Moving Through Divorce Court: First Court Date And Case Conferences

If North American trends are accurate this year, once Christmas is finished, couples in conflict will quickly move into the January high season for divorce. Our post this week is, therefore, timely. Over the last six weeks, we've provided a quick tour of the trajectory that contested divorces take while moving through the court system. This week, we discuss the next steps in the process: the first court date and the various conferences that follow.

First Court Date - Not Your 'Day In Court'

Ontario handles divorce at one of three courts. Read about these in our previous post, here. For two of these courts, each case requires a first court date. Despite its name, this requirement is strictly administrative in nature - no judge, no courtroom.

During this appointment, a court clerk reviews all necessary documents, ensures they've been properly served and then sets a date for a case conference.

The Case Conference - A Shot At Early Settlement

The case conference is the first time both parties actually appear before a judge. It's an informal session (still no courtroom yet) in which the parties discuss the case with a judge. The prime goal: agree on as many contested issues as possible in the hopes of averting a trial.

Another case conference may follow. If these still don't put the parties any nearer to a settlement, the judge may order a settlement conference. During that session, the judge may actually provide an opinion on how outstanding issues are likely to be settled at trial.

Sometimes, the settlement conference serves as a reality check that may move the parties to work more concertedly at finally ironing out their differences. If not, the parties attend a trial management conference. In this pre-trial step, the parties outline their plan for presenting evidence and witnesses before the actual trial takes place.

At any time throughout this process, the parties continue to have opportunities to resolve any and all remaining disputes out of court. If all else fails and agreement is impossible, the case moves into the courtroom before a judge - a step we'll discuss in our next post.

Considering divorce?

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Our lawyers can guide you through the process.

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