Your First Appearance & Case Conference
Bringing Clarity to the Divorce Process in Ontario
For some cases at the Superior Court, and all cases at the Ontario Court of Justice, a first court date, or first appearance, is a required next step after your MIP session. Your first appearance will be scheduled when you (or the other party) file your application. The clerk will schedule the date and note it on the application. The first appearance is a purely administrative meeting; you and the other party and your lawyers will typically meet with a clerk (it is rare to go before a judge for this appearance), who will ensure that all relevant documents have been filed with the court and served on the other party. The clerk can then schedule the first case conference. In some jurisdictions, the parties can waive the first appearance, if they mutually agree to do so, by filling out a specified form. In other jurisdictions, your lawyer can attend your first appearance on your behalf.
If you have had your first appearance, or if your matter does not require a first appearance, your next step will be a case conference. If one is not already scheduled for you, one of the parties must ask the court staff to schedule the case conference. At the case conference, all parties and their lawyers (if one or both parties has legal representation) must be present. You will meet with a judge, who will discuss with you the issues that remain in dispute, the chances of resolving those issues and settling your case, and whether all necessary information has been disclosed. Each party will be invited to speak and to give their side of the case. The judge will likely then ask follow-up questions of each party, to gain greater understanding of the issues and of each party’s position.
At the case conference, the judge can also make a variety of procedural orders, such as that the parties pursue mediation, or produce certain documents. If the parties are able to agree on the resolution to an issue at a case conference, the judge can also make an order incorporating a resolution agreed upon by the parties. The judge will then set a date for the next step. At all subsequent conferences, you will see the same judge.
Each case can have more than one case conference. You or the other party can request additional case conferences at any time in the process. A case conference is a requirement before either party can bring a motion, because a party can only bring a motion on a matter that has been discussed at a case conference.
Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO) Case Conferences
If your matter is a motion to change and you are appearing in Ontario, your case conference may be conducted by a Dispute Resolution Officer (DRO), as part of the Dispute Resolution Officer Program. The DRO cannot make orders regarding your case or award costs, but he or she will assist the parties in identifying and attempting to resolve their issues, ensuring all relevant documents have been disclosed, and, if the parties are able to agree on resolution to some issues, assisting them in obtaining a consent order from a judge. Following a case conference, you can schedule a subsequent case conference with a judge, or a settlement conference. At the Newmarket court, you are required to have a case conference before a judge before you can schedule a trial.
Scheduling a Case Conference
Rule 17 of the Family Law Rules governs case conferences, settlement conferences, and trial management conferences. To schedule a case conference, you will need:
- Form 17: Conference Notice. This provides the other party with notice of the case conference.
- Form 17A: Case Conference Brief.* This form summarizes the issues in the case and the facts that support your pleadings on those issues. The other party will also file a brief, and the judge will read both parties’ briefs before the case conference. (If you are unsure of your ability to draft a concise and effective conference brief, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer to do so.)
If your financial statement was filed more than 30 days ago, you will also
need to file either:
- Form 14: Affidavit indicating there have been no changes to your financial information;
- A new Form 13 if there have been changes; or
- An affidavit setting out any minor changes, if there have been only minor changes.
- A copy of the continuing record. The party who starts a case must keep a continuing record of the case, which will be the court’s permanent record. See Rule 9 for instructions on creating and maintaining this record.
- Any other supporting documents.
These documents must be served on the other party at least 7 days before the case conference date. If you receive a notice of case conference from the other party, you must file your case conference brief and other supporting documentation at least 4 days before the case conference date.
Two days before the case conference, each party must also file a Form 14C: Confirmation of Case Conference.
Case Conference Preparation & Representation in Ontario
If you are looking for any level of legal representation, guidance, or advice related to your case conference, Feldstein Family Law Group P.C. can help. Because we offer comprehensive and unbundled legal services, our Ontario divorce lawyers can effectively address your specific needs and budgetary concerns.
Call (905) 581-7222 today to schedule a free in-office consultation with one of our lawyers.
*If your case conference is a DRO case conference, you are not required to file a case conference brief, but all other elements of Rule 17 apply.