What to expect when you are litigating – the case conference
The Case Conference in a divorce case is usually the first opportunity for parties to hear a Judge’s view of their case. If both parties have lawyers, depending on the judge, a Case Conference may be held in the Judge’s chambers (office) without the parties present. It is then up to the lawyers to convey to their respective clients what was said about the custody, access, equalization and other financial issues being discussed. At times, a judge will then speak directly to the parties in the courtroom.
If the Case Conference is in the Courtroom, the Judge will sit at the front of the room, at a raised desk. In front of him or her are several court staff – the deputy (who escorts the Judge into the courtroom through a special door); the registrar and the court reporter, who records everything that is being said. The recording is not published.
The parties and, if they have one, their lawyers, sit facing the Judge and staff. Usually, the lawyers will make submissions and the parties do not speak; at times, a Judge might ask you a question directly. You should stand to respond unless told otherwise by the Judge. Then the Judge will give his or her views of the case, and make recommendations. Orders can be made on consent at the conference or, if proper notice has been given, the Judge may make an order even if the both sides don’t agree to it. Child support may be ordered even without the consent of both parties depending on the circumstances.
Conferences require Briefs, but these documents (which follow a specific format) are not kept in the court file after the hearing. They are returned to the parties after the conference or shredded. It is essential to prepare detailed and up-to-date Briefs that inform the Judge, and the other side, about the facts you are relying on and what position you are taking on custody, child support, equalization and any other issues involved in your divorce.
A family law case will go through several conferences, usually at least two or three, before being placed on a trial list, to give the parties ample opportunity to resolve the issues on consent.