Divorce Process – First Appearance and Case
Once the Mandatory Information Program session is completed, the next step in the divorce process is a first appearance or first court date. The first appearance is scheduled by a court clerk when one of the parties in a divorce files an application. The first appearance is typical with a court clerk to ensure that all necessary documents have been filed with the court and served to the other party. For more information on Mandatory Information Programs, please see our article entitled “Divorce Process – Mandatory Information Programs”.
After the first appearance, the next step is to attend a case conference. Rule 17 of the Family Law Rules says that a judge must conduct at least one case conference in every family law case where the parties wish to proceed to court. For the purposes of this article, at least one case conference is required where a divorcing couple cannot agree on various issues related to their divorce and wish to resolve the matter in court.
A case conference is typically the first time the parties will speak to a judge about the issues in the case. There are many purposes for holding a case conference, some of which include:
1. Discussing the chances of settling the case;
2. Identifying issues that can and cannot be resolved;
3. Ensuring that both parties have shared all of the information necessary to resolve the issues;
4. Setting a date for the next step in the case; and
5. Setting a specific timetable for the steps to be taken in the case before it comes to trial (i.e. that the parties need to share more financial documents before the trial begins).
A case conference can be scheduled by the parties, a judge, or a court clerk, and parties are required to attend the case conference before their case can move forward. If one party asks a court clerk to schedule the case conference, that party must sign a Conference Notice and serve it to the other party.
Prior to the case conference, the parties must send certain documents to the other party and file them with the court, which is generally done about a week before the date the case conference is scheduled. Documents that must be submitted include the Form 17A Case Conference Brief and financial disclosure forms if there are support or property issues raised in the divorce.
The divorcing couple must also share financial disclosure with each other before the case conference and includes documents such as proof of current income, income tax returns and any assets or debts. These documents are required before any issues regarding property or support can be calculated and addressed at the case conference.
The parties must file Form 17F, which is the Confirmation of Conference at least three days before the case conference to notify the court that the parties would like to proceed. The Confirmation of Conference form also informs the judge about the issues the parties would like to address as well as the documents that they would like the judge to review.
Once the case conference begins, the judge will review the information that the parties have provided and listen to each party’s side of the issues. If the parties have exchanged all of the relevant documents, the judge can provide suggestions for how to solve the issues and may also inform the parties about how another judge will address the issues if they proceed to trial. It is important to note that the judge’s suggestions are not binding, meaning the parties are not required to follow them if they do not wish to.
In addition to suggestions, the judge can also order parties to give each other any outstanding financial documents or order one party to pay the other party’s costs for the case conference.
If the divorcing couple is unable to resolve their issues at the case conference, the next step in the divorce process will be a settlement conference or a motion, both of which are discussed in further detail in our posts entitled “Settlement Conferences” and “Motions” in the divorce process.
We understand that going through a divorce can be a challenging time, especially when you and your spouse disagree on various issues. If you are looking for more information about how to navigate your first appearance and case conference, do not hesitate to contact us and one of our experienced Family Lawyers can discuss your matter in more detail over a free consultation. You can reach our office at 905-366-0202 or contact us through our website here.
Nothing in this article should be considered or relied on as legal advice or opinion. This article only provides general information and should you require assistance, please contact us to book a free initial consultation.