 2021, if you and your partner have tried family mediation, a judge can allow you to move directly to a combined and settlement conference. A judge can only do this when you and your partner have:

Because you have already discussed your issues and shared financial statements, you can skip the case conference steps of the family court process. You can go to a combined case and where the focus is on trying to settle the issues you don't agree on. You will need to fill out the forms required for a settlement conference.

If the judge hasn't already combined the conferences, you or your partner can ask for this by bringing a Form 14B: Motion.

And depending on when you tried , you may also be able to skip your first court date or meeting with a Dispute Resolution Officer.

Get a case conference date

If you don't have a combined conference, you or your partner have to get a date for your case conference.

You usually get the date for your case conference at your first court date.

You have a first court date if your case is at the:

  • Ontario Court of Justice
  • Family Court Branch of the Superior Court of Justice, unless you're also asking for a or to divide property

Cases at the Superior Court of Justice don't have a first court date.

If your case doesn't have a first court date, you or your partner have to ask the at the courthouse to schedule a case conference for your case to move forward.

The court clerk gives you a date for your case conference and signs Form 17: Conference Notice. You must this on your partner. There is a guide on how to serve documents.

Dispute resolution officers

Some locations of the Superior Court of Justice and Family Court Branch of the Superior Court of Justice have dispute resolution officers (DRO). They are not judges but are experienced family law lawyers trained to help people resolve their issues.

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