Case conferences are held either in a courtroom or a conference room at the courthouse. If you and your partner don't have lawyers, it's likely to be in a courtroom.
Usually there is a board near the entrance to the court or outside each courtroom that lists the cases being heard in court that day with their room number. If you have trouble finding this list or your room, ask for help at the court counter.
Keep enough time in your schedule for your conference. You should plan to spend at least half a day in court. While conferences generally take about an hour, in some courts they are scheduled to take place twice a day. At those courts you have to wait for your turn.
And, after you meet with the judge, you may be asked to try to resolve your issues based on the judge's suggestions. You may then have to return to court to see the judge after to let them know if you were able to resolve your issues.
At your conference
At your case conference, you and your partner (and your lawyers if you have them) meet with a judge to discuss your issues. The goal is to agree on some or all of your issues without going to a motion or a trial.
Every conference is a chance for you to come closer to agreeing on your issues with your partner.
The main focus of the case conference is to talk about the:
- legal issues you and your partner have to agree on
- ways to resolve the issues
- information you and your partner need to share
- next steps needed to resolve the issues
You need to be prepared to talk about the issues and how you would like to resolve them.
If you and your partner agree on any issue during your case conference, the judge can make an order based on your agreement. Usually you write your agreement out in a consent agreement or minutes of settlement and the judge will make it into a consent order. The Step Bring a regular motion has information on how to make a consent order.
The judge can also make procedural orders about:
- Documents that you and your partner have to share. For example, the judge may order both of you to provide bank account and credit card statements within 30 days to help figure out property issues.
- Procedure or next steps needed to resolve the issues. For example, the judge may set a date for another conference.
The judge at your case conference usually doesn’t decide on issues that you and your partner can’t agree on.
At the end of your case conference, the judge returns your case conference brief to you. It doesn’t remain in your court file once the conference is over. This is because the discussions at a case conference are private and can’t be shared with another judge or used as evidence in a motion or trial.
Your next conference
If the judge thinks another case conference will be helpful, they can set a date for another one.
If you and your partner are not close to agreeing on your issues, the next steps are usually a settlement conference and then a trial management conference. But, a judge can decide to skip or combine conferences.
For example, at the end of a case conference, a judge may decide that a separate settlement conference is not necessary and so the next step will be a combined settlement and trial management conference.
If you’re going to another case conference, you have to prepare the same documents you prepared for this one, but they will have to be updated. You also have to follow the same steps, like serving your documents, adding them to your court file, and confirming your court date.
If your case is at the Ontario Court of Justice, you will usually have the same judge for all of your conferences, and a new judge if your case goes to trial.
If your case is at the Superior Court of Justice, you do not have the same judge for all of your conferences. But, you or your partner can ask to have the same judge if you wish.