Following up on our posts about motions and case conferences, today we’ll discuss what settlement conferences are, and what you’ll need to do in order to prepare for them. With this information in hand, you’ll have a more comprehensive understanding of this important stage of the family law process.
What is a Settlement Conference?
In essence, a settlement conference is similar to a case conference in that it functions to enable both parties to reach an amicable resolution without taking it to a motion or trial. However, the judge works more closely with you and plays a more active role in regards to assistance with reaching a resolution. That being said, they cannot decide on issues that both parties can’t mutually agree upon, and the proceedings can be further progressed. Sometimes you may have multiple settlement conferences, but this depends on whether or not both parties are moving closer towards settling issues with one another.
Settlement Conference Documents
Regardless of how many settlement conferences you may attend, you fill out the same paperwork every time for each of them. First, you must complete a Settlement Conference Brief (Form 17C). This is a similar brief as that for a case conference, in that you must provide a clear and concise summary of the issues, facts, settlements and/or next steps.
In addition, you are required to include an Offer to Settle, which states that you would prefer to settle some and/or all of the issues. Following that, fill out and include a Net Family Property Statement (Form 13C) if there are any property-related issues, and be sure to provide up-to-date financial statements.
Serve your partner (or his or her lawyer) copies of these forms and file them at least seven days prior to the settlement conference date, and fill out a Confirmation Form (Form 14C) by 2:00pm at least two days before the scheduled hearing. The latter confirms to the court and your partner that you will be in attendance when ordered (your partner must also do this).
Attending the Settlement Conference
Whether or not you are fully or partially represented by a family lawyer, the settlement conference will then be held once both parties and the judge are in attendance. This is where the judge needs to hear about any attempts made between both parties to reach a mutual agreement or settle any issues. As opposed to a case conference, they will more likely provide their opinion or give both parties some guidance in relation to the issues at hand. The settlement conference functions to discuss ways to resolve disputes, acts as a way of both parties to hear the judge’s take on the scenario, and also collectively set the next steps as required to reach a resolution (if required).
The judge can also make an order based on your agreement with your partner, should one be reached. This is possible when you fill out a consent agreement or minutes of settlement, which the judge will turn into a consent order. At the end of the hearing, you’ll receive your settlement conference brief back from the judge, as it doesn’t remain in your court file for reasons of privacy.
At this point, further settlement conferences or a trial management conference may be put into effect by the judge, with dates set and both parties informed of how the proceedings will progress. The decision to hold more hearings depends on whether or not both parties come closer or drift further apart from reaching a resolution.
At the end of your final settlement conference, you will be required to fill out parts 1 and 2 of a Trial Scheduling Endorsement Form if your case is at the Superior Court of Justice or the Family Court of the Superior Court of Justice, after which a trial date can be set.
To learn more about settlement conferences in family law or if you are unsure of how to proceed, contact Court Coach to book a consultation.