Settlement Conferences: A Short Guide
Contrary to popular opinion, a trial is not the first step to resolving the issues between parties. If you and your partner cannot agree on issues, you must both have a settlement conference before a judge. The Courts of Justice Act, Ontario Regulation 114/99, outlines the Family Law Rules. Rule 17 governs the procedural obligations for settlement conferences.
The Purposes of a Settlement Conference are:
(a) Exploring the chances of settling the case;
(b) Settling or narrowing the issues in dispute;
(c) Ensuring disclosure of the relevant evidence;
(c.1) Settling or narrowing any issues about any expert evidence or reports on which you or your partner intend to rely on trial;
(d) Noting admissions that may simplify the case;
(e) If possible, obtaining a view of how the court might decide the case;
(f) Considering any other matter that may help in a quick and just conclusion of the case;
(g) If the case is not settled, identifying the witnesses and other evidence to be presented at trial, estimating the time needed for trial and scheduling the case for trial; and
(h) Organizing a trial management conference, or holding one if appropriate.
Before the Settlement Conference
You must send certain court forms to the other party and file them with the court before the settlement conference commences.
These forms are:
- 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 3A 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 and your partner have to share financial documents before their settlement conference (Rule 17(14.2)). This includes any documents that are required to prepare support or property calculations, such as Income Tax Returns, proof of current income, and assets and debts.
- The financial documents must be sent to the other party as soon as possible in order to avoid delays.
- At least 3 days before a case conference, you must file a Form 17F: Confirmation of Conference to the court stating that you wish to proceed with the conference. Form 17F tells the judge the issues to be addressed and provides the required documents for review.
- If neither of you files Form 17F, then you require the judge’s permission to proceed with the conference.
During the Settlement Conference
The judge will listen to the submissions of each party on the issues and examine the evidence.
Each settlement conference is private and confidential (Rule 17 (23)). Anything said during the conference cannot be used in a court case. Only a written agreement or orders that are made at the conference can be referred to in a court case later.
At the end of the conference, the judge will offer you recommendations to resolve the issues. For example, the judge may refer you and your partner to alternative dispute resolution. The judge’s recommendations at a settlement conference are not binding, and you do not have to agree with the judge.
However, it is highly recommended that you attempt to resolve the issues based on the judge’s recommendations in order to avoid a time-consuming and expensive trial.
The judge may also predict how another judge is likely to decide the issues if the case goes to trial. This does not guarantee that a trial judge will actually decide the case based on the conference judge’s prediction. At the end of the conference, the judge will make an endorsement in the file to declare that the conference took place. You should obtain a copy of the endorsement.
The judge may also state any orders that were made. Rule 17(8) lists the variety of orders that may be issued by a judge.
An agreement reached in the conference is not effective until it is signed by you and your partner, witnessed and, in a case involving a special party or a child party, approved by the court. (Rule 17(19))
In some circumstances, the judge may record the conference for their own use. You can obtain a copy of the recording:
a) With the judge’s consent
b) A court order, but only in rare situations.
- A case shall not be scheduled for trial unless (Rule 17(10)),
(a) A settlement conference has been conducted; or
(b) A judge has ordered that the case be scheduled for trial
After the Settlement Conference
If you and your partner do not resolve your issues at the settlement conference, you may:
a) Schedule another settlement conference
b) Set up a trial management conference (Rule 17(5)(h))
If you wish to go to trial, you must complete the Trial Scheduling Endorsement Form, which states the issues that have not been resolved in the conference, the witnesses who are expected to testify, and any other issues relating to the trial (Rule 17(6))
We understand that navigating the procedural requirements and timelines of a settlement conference is extremely challenging during what is already a difficult time in your life. However, it can potentially resolve your issues and allow you to have a fresh start.
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 905-366-0202 or through our website here.