In short, a case conference is an off-the-record, private meeting between parties of a case, their lawyers and a master or judge in a courtroom.
For some cases at the Superior Court, and all cases at the Ontario Court of Justice, a first court date or first appearance is a required first step. If you have had your first appearance, or if your matter does not require a first appearance, your next step will be a case conference. This is the first time you will speak to a judge about the issues in your family law matter.
Essentially, a case conference boils down to these three questions:
Who attends a case conference?
All parties named in your case must attend the case conference, along with any lawyers representing you or your spouse.
Where is a case conference hosted?
Case conferences can be held in courtrooms or the judge’s office or even through the telephone or video conference, if the judge approves.
Who has the power to request a case conference?
A case conference can be scheduled by the clerk at a first court date, one of the parties or the judge. At least one conference must be held in each family case. There may be more than one case conference in your case, if you or the other party requests a conference or if the judge orders it.
Please note that a case conference is a requirement before either party in the case can bring a motion (unless the motion is urgent), because a party can only bring a motion on a matter that has been discussed at a case conference.
Essentially, a case conference is held so that the parties involved in the matter can meet with a judge to discuss the case and the judge can give an idea of how the case will turn out. The judge will be able to identify issues that are in dispute, the chances of settling the case, ensuring disclosure of relevant evidence, setting a date for the next step in the case and/or giving directions with respect to any intended motion. It also provides an opportunity to come to a mutual agreement without trial, by exploring ways to resolve the issues that are in dispute.
The judge can make certain orders at a case conference such as orders requiring parties to provide the other with certain documents, an order identifying next steps to be taken in the case, an order requiring parties to participate in an alternative form of dispute resolution (if parties agree) and more. In addition to case conferences, you may also ask for, or the judge may order, a settlement conference and/or a trial management conference.