Hello, my name is Shilpa Mehta and I am a lawyer with the Feldstein Family Law Group.
In earlier videos, my colleagues and I took a closer examination of starting and responding to Court Applications, Case Conferences, and Motions. I encourage you to view those videos. Today, I would like to discuss Settlement Conferences.
What is a Settlement Conference?
Judges often describe the Settlement Conference as the half-way point in the whole court matter. Why is it the half-way point? Well, if you do not settle all of your issues at the Settlement Conference, your next steps will be scheduling and attending a Trial. Just like a Case Conference, the Settlement Conference is a discussion between the parties, their lawyers and a judge about the issues in a Court Application. However, it differs from a Case Conference in that presumably since the Case Conference, the spouses and their lawyers have had meaningful discussions about settling all of the issues, but for whatever reason have not been able to settle.
Why do we have a Settlement Conference?
Well, if you and your ex have fully exchanged all of your financial disclosure and other documents, have had some settlement discussions and still cannot settle your issues, this court date serves as an opportunity to discuss your theory of the case with a judge, backed up with relevant facts of course, and get that judge’s opinion on how she or he would decide your issues at a Trial.
What is discussed at a Settlement Conference?
Well, obviously exploring settlement, but keep in mind, at this point in the Court Application, if you had a theory about one of your issues, such as you believe your spouse’s income is higher than she or he declares with the Canada Revenue Agency, or that she or he is not available to parent the children due to demanding work commitments, you better have the facts to back it up! At this point, we are well beyond theories, and we are more concerned with facts. I cannot stress enough that after this court date you will be marching forward to a Trial where theory means nothing if you don’t have the evidence to prove it. So, this is the time to let go of claims if you cannot prove them at a Trial, otherwise you will be wasting your time and your money, which is not a good combination.
So, what should you do to prepare? Make sure you have requested all of the evidence you need to prove your theories, or not prove your theories. Make sure you have given your spouse all of the evidence they have requested from you to prove their theories. If you did not get what you requested from your spouse, then make sure you ask for it at the Settlement Conference, as this may be the last chance you have to ask. Make sure once you have exchanged all of the evidence that you set aside time to discuss settlement, as the first question you will most likely be asked by the judge is what efforts you have made to settle? So have an intelligent answer!
Just like in a Case Conference, the judge will need to know the issues, your theory on those issues, and the facts you are relying on, and this is done by completing a Settlement Conference Brief. Like a Case Conference Brief, it is basically a “fill in the blanks” document. It can be a daunting task though, as you need to provide the court with a detailed judicial history of the file, answer some legal questions, and spell out your offer to settle or settlement proposal. You should take the Brief very seriously, as the judge will use it as a guide to form her or his recommendation for settlement of your court matter.
You will have to make sure you serve your spouse or her or his lawyer with a copy of the Brief and then arrange to have the Brief filed in the court record, which, if you started the Application, must be done at least seven days before the date of Settlement Conference, and at least five days before if you responded to the Application. You should attach any other relevant documents that may assist the judge.
As all of the documents listed above are crucial to moving your Court Application to a resolution and a judge will read every Court document, you should consider having a lawyer assist with drafting your documents. Alternatively, a lawyer can be retained to provide you with some advice on what would be best to put in your materials. You should decide what works best for you.
If your matter does not settle at the Settlement Conference, then the judge will move your matter along to a Trial Management Conference, but that is a different topic for a different day.
I’m Shilpa Mehta. Thank you for watching today. If you need more information and wish to schedule a consultation, please visit our website or contact our office at (905) 581-7222.