What is a settlement conference?
Every family law case has to have a settlement conference if the parties (you and your partner) cannot agree on your issues.
The judge at each settlement conference has 2 main goals. Their first goal is to see whether some or all of the case can be settled permanently, without going further in the court process.
Their second goal is to make sure that all the information and documents that a trial judge needs to make a decision on your case have been exchanged and that the case is ready to go to trial.
Before your settlement conference
You have to send certain court forms to the other party and file them with the court before your settlement conference. This includes:
- Your Form 17C: Settlement Conference Brief
- If your case involves a claim for equalization of property, your Form 13B: Net Family Property Statement, and updates to your Form 13.1: Financial Statement, your Form 13A Certificate of Disclosure
- If your case involves support issues, updates to your Form 13/13.1: Financial Statement, your Form 13A Certificate of Disclosure
If your case involves property or support issues, you also have to share your financial documents before your settlement conference. This includes the documents that are required before your support or property calculations can be prepared (including Income Tax Returns, proof of current income, assets and debts). These documents should be sent to the other party as soon as possible. This will avoid delays in discussing a resolution of the issues.
At least 3 days before your case conference, you must tell the court that you want your conference to proceed. You do this by filing a Form 17F: Confirmation of Conference that tells the judge the issues you would like to address and the documents the judge should review. If you or the other party don’t file this form, you will need the judge’s permission to go ahead with the conference.
At your settlement conference
At your settlement conference, the judge looks at the evidence and listens to what each of you have to say. You will be expected to speak truthfully and politely to everyone at the conference – the judge, the lawyers and your partner.
The judge at the settlement conference should give suggestions for how the issues could be resolved. They can also tell you how another judge is likely to decide the issues if you go to trial. It is a good idea for you and your partner to try to agree to resolve the issues based on the judge’s recommendations. This helps avoid extra steps in the court process.
The judge’s recommendations at a settlement conference are not binding. This means you don’t have to agree with the judge’s recommendations for settlement.
The judge at your trial may or may not make the same decisions as the judge at your settlement conference. A judge’s decision is based on many things including the evidence that each party presents to the court.
If you and your partner do not resolve your issues at your settlement conference, the next step may be another settlement conference or a trial scheduling conference. If you haven’t done so already, both parties will need to complete the Trial Scheduling Endorsement Form at the end of the settlement conference. This form addresses the issues that have not been resolved, the witnesses that will speak to those issues and other issues relating to the trial.
Each settlement conference is private and confidential. Everything that anybody says and any opinions given cannot be used outside this conference. Only a written agreement or orders that are made at your conference can be referred to later in your court case.
At the end of your conference, the judge makes a note (or endorsement) in your file to say the conference took place and any orders were made. You should get a copy of the endorsement.
The judge may record the conference for their use. You can get a copy of this recording only with a judge’s consent or a court order. This is only given in rare situations.